MANILA, Philippines — Colleagues of House of Representatives Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas balked at his suggestion they should be immune from arrest for minor traffic violations.
The veteran Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said Fariñas’ “off-the-cuff invocation” of lawmakers’ constitutional immunity from arrest for offenses punishable with imprisonment of not more than six years was “uncalled for.”
“It sends the wrong message that there is no speed limit for representatives during session days,” he said in a statement.
Lagman also pointed out that congressmen usually have drivers and security aides who cannot enjoy similar immunity.
He said Fariñas’ statement could lead to “more acerbic criticisms” of House members after the controversial vote by the chamber — which came amid public anger over the deaths of young men at the hands of police, widely suspected to be executions contrary to authorities claims of shootouts — to give the Commission on Human Rights a budget of P1,000.
“To my knowledge, no representative has been detained or arrested for a traffic violation and no incumbent has asked for any immunity from arrest or detention for a traffic infraction,” Lagman pointed out.
In a separate statement, Bayan Muna party-list Representaive Carlos Zarate said granting lawmakers immunity from traffic violations “will only create double standards” in the implementation of laws.
“Lalo nitong patitingkarin na may ibang batas para sa may kapangyarihan at sa karaniwang tao. Dapat ay maging huwaran ang mga mambabatas para tuparin ang mga ito (This will only bolster the perception that there are different laws for the powerful and ordinary people. Lawmakers should be models of compliance with the law),” he stressed.
“Mga simpleng empleyado o kawani o maging mga mambabatas o matataas na opisyal ay lahat apektado talaga sa malalang traffic. Lahat ay may mga mahalaga ring gawain sa araw-araw na sasabak sila sa daang matrapik, kaya mas dapat ay wala ng napapaburan pa (Whether simple employees or lawmakers or ranking officials, all are really affected by traffic. Everyone has important tasks to do every day that requires them to suffer the traffic, which is why no one should be favored over others),” Zarate added.
At a congressional hearing of the committee on transportation Monday, September 18, Fariñas cited Section 11, Article VI of the Constitution on parliamentary Immunity, Section of which states: “A Senator or Member of the House of Representatives shall, in all offenses punishable by not more than six years imprisonment, be privileged from arrest while the Congress is in session. No Member shall be questioned nor be held liable in any other place for any speech or debate in the Congress or in any committee thereof.”
“‘Pag nagpakilalang congressman, ‘wag dalhin sa presinto kasi hindi na siya makakapag-perform ng kanyang functions (If they introduce themselves as congressmen, don’t bring them to the station because they won’t be able to perform their functions),” Fariñas said.
“Halimbawa, eh nakasagasa. Nasugatan ‘yung tao. ‘Pag nagpakilalang congressman ‘yan, eh ‘di saka na huhulihin. Ang aming rules po, ‘pag natapos ang session, isu-surrender ni Speaker ‘yung member sa inyo (For example, he ran over and injured someone. If he introduces himself as a congressman, he shouldn’t be arrested immediately. Our rules state that as soon as the session ends, the Speaker will surrender him to you),” he said.
His comments drew widespread public criticism and derision.