Gordon, Trillanes to hold separate probes on BI scandal

MANILA, Philippines – After much debate, the Senate on Wednesday, January 18, granted Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Richard Gordon the power to separately investigate the Bureau of Immigration.

To appease senators, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, chair of the committee on rules, said both Gordon and Trillanes have the power to probe distinct issues involving the BI.

Trillanes, who chairs the committee on civil service and government reorganization, could conduct an inquiry “exclusively on the reorganization aspect” of the agency.

Gordon, chairman of the committee on justice and human rights, has authority to probe the “administration” part of the BI, as it is an attached agency of the Department of Justice.

The two panels could release separate committee reports, Sotto said.

“I recommend that we refer Resolution 256 jointly to the committee on civil service and the committee on justice and human rights, treating both as the primary committee referral," Sotto said in his motion.

"This has been done before. Now, the implication for this set-up: the civil service committee will deal exclusively on the reorganization aspect of the Bureau of Immigration, which is within their competence and jurisdiction while the committee on justice will only touch on administration. As a consequence, the two primary committees shall come up with several committee reports if they wish,” Sotto added.

With this, Sotto expressed hope that his motion would finally end the conflict between the senators to achieve a “conducive working environment” in the chamber. After all, he said, they have to pass several legislation before Congress adjourns on March 13.

“Hopefully, this will nurture a peaceful atmosphere in the Senate considering we need to pass a number of legislation before the adjournment of session in March. In order to do that, we need a conducive working environment by resolving this issue at the soonest possible time,” Sotto said.

The Senate blue ribbon committee also chaired by Gordon is set to start a moto proprio investigation into the bribery scandal on Monday, January 23.

The issue on committee referral sparked heated word wars between senators on the first two session days in 2017. On Monday, the Senate, voting 14-7, stripped Trillanes of power to investigate the matter.

The following day, Trillanes, in a televised interview, accused Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri and Gordon of “whitewashing” the planned probe – something that did not sit well with Zubiri. (WATCH: 'Cheater, rebel?' Trillanes, Zubiri face off over BI probe)

Zubiri delivered a privilege speech slamming Trillanes and even challenged the latter to an apparent fight.

The two were also seen taunting each other on the Senate floor, but their colleagues managed to pacify them

Senate President's stand

Before Sotto announced his decision, he read the letter of Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III.

Pimentel was among the 14 senators who voted against Trillanes' committee.

In his letter, the Senate President, a party mate of President Rodrigo Duterte, argued that the BI issue is under the jurisdiction of the committee on justice.

In explaining his point, Pimentel said that while Trillanes’ committee has the “general” jurisdiction, the justice panel has “special” authority.

“While the committee on civil service has general jurisdiction over the reorganization of the government or any of its branches or instrumentalities, this general jurisdiction yields to a special rule on the matter. It is my opinion the appropriate referral is the committee on justice and human rights,” Pimentel said. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com