Senate of the Philippines

[OPINION] The Quiboloy contempt order: Legislative overreach or valid exercise of Senate power?

Jaye Bekema

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[OPINION] The Quiboloy contempt order: Legislative overreach or valid exercise of Senate power?

Raffy de Guzman

We tackle the issues one by one

There can be no discounting the emotive pull of the testimonies of the witnesses in Senator Risa Hontiveros’ committee investigation into allegations of sexual abuse and human trafficking in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) led by Pastor Apollo Quiboloy. One witness, alias Amanda, recounted before the Senate how, as a minor, she was forced to provide sexual services to the man they believed to be the Appointed Son to God. Reinalyn, another witness, spoke of how overseas Filipino members of the organization were forced to remit 90% of their salary to the Kingdom, and to ignore the phone calls of their families in the Philippines.

But the question remains: Is the ongoing Quiboloy investigation by Senator Hontiveros a valid exercise of the powers of the Senate? We tackle the issues one by one.

Is this an investigation in aid of legislation?

According to the Supreme Court, the Senate’s investigative powers are limited to investigations in aid of legislation. Consequently, any inquiries conducted by the Senate must have a demonstrable legislative angle. The hearings surfaced several areas where legislative reform might be warranted. Some examples, already laid down by Senator Hontiveros in her opening remarks at the March 5, 2024 hearing, are below:

The first is the issue of sexual abuse within secretive religious organizations and how consent is mediated in the context of a hierarchical and faith-based dynamic. Is there meaningful legal consent when the victim “agreed” but did so under the belief that she was making a religious sacrifice? What amendments in our law need to be made to consider the effects of isolation, dependence, and physical and psychological control within charismatic religious organizations on a woman’s sexual agency and capacity to give consent?

The second is the inability of our labor laws to sufficiently address “voluntary” labor arrangements where there is no clear employer-employee relationship but there are clear violations of labor and occupational safety and health standards. What legal regime governs these arrangements? Proof of the lack of clarity here is the inability of both DOLE and SSS to categorize alias Rene, the SMNI “worker” who received no salaries and no benefits during his entire tenure.

The third is the interaction of our anti-trafficking laws with the constitutional principle of religious freedom. Is there abuse of power and position, or exploitation of vulnerability (elements of the crime of trafficking in persons), or is it the exercise of a religion of its doctrines and tenets? What amendments are necessary to ensure maximum protections to victims of predatory religious practices, while not stifling the free expression of religion?

Is Apollo Quiboloy’s right to due process violated by compelling his appearance in the Senate?

The Supreme Court actually already disposed of this question in the case of Reghis Romero et al. v. Jinggoy Estrada and the Senate Committee on Labor (2009), which is based on similar facts. In the case mentioned, the petitioner Reghis Romero sought to be excused from the Senate inquiry of the committee on labor because 1) there is a case already pending in court; 2) because his right against self-incrimination would be violated; and 3) the investigation was meant to investigate Romero’s liability for plunder and was not an investigation in aid of legislation.

The petition was dismissed and the Supreme Court upheld the Senate.

On the right against self-incrimination, the Supreme Court held that the right may be invoked only by the petitioner “only when the incriminating question is being asked, since they have no way of knowing in advance the nature or effect of the questions to be asked of them.” Therefore, the subpoenaed party has to actually be present during the investigation. The risk of self-incrimination only presents itself when the question is verbalized and heard by the party.

It must be noted that even in the very recent case of Linconn Ong v. Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, the petitioner actually attended the hearing and testified before the committee. This is also the case in the ruling of the Supreme Court in Neri v. Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.  There is no jurisprudence whatsoever to support the invocation of the right against self-incrimination as a way to excuse oneself altogether from attending the hearing.

The Supreme Court could not be more clear in the Romero case that “the unremitting obligation of every citizen is to respond to subpoenae, to respect the dignity of the Congress and its Committees, and to testify fully with respect to matters within the realm of proper investigation.”

The Department of Justice has filed charges against Apollo Quiboloy and his top officials. What effect does this have on the Senate hearing?

Absolutely nothing. It is well-settled that the filing or pendency of any prosecution or administrative action should not stop or abate any inquiry to carry out a legislative purpose. A Senate investigation and court proceedings have very different purposes. A Senate investigation does not determine innocence or guilt – rather, it seeks to identify gaps in the law and develop the necessary tools to address these gaps.

Both, however, are sovereign functions, supported by the Constitution, and one cannot be more important than the other. As held in the case of Standard Chartered Bank (Philippine Branch) v. Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies, “the exercise of sovereign legislative authority, of which the power of legislative inquiry is an essential component, cannot be made subordinate to a criminal or administrative investigation.”

Does the investigation on sexual abuses and human trafficking violate the separation of Church and State?

No, the separation of Church and State does not give blanket immunity to religious leaders to commit criminal acts. To quote Thomas Jefferson on religious freedom, “the declaration that religious faith shall be unpunished does not give immunity to criminal acts dictated by religious error.” Sex trafficking and child abuse are egregious crimes, and blanket immunity to religious leaders will only allow unspeakable acts to persist and cause victims to suffer in silence and self-blame.

In like manner, religious leaders are also not exempt from attendance to Senate investigations in aid of legislation. It may be recalled that the six bishops implicated in the so-called “Pajero bishop scam” and accused of receiving Pajero vehicles from the former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo faced the Senate blue ribbon investigation. They are citizens like any other citizen, and held to the same penal laws as other Filipinos.

What are the implications of withdrawing the contempt citation and arrest order against Pastor Quiboloy?

A decision to withdraw the contempt citation and arrest order weakens the Senate’s mandate to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation. Allowing this under the pretext of violation of due process and the right to self-incrimination will allow high government officials and powerful individuals to avoid facing Senate hearings. It will reduce the legislature’s power to subpoena and cite witnesses in contempt and diminish one of the most historically-proven strategies to hold power to account.

As the Senate has come together as one to defend the institution from the sham people’s initiative aimed at diminishing the role of the Senate in amending and revising the Charter, so too must it come together to resist this other threat to the Senate’s constitutionally-protected mandate. –

Attorney Jaye Bekema is the Chief Legislative Officer of Senator Risa Hontiveros. She also teaches Congress and the Law at Silliman University.

1 comment

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  1. ET

    I appreciate the ideas and arguments presented by Atty. Jaye Bekema. These ideas and opinions have enlightened me about how pro-Quiboloy senators use fallacies to support their stand. Their errors are more apparent to me now. I hope other readers will understand such ideas and appreciate her article, too.

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