Senate watchers hoping Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III will get censured by the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges for copying from American bloggers and a dead U.S. senator are in for a disappointment.
According to reports, professors from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and De La Salle University are getting ready to file an ethics complaint against Sotto. Three U.S.-based writers who say Sotto plagiarized from them for his speeches against the Reproductive Health bill have also said they want Sotto brought before the Senate ethics committee.
They will, no doubt, do so as promised, trooping to the Senate in front of photographers and reporters who will record the moment for posterity. And that is where the campaign to have Sotto censured by the Senate will end.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Sotto’s party-mate and ally in opposing the Reproductive Health bill, has already defended the senator even before a formal complaint has been filed. The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Matikas Santos writes,
“[Senators] can’t be question [sic] by anybody outside this chamber,” Enrile told reporters Monday.
He said that senators are given immunity under the Constitution to speak on any issues before the Senate.
Under Article Six “The Legislative Department” Section 11 of the Philippine Constitution, “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.”
That is true, but Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who has given fiery (and most likely original) privilege speeches at the Senate had this to say about parliamentary immunity after Ilocos Sur Governor Luis Singson sued her for implicating him in jueteng:
You know parliamentary immunity is not meant to be abused by the senators and congressmen. It is meant to encourage them to speak the unspeakable without suffering the consequences. Otherwise we’d all be lying dead on the streets or our family would be assassinated.
That’s neither here nor there, but that show what parliamentary immunity was meant for. Notice that there was no mention of passing somebody else’s words as your own as privileged speech.
Rule X § 13 (2) in the Rules of the Senate gives the Senate ethics committee jurisdiction over “all matters relating to the conduct, rights, privileges, safety, dignity, integrity and reputation of the Senate and its members.” That, presumably, includes Sotto’s alleged plagiarism and general unsavoriness of character. Under Senate rules, the committee can recommend punishment and “with the concurrence of two-thirds of the entire membership, suspend or expel a Member.”
The ethics committee can, but it will not. In the first place, the Senate ethics committee will not be able to reach a quorum of members willing to attend hearings and dignify a complaint against one of their own. This was a problem even when Senator Manuel Villar Jr. was facing an ethics complaint over a more serious charge of corruption and of being Senate president in the run up to an election year.
Ethics investigations against Senator Panfilo Lacson, who was accused of not doing his job by virtue of being absent from the Senate because he was a fugitive from justice, also went nowhere.
For an offense like plagiarism, which Sotto says is not even a crime even if he did do it which he isn’t saying he did, committee chairman and Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano might not even bother booking a room to hold a hearing in. Besides, he’ll be busy preparing for his election campaign and nurturing his deep hatred for Commission on Elections chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr.
Should Sotto be held accountable for plagiarism? Certainly, and the bloggers and professors who want him to answer for his intellectual dishonesty should be commended for fighting the good fight. As with many good fights, though, this one is against windmills who haughtily condemn corruption and contemptuous behavior in others but would rather be the laughing stock of the World Legislators’ Club than admit that they can make mistakes.