Immunity from traffic violations sends 'wrong message' – House opposition

MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers from independent blocs in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, September 19, criticized the move to grant lawmakers immunity from minor traffic violations while Congress is in session.

“The apparent off-the-cuff invocation of constitutional immunity from arrest for offenses punishable with imprisonment of not more than 6 years is uncalled for,”  Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman said in a statement, referring to the appeal of Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas.

During a transportation committee hearing, Fariñas said that the apprehension of lawmakers for minor traffic violations en route to Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City gets in the way of their job.

Fariñas cited Article IV, Section 11 of the Constitution, which states: “A Senator or Member of the House of Representatives shall, in all offenses punishable by not more than 6 years imprisonment, be privileged from arrest while the Congress is in session. No member shall be questioned nor be held liable in any other place for any speech or debate in Congress or in any committee thereof.”

He added that Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez can surrender the erring legislator once session ends.

Still, this argument did not sit well for Lagman. “To my knowledge, no representative has been detained or arrested for a traffic violation and no incumbent has asked for any immunity from arrest or detention for a traffic infraction… It sends the wrong message that there is no speed limit for representatives during session days,” he said.

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate said Fariñas’ appeal only highlights the difference in the application of the law on those in power and on ordinary citizens.

Lalo nitong patitingkarin na may ibang batas para sa may kapangyarihan at sa karaniwang tao. Dapat ay maging huwaran ang mga mambabatas para tuparin ang mga ito. Mga simpleng empleyado o kawani o maging mga mambabatas o matataas na opisyal ay lahat apektado talaga sa malalang traffic. Lahat ay may mga mahalaga ring gawain sa araw-araw na sasabak sila sa daang matrapik, kaya mas dapat ay wala nang napapaboran pa,” he said.

(This will only highlight that there is a difference in the application of the law on those in power and on ordinary people. Lawmakers should be models in terms of the implementation of the law. Simple employees or staff members of lawmakers or high officials are all affected by horrible traffic. All of them have an important job to do and they all have to endure traffic. It’s better if we don’t give any favors to anyone.)

Traffic in Metro Manila and even in nearby provinces has steadily worsened through the years. The worst traffic is in EDSA, the mega city’s main thoroughfare, while traffic along Commonwealth Avenue, among the main roads leading to the Batasan Pambansa, has also become heavier following the start of construction of MRT-7.

When asked about the possibility that some lawmakers abuse their apparent privilege of immunity, Fariñas told media: “Do not vote for them as members of Congress. Complainants can, of course, file cases and have them arrested when Congress is not in session. Members of Congress are not immune or privileged from suits or cases, but shall ‘be privileged privileged from arrest while the Congress is in session.’” 

Lagman, meanwhile, pointed out that not all legislators drive their own cars.

“Moreover, invariably representatives have drivers and any immunity does not extend to their drivers or to the security back-up of some of them,” he added.