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TURNING POINT: A Senate inquiry to suppress information?

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 9 March) – A Senate inquiry in aid of legislation is simply that – to help the legislators in the crafting of possible laws on something of vital interest to the nation. The Senate may invite government officials or functionaries and private individuals to serve as resource persons to shed light or provide information on issues and matters they are perceived knowledgeable or familiar with.

The resource person is also considered a witness because he would testify on what he knows on the subject of interest. It is the primary and critical responsibility of the chair of the committee that conducts the inquiry to avoid the pitfall of an investigation becoming prosecutorial, reducing to a crime suspect a resource person or witness and those others who may figure out in the unfolding of information being elicited about.

It is presumed that before the conduct of any congressional inquiry, be it in the House or in the Senate, a participating legislator must have a vision in his mind on the possible law that could be crafted or improved on existing one out of the information that may be generated from the exercise. With such vision, which in academic research is called a theoretical or a conceptual framework, his line of questioning is purposively guided and focused.

Without any framework in mind, questions may dwell on the peripherals and irrelevant, and accomplishing nothing for the interrogator but media mileage or an occasion for grand standing. One may recall how the lawmakers in the House competed repeatedly to ask salacious questions on the love life of the resource person Ronnie Dayan with his publicly disgraced paramour, rather than on asking pointed questions on the commerce of prohibited drugs in the national penitentiary.

In the Senate inquiry on EJK, it was silly for a senator to dwell and compete with a self-professed hired killer on the issue of spiritual renewal, claiming that his renewal is superior to the latter because he is a Bible reader. Most of the interrogating senators had the notion that spiritual renewal or conversion is a one-shot affair, and that a renewed person sins no more. If he sins again by lying, he’s a fake convert and therefore cannot be trusted and believed.

Retired SPO3 Lascañas was invited by the Senate as resource person on its EJK inquiry or more specifically on what he knows about the alleged and talked-about Davao Death Squad or DDS.

The senators knew that the retired policeman has publicly recanted his October 2016 testimony in the Senate on the DDS. Yet the senators – Chair Lacson, Sotto, Ejercito, Cayetano, Pacquiao and Villanueva took turns in impeaching the credibility of Lascañas with no less than the Chair’s opening statement advancing judgment on the unworthiness of Lascañas’s testimony even if the resource person has not yet opened his mouth. Lacson and Sotto threw at Lascañas Supreme Court rulings on recanted testimonies and the hazard or price of recanting a testimony, as if the former police officer, a law student, was not aware of what he was going into.

Many also forgot that a senate inquiry is not a judicial proceeding and such rulings on recantation of testimonies do not necessarily import to the senate proceeding whose main purpose is to gather information not to establish the guilt of a witness. Credible or not, they have to listen to him because they invited him to talk notwithstanding their knowledge of his personal circumstances.

Senator Ejercito commented that the senate inquiry is a déjà vu for him recalling how his father was removed from the presidency through similar exercise hinting that this time the charade is aimed at toppling another popularly elected president. The good senator should be reminded that the process undergone by President Joseph Estrada, his father, now the mayor of Manila, was an impeachment, historically the first ever in the country, not a regular senate committee inquiry in aid of legislation. Moreover, the current senate inquiry is called and controlled by supporters and loyalists of an incumbent president. The comparison is far-fetched.

At one point, Senator Villanueva, intending most likely to humiliate the resource person, stupidly asked him whether he is appearing in the Senate for the second time to sponsor a law, or something to that effect, forgetting that it was his role, not the resource person’s task to do it.

An invited resource person in any gathering is its guest. As a guest, he is entitled to some respect and civilities no matter how lowly his rank and status in society may be. But that’s not how our lawmakers often treat their invited resource persons in congressional inquiries. Invited guests are at times ridiculed, treated as suspected criminals, harassed and even threatened.

Come to think of it, if from the beginning Lacson and company believe that SPO3 Lascañas is not a credible witness, why did they still bother to invite him?

It seems the motive was no longer to make inquiry in aid of legislation but to publicly impeach his credibility as a storyteller and to discredit his earlier public confession on the Davao Death Squad that implicated to it murderous projects the former mayor of Davao City who is now the President of the Republic.

The senate inquiry was terminated, ended, notwithstanding the availability of other witnesses who are coming out to collaborate the testimony of Lascañas. In his privileged speech in the Senate on 8 March 2017, Senator Trillanes read some affidavits of individuals implicated by Lascañas to the DDS affair, all collaborating the latter’s testimony or public confession.

In the light of this development, will the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs reopen its inquiry on EJK and DDS? Ironically, this time around to keep mum on the matter is tantamount to – in judicial proceeding – suppression of evidence. To reopen, on the other hand, may expose further the true person of the tenant in Malacañang. It’s a catch-22 for the Palace-toeing senators.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan is a retired professor and former chancellor of the Mindanao State University Naawan campus in Misamis Oriental.)

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