Malacañang: Cabinet members can leave Congress hearings if shown 'disrespect'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Malacañang will not let lawmakers "disrespect" another Cabinet member like they supposedly did with Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno last Tuesday, December 11.

"We will not allow a similar incident from taking place," said Presidential Spokesman and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo on Friday, December 14.

He said this is also the stance of President Rodrigo Duterte.

"He will not allow any member of the Cabinet or any member of the military, policemen, offiicals who are invited to a committee hearing to be treated with disrespect," said Panelo.

This comes after Cabinet members, in a letter to Duterte, slammed the House for their treatment of Diokno and vouched for the budget chief's integrity.

Asked how Malacañang defines "disrespect" and if merely making an accusation against an official counts as disrespect, Panelo said, "It's how you deliver your allegation or question."

Panelo described how House Majority Floor Leader Rolando Andaya Jr "arrogantly" threw questions at Diokno and "mocked" him.

Declining Congress invitations

How will Malacañang prevent such "disrespect" to Cabinet members? Panelo said Cabinet officials will be told to decline invitations to congressional hearings if they feel they will be subjected to what Diokno went through.

"We will decline any invitation if we feel that they will be repeating the same kind of treatment," said Panelo.

Another possibility is that Cabinet members can leave Congress hearings once they sense a "sign of disrespect."

"We will go there if invited but the moment any sign of disrespect is given a member of the Cabinet we will excuse ourselves and beg leave from the committee hearing," he said.

Despite these declarations, Panelo said he would still describe the Duterte administration's ties with the legislative branch as "cordial."

He also acknowledged that only "one or two" lawmakers had shown disrespect to Diokno.

Aside from Andaya, Minority Floor Leader Danilo Suarez had also publicly accused Diokno of corruption. The House of Representatives has asked Duterte to fire Diokno. 

'Man of integrity'

In the Senate, the chairpersons of two Senate committees that often deal with Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno defended the Cabinet official from allegations of corruption and vouched for his “unquestionable” integrity.

“Secretary Ben Diokno is known to be a man of integrity. And I won’t be surprised if that’s how people regard him, especially those who know him well as a UP professor and have worked with him as budget secretary,” said Senator Sonny Angara, who chairs the Senate committee on ways and means.

In the years he worked with us, he has given us no reason to doubt his competence and integrity. If the President decides that Secretary Diokno stays because he continues to enjoy his trust and confidence, so be it,” he added in a statement.

Senator Loren Legarda, Senate committee on finance chair, shared the same view.

“Secretary Benjamin Diokno is a man of integrity and his competence is unquestionable. Even in his previous stints in government, he has been known for introducing reforms that would enhance transparency and improve the efficiency of government service,” Legarda said.

She added that in their interactions on the annual national budget and proposed legislation, Diokno “has proven that he is a no-nonsense man and an honest public servant."

“I firmly believe in Secretary Diokno's integrity and in his capability to carry out reforms and introduce programs that would ensure equitable, inclusive, resilient and sustainable growth for our country. He has my full support,” Legarda said. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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