The Senate: a den of thieves

In our democratic government, there are three major branches that engage each other in a system called “checks and balances”. Aside from fulfilling mandated functions, each is also empowered to make sure that none of the other two branches overstep their boundaries and pull any of them back into line. This is elementary for students of social studies. No need to elaborate.

But a lesson in “checks and balances” is needed for the Philippine Senate, that bastion of legislative authority where members DEMAND that they are respected and have zero tolerance of “other” people — non senators — who might have the gall to disagree with them or utter words that are unpleasant to their hearing.

During the last few days, a controversy erupted when Lt. General Antonio Parlade, Jr., commander of the AFP Southern Command and spokesman of the National Task Force for the End of the Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) reacted not so politely to the threat of Senators Joel Villanueva and Sherwin Gatchalian to remove its budget.

Villanueva and Gatchalian, a pair of spoiled brats who consider the fate of the nation as a video game, were displeased that Parlade has kept up a steady stream of words to expose the true nature of AP Non’s community pantry. They call it “red-tagging” that Senator Franklin Drilon wants to be punishable with 10 years of imprisonment.

Parlade’s reaction was to calll Villanueva and Gatchalian “stupid”.

This triggered angry reactions from Drilon, Kiko Pangilinan and other dilawan senators. Drilon said Parlade should be censured for insulting his fellow senators. Pangilinan described it as utter disrespect for the institution and a bad example for a public servant to say nasty words about senators,

If there is anybody who should be reprimanded, it isn’t Parlade.

The Senate is no longer the institution that it used to be. Its “august chambers” have been desecrated by the criminal acts of its own leaders. Unethical behavior among senators have not been lacking in abundance. In a way of speaking, it has turned into a “den of thieves”.

One illustration would be the case of Joel Villanueva. The omisson of the title “Senator” is deliberate. Because if the law was enforced, he should not have lasted a minute longer as Senator after then Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III received the decision of the Ombudsman in November 2016 finding Villanueva guilty of (a) grave misconduct, (b) serious dishonesty and (c) conduct prejudicial to the best interests of the service.

As administrative case against Villanueva was investigated when he was TESDA Director General, the Ombudsman ordered him DISMISSED from the service. It just happened that he had already been elected as Senator and had assumed office when the decision came out.

Pimentel, acting upon the recommendation of the Senate Legal Office, refused to carry out the order of the Ombudsman. It was strange how Pimentel could display such ignorance of the law when he abided by the legal opinion of the Senate Legal Office. Pimentel was a bar topnotcher in 1990.

It doesn’t take a lawyer to know that the opinion is flawed.

The Senate Legal Office advised Pimentel that the Ombudsman “had no jurisdiction” over the acts of Villanueva in pillaging the national treasury through the misuse of PDAF money through a Napoles foundation. Senators and congressmen are not within the disciplinary authority of the Ombudsman, it said. That’s true. But Villanueva was charged with these administrative offenses when he was TESDA Director General. And his offenses were not erased when he left his party-list congressional seat. It stayed with him, and continues to stay with him. His fitness to occupy the position of TESDA Director General was tainted because of what he had done as congressman.

I’m sorry, but I call that opinion “stupid”. And Pimentel even more “stupid” in using that opinion as basis for refusing to enforce the law.

The Ombudsman’s order was not to dismiss Villanueva as Senator. The dismissal aspect became moot and academic when Villanueva resigned as TESDA Director General to run as Senator. Pimentel conveniently ignored the fact that there was an accessory penalty to the guilty verdict: PERPETUAL DISQUALIFICATION FROM PUBLIC OFFICE.

In simple terms, in a language that only the stupid would not be able to understand, Villanueva has no legal standing anymore to hold any public office, much more that of a Senator of the Republic. That he won as Senator in the 2016 elections did not cure the legal infirmity. Villanueva’s situation is similar to what happened to Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was defrocked as Chief Justice because she was not qualified in the first place.

Pimentel should have enforced the order. But apparently, he didn’t have the moral courage of his departed father, the revered Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. The late Nene Pimentel was one of my idols. HIs son pales in comparison to him. In fact, there is no comparison if moral courage is made the measurement. Koko demonstrated moral cowardice.

If there were flaws on the issue of jurisdiction, the proper remedy for Villanueva was to seek a TRO from the Supreme Court. Without such an injunction, the Ombudsman order was final and executory pending appeal. And I don’t have to remind Pimentel that the order was part of the law of the land. The Senate has no power to overturn it. Neither can it ignore it.

This is a sad testimony to the erosion of integrity in the Senate. Its own members have desecrated its august chambers. Pimentel brought shame and dishonor to the Senate.

Villanueva’s continued stay as Senator is also a crime in progress.

By continuing to perform the functions of the office, he is committing the crime of usurpation of public authority by masquerading as a Senator when he shouldn’t continue to occupy that office. He is also committing the crime of causing undue injury to the Government because he collects salaries and allowance as a Senator when he is not entitled to it. He is causing irreparable injury to the integrity of the Senate by clinging to his position like a leech.

No wonder General Parlade and the Filipino people can show disrespect to these senators. It is you who cloaked yourselves with dishonor. You have discarded integrity and honor because of your selfish interests.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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