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MANILA, Philippines – Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, whose motu propio call for a Senate hearing into resigned DILG Undersecretary Rico E. Puno is being reviewed by Senate lawyers, has aired fears of a “sabotage” of the inquiry set Friday, owing to lack of quorum and the absence of Puno himself.
Santiago, who chairs the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws, said in a statement Thursday that when her staff contacted the 11 members of her committee, not a single senator confirmed his attendance, and many gave as an excuse that they would be out of town.
Most senators go out of town Fridays, when there is no session, to have a long weekend for speaking engagements, constituency work or rest.
Senate Rules require at least two senators present for a quorum at a committee hearing.
Sources said the cool reception to Santiago’s initiated inquiry may also be due to its controversial nature: it was not prompted by a resolution by any member, or a privilege speech, or a referral from the floor to any committee. Sen. Panfilo Lacson had pointed out these complications, and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said he asked Senate legal counsel to study the implications of such a uniquely situated inquiry.
In calling the probe, Santiago alluded to an “Event” where she wanted Puno’s role probed, apparently referring to the lockdown of the office of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, Puno’s boss, when the latter was still missing as his plane crashed on August 18. She also wants to review the controversial scope of the powers of Puno, who as undersecretary was given charge over the Interior part if the DILG portfolio, with Robredo mainly limited to local governments.
Besides the zero confirmation from her panel members, Santiago said that while many of the resource persons invited have already confirmed their attendance, Puno, the target of the probe himself, has not yet confirmed that he will attend.
A few days ago, Puno reportedly told media that he had not yet received his invitation, but Santiago’s staff said all invitations were sent out last Monday, September 10.
The invitation specifically warns that if the committee deems necessary the testimony of the resource person, then the committee, in his absence, will issue a subpoena, which is compulsory.
Santiago told reporters if her panel fails to muster a quorum on Friday, this can only mean the senators have been ordered by Malacañang to stay away.
“If it happens, such a deliberate boycott will indicate that even my fellow senators who are members of my committee do not support my initiative. I will certainly raise a protest, but I’m thinking at the moment of what form my protest will take,” Santiago said.
Santiago also said that if the committee decides to issue a subpoena to Puno, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile will still have to sign the subpoena.
“If the Senate President refuses to sign he subpoena, in effect he will disapprove the committee recommendation, which is not normal,” she said.
Santiago said that if Puno is absent, “then it will show that he is a craven coward, that all charges against him are probably true, and that he is thumbing his nose at the Filipino public.”
Santiago said that even if Puno claims he does not want to answer questions because he might incriminate himself, that is no excuse for being absent.
“He has to be present and invoke the privilege for every question. That is not a ground for an omnibus refusal to answer all questions or to be absent,” she said.