Senate of the Philippines

Senate ethics committee complaints: What happened to them after?

James Patrick Cruz

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Senate ethics committee complaints: What happened to them after?

David Castuciano/Rappler

Here are some of the past cases brought to the Senate ethics committee owing to complaints of plagiarism, sexism, and gossip

Senators, as public officials, are expected to uphold ethics and proper conduct. Their behavior, however, has not always been the most exemplar.

Case in point: the verbal clash that erupted between Senators Nancy Binay and Alan Peter Cayetano during a July 3 hearing on the escalating costs of a new Senate building. 

Cayetano’s remarks, branding Binay as “crazy” and a “Marites” (gossipmonger) prompted Binay to file a complaint against him before the Senate ethics committee on Monday, July 8. 

Sinasabi mo na may kinalaman ito sa Makati-Taguig issue. Sasabihin mo may sumasaksak sa likod mo. Ano iisipin nila? Ma’am isa lang sasabihin ko sa ‘yo, Lourdes pangalan mo at hindi Marites. Ayusin natin ito. Nakakahiya na,” Cayetano said.

(You say this is related to the Makati-Taguig issue. You say that someone is stabbing you in the back. What will they think? Ma’am, I will say only one thing to you: your name is Lourdes, not Marites. Let’s settle this. This is embarrassing already.)

Binay, in her complaint, accused Cayetano of slander for allegedly implying that she manipulated media coverage by feeding the same questions to suit her agenda.

This incident is part of a deeper feud rooted in a jurisdictional dispute between their respective bailiwicks – Binay’s Makati and Cayetano’s Taguig.

This isn’t the first time such heated debates have resulted in ethics complaints. Let’s revisit some notable cases.

C5 extension controversy: Madrigal vs Villar

Then-senator Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal filed an ethics complaint against then-Senate president Manny Villar

Madrigal accused Villar of conflict of interest, claiming that he “caused the realignment of the C-5 road extension to benefit the properties registered in the names of various corporations owned and controlled by him and his family.”

The Senate committee of the whole took over the ethics case on April 27, 2009, after Villar said that he would rather respond to the issues raised before the plenary and not before what he deemed as the “Kangaroo Court” of the ethics committee. 

At that time, the ethics panel was led by Panfilo Lacson, who was also interested in running for the 2010 elections, like Villar.

The Senate committee of the whole found that Villar violated the 1987 Constitution and Republic Act No. 6713, or the Code of Conduct of Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, for failing to report a conflict of interest in the said project.

The panel also found that Villar “engaged himself in improper and unethical conduct that adversely reflects upon the Senate.”

It then recommended that the senator be censured for committing acts that “damaged the integrity” of the chamber.

In the decision, the panel recommended that Villar should return any money or benefits he or his companies gained “illegally” through unethical actions.

But the chamber failed to act on the motion due to the lack of quorum after Villar’s allies did not show up on the floor. 

‘Cockpit of tsismis’: Gordon vs Trillanes (vice versa)

In another incident, former senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Richard Gordon exchanged ethics complaints in 2017 for committing “unparliamentary acts.”

Gordon on September 4, 2017, lodged an ethics complaint against Trillanes for the latter’s supposed “unabated, unparliamentary acts, language, and conduct.” 

A week before that, the two senators had a word war after Trillanes accused Gordon of “protecting”  Rodrigo Duterte, who was then president, and his family. This was denied by Gordon, an administration senator. 

During the hearing, Trillanes deemed the Gordon-led Senate blue ribbon committee as a “committee de absuwelto (acquittal committee).”

The following month, on October 19, 2017, Trillanes also filed an ethics complaint against Gordon for committing “slander” and “unparliamentary acts.”

Gordon had earlier accused Trillanes of spreading gossip during a Senate hearing on the P6.4-billion worth of smuggled shabu. 

“You know, you’re so fond of making names (sic) here. If you want to make general statements, you better prove it. This is the Senate of the Republic of the Philippines. This is not a cockpit of tsismis (gossip). We’re here investigating real things. ‘Wag ka nagdadadaldal dito (Don’t blabber here),” Gordon told Trillanes then.

Senate ethics committee complaints: What happened to them after?

The results of the ethics complaints against Trillanes and Gordon were not publicly available.

There were a couple of times, too, when the complaints did not emanate from the senators themselves, but from private individuals or other government officials. 

Sotto and Cayetano’s alleged plagiarism

Allegations of plagiarism also became a subject of discussion before the Senate ethics committee when a group of bloggers and professors filed an ethics complaint against then-senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III. 

