MANILA, Philippines – House and Senate leaders have agreed to avoid a potential clash over Senator Leila de Lima, the subject of an ongoing congressional inquiry into the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) when she was justice secretary.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said in a text message on Tuesday, November 29, that the agreement was forged during a meeting between House and Senate leaders on Monday.
"We agreed to avoid a possible confrontation between the two houses," Sotto said, when asked about the outcome of the Congress leaders' meeting the night before.
“We will respect any moves of their committees for show-cause order as long as it is not directed towards the Senate itself. It will be up to Senator De Lima if she will answer or not. Then we will take action on any complaints they will file in the Senate ethics committee," said Sotto, who chairs the Senate ethics committee.
On Monday, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and House Majority Leader Roldolfo Fariñas said the committee on justice may cite De Lima in contempt and order her arrest if she ignores the show-cause order set to be issued against her.
House leaders were expected to serve a show-cause order on De Lima on Tuesday for allegedly advising Ronnie Dayan, her former driver and boyfriend, to skip a congressional inquiry into the illegal drug trade at the NBP when she was justice secretary.
Asked if the Senate and the House leaders' agreement meant that the House panel would no longer issue an arrest order against De Lima, Sotto said this appeared to be the likely scenario.
"It's their call but I doubt if they will, considering our agreement to avoid a confrontation between the two houses," Sotto said.
He said the Senate leaders "have assured them of swift consideration of their complaint if ever they do file one," referring to the ethics complaint before his committee.
The House panel had said it found "sufficient evidence" against De Lima regarding the proliferation of drugs inside the NBP. Dayan supposedly acted as her bagman for prison drug lords, a charge he denied when he finally showed up before the justice committee on November 24. (READ: A can of contradictions in Ronnie Dayan's testimony)
Dayan had alleged that De Lima urged him not to attend it, as lawmakers would just "feast" on their relationship as part of the Duterte administration's bid to destroy her reputation. Dayan claimed that De Lima had orderd him to collect money from alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa.
Disciplining own members
In an interview on dzMM, Senator Panfilo Lacson said the Senate leadership asserted that it cannot just leave a matter involving one of its members entirely at the discretion of the House panel. (READ: Pimentel to House: Do your job first before telling us what to do with De Lima)
"Di naman puwede basta parang ilarga nang ilarga, na bahala na kayo. Dahil parang unprecedented kung sakaling isang member ng upper chamber ikukulong at pipiliting humarap sa hearing ng kabilang chamber," he said.
(We can't allow a situation where we'll just let them do whatever they want. Because it would be unprecedented if ever a member of the upper chamber would be arrested and forced to appear in the hearing of the other chamber.)
This way, he said, the Senate would still be in charge of disciplining its own member who is facing allegations.
"Instead na magkaroon ng confrontation, mag-clash pa ang dalawang chambers, napagkasunduan kagabi na 'di namin [papakialaman] kung gusto niya mag-show cause order, kung gusto niya file-an ng complaint sa RTC o file-an ng disbarment o criminal case doon sa obstruction o anuman 'yan...para maiwasan natin na darating sa punto na ang aming isang miyembro [ay pipilitin na humarap sa House hearing]," Lacson said.
(Instead of having a confrontation and the two chambers will clash, it was agreed last night that we would not [stop them] if they want to issue a show-cause order, or file a complaint before the RTC (Regional Trial Court) or file a disbarment or criminal case regarding obstruction [of justice] or whatever...to avoid reaching a point where one of our members [would be forced to appear at their hearing].)
"Naunawaan naman nila kaya napagkasunduan, 'O sige ang House majority leader o maski chairman ng committee on rules siya na maging complainant sa ethics complaint na ifa-file sa Senate.' So all's well that ends well, para na kami mag-handle ng kung anumang disciplinary action ang puwede ipataw kung sakaling matibay ang ebidensya," he added.
(They understood so it was agreed that the House majority or even the chairman of the committee on rules would be the complainant in the ethics complaint to be filed before the Senate. So all's well that ends well, so that we would handle whatever disciplinary action that can be meted out in case there is strong evidence.)
Lacson, chair of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, cited cases when the Senate observed interparliamentary courtesy. At its inquiry where Espinosa testified, Leyte Representative Ching Veloso was allowed, upon his request, to make a manifestation because he had been named as an alleged drug protector.
"'Yan ang inter-chamber courtesy. Pagbigyan ang member ng kabilang chamber na ipahayag ang gusto niyang ipahayag dahil nabanggit ang pangalan niya (That is inter-chamber courtesy. Give the member of the other chamber a chance to issue a statement since his name has been mentioned)," he said.
"Ganoon din sana gawin sa House. Pero kung ayaw mag-appear ng senador o congressman, sana huwag umabot sa dalawang chambers na 'di magkasunduan (Hopefully the House will do the same. But if the senator or congressmen doesn't want to appear [at the hearing], hopefully it would not lead to a disagreement between the two chambers)," he said.