How Senators should not behave
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-02-01
Chaired by Senator TG Guingona, last Thursday’s Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Hearing on the highly controversial Major General (Retired) Carlos Garcia plea bargain deal with the Sandiganbayan had its share of ups and downs.

On the upside, the hearing demonstrated what many Filipinos suspected — that the prosecutors who pushed the plea bargain did not have the heart and determination to apply the full force of the law on what even many legal luminaries see as a solid case against Garcia, the former AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Comptroller. As the Good Book says, none are so blind than those who do not want to see.

Also on the upside is the emergence of a former AFP colonel — Retired Col. George Rabusa — who testified under oath that former AFP Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes had received large amounts of money outside of his entitled compensation. Rabusa narrated how Reyes received more than P50 million in “sendoff” money for a retiring Chief of Staff, apparently an illegal practice which had become a tradition in the AFP. 

On the downside of that Senate Hearing were the actuations of Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Antonio Trillanes against Angelo Reyes. This has nothing to do with favoring Reyes over Senators Estrada and Trillanes. It’s all about basic fair play, decency, good manners and right conduct.

It’s well established that Senators Estrada and Trillanes both harbor their respective grudges against Reyes. Estrada never forgave Reyes for abandoning his father, the convicted former president Joseph Estrada, resulting in his father’s ouster. Trillanes and his 2003 fellow Oakwood mutineers had directed their accusations of corruption against a Reyes-led AFP.

Senators Estrada and Trillanes should have exerted extra effort that their actuations against Reyes during the hearing will be appreciated by the public as nothing personal and strictly business. They both did the opposite. They were boorish and seemed more like spoiled juvenile delinquents instead of Senators of the Republic. Instead of generating public support for ferreting out corruption in the AFP, they may have unwittingly generated public sympathy for Reyes instead — counterproductive.

No doubt, the Rabusa revelation tore to shreds the reputation of Angie Reyes. Rabusa was the underling of Reyes and there could not have been a better witness. But having been brought to the Senate hearing by Sen. Estrada, through his lawyer, Estrada should have known better than to flaunt his contempt for Reyes. All the more, Estrada should have adopted a cool business like stance during the hearing.

Instead, Estrada would not even allow Reyes to speak and defend his reputation. “This is not an issue of greed. The issue is if you collected money, if you were corrupt as chief (of staff) of the Armed Forces. Who cares if you were generous?” Estrada said after Reyes tried to defend himself.

Estrada’s behavior, as well as that of Trillanes, reminded you of a person who is acting as judge, jury and executioner. Instead of people seeing a possibly crooked former AFP Chief of Staff, knowing how Filipinos tend to side with the underdog, they probably generated some sympathy for Angie Reyes. Stupid when you consider their objective.
Many in media had noted how Trillanes violated the courtesies that alumni of the PMA (Philippine Military Academy) extend to each other with the way he savaged Angie Reyes. Trillanes had projected an image of arrogance and rashness ever since he entered public consciousness during the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny. Many condemned his Makati courtroom walkout which led to the infamous Peninsula Hotel assault where scores of media persons were also arrested.

When Reyes attempted to make a rejoinder, Trillanes slammed the door on his request and shouted: “If you are so concerned about your name, you should have fixed yourself while you were in office.” He added: “This is the time of reckoning. You better find very good lawyers.”

Perhaps alarmed at how Reyes was being unfairly treated by Estrada and Trillanes, Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile and Committee Chairman TG Guingona allowed Reyes to defend his reputation.

If you’re scandalized by the sight on television of brawling Taiwanese parliamentarians, then you should be equally scandalized by these actuations of Senators Estrada, Trillanes and every so often — Senator Miriam Santiago. Senators should not forget that they’re public servants and have no business acting like public bullies. Indeed, a Senate hearing neither guarantees the veracity of all revelations nor allows due process. An accused cannot even cross examine a hostile witness. Senators must maintain the presumption of innocence of all persons.

If Senators Estrada, Trillanes, Santiago et al think and act like this, then we should question their fitness to be legislators. If this is the way they think and act, how can we trust them to make just laws?

Actuations like these of Senators Estrada and Trillanes create a negative public perception against Senate Hearings — that these hearings are mere political platforms for promoting a Senator’s personal agenda. Instead of Filipinos being enlightened and learning to appreciate the value of these Senate hearings, the hearings become venues for launching cheap shots and personal assaults — thereby adding to the rubbish in the Filipino public mind.

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