In a speech about the reproductive health bill, Sotto allegedly lifted text from a blog post of US blogger Sarah Pope. Later, Sotto’s staff admitted to plagiarizing the blogger.

Sotto was also accused of using a quote from the late US senator Robert Kennedy and translating it to Filipino without proper attribution. Kennedy’s daughter Kerry even demanded an apology from Sotto.

The comedian-turned-senator apologized to Kerry. He, however, did not admit to plagiarizing Kennedy’s work.

Senate ethics committee complaints: What happened to them after?

In 2012, Senator Pia Cayetano was also put in the hot seat after someone named Alberto Loques Ong Jr. filed an ethics complaint alleging that she used plagiarized text in her privilege speeches on the reproductive health bill. 

The lady senator allegedly lifted text from the United Nations Environment Programme and from a presentation by then-health undersecretary Mario Villaverde without attribution, the Inquirer reported.

The resolution of Cayetano’s and Sotto’s ethics case was not publicized.

Sotto’s ‘na-ano’ remark

A few years later, in 2017, Sotto also drew flak for his sexist remark about single mothers. 

During the confirmation hearing of Judy Taguiwalo as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Sotto asked “on a lighter note”: “You have two children…but you’re single?…In the street language, when you have children and you are single, ang tawag do’n ay na-‘ano’ lang (we call that, you just got knocked up).”

Members of various women’s rights groups did not hold back and filed an ethics complaint against Sotto. 

Senator Lacson, the ethics committee’s vice chair, took over the case since Sotto, the panel’s chairman then, was the subject of the complaint. 

This complaint, however, was dismissed by the ethics panel over lack of jurisdiction. Citing Commission on Appointment rules, Lacson said that the CA has jurisdiction over the case since it has its own ethics committee. 

Enrile got a name wrong

Back in 1988, then-senator Juan Ponce Enrile was criticized for erroneously naming Paul Aquino as chairman of the Security Bank in a speech accusing relatives of then-president Corazon Aquino of mismanagement. Paul is the brother of then-senator Agapito “Butz” Aquino and the father of former senator Bam Aquino.

Paul denied his connection with the bank and filed an ethics complaint against Enrile. 

Enrile owned up to the error, saying there was “no intention whatsoever to inflict malice on the Aquino name.”

In its September 20, 1988 decision, the committee led by Rene Saguisag reminded Enrile “to be more careful in the future.” 

Heherson Alvarez and PNP official

Amid an ongoing investigation into pyramid scams within the Philippine National Police (PNP) in 1996, then-senator Heherson Alvarez wrote a letter to then-National Police director general Recaredo Sarmiento, saying the committee “has not made any finding linking Chief Superintendent Virgilio Odulio to the alleged PNP scam” and that it “found no basis for his alleged involvement, knowledge nor participation in the anomalous transaction.”

Because of this, Heherson found himself facing the ethics committee led by Juan Flavier. The ethics panel recommended that Alvarez be “admonished” for sending the letter while the investigation was still ongoing.

Sergio Osmeña Jr. vs then-president Garcia: Corruption allegations

In 1960, then-congressman Sergio Osmeña Jr. of Cebu’s 2nd District delivered a privilege speech criticizing then-president Carlos Garcia for running a corrupt government.

The lawmaker accused the Philippine president then of taking bribes from then-Chinese president Chiang Kai-shek.

“It is said, Mr. President, that you vetoed the measure nationalizing rice and corn because of a previous commitment you had given to President Chiang Kai-shek at Taipeh,” Osemeña said as seen in the Philippine Studies journal published by the Ateneo de Manila University.

Osmeña’s hour-long speech also came after Garcia vetoed an anti-graft bill, an August 1, 1960 Time report showed. This proposed legislation sought to criminalize the involvement of a president’s wife or any close relative of high-ranking officials in government transactions.

Osmeña’s accusations infuriated President Garcia.

About two weeks later, the House of Representatives created a 15-man special committee “to investigate the truth of charges against Garcia made by Osmeña Jr.

The panel found Osmeña guilty of “serious disorderly behavior” resulting in his 15-month suspension.

Aside from Enrile, Alvarez, and Osmeña Jr., the other members of Congress who have been sanctioned, based at least on cases that were publicized, are senators Jose Alejandrino and Jose Avelino. – Rappler.com

What happens when a Senate ethics complaint is filed?

What happens when a Senate ethics complaint is filed?

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James Patrick Cruz

Patrick Cruz is a researcher and writer for Rappler’s governance cluster. Before transferring to Rappler's Research team, he covered local governments focusing on Metro Manila.