An ethics complaint has been filed against Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges is busy preparing for hearings on it.
Unfortunately, those preparations are the same ones the committee was doing more than a year ago: deciding on the rules that it will use in ethics cases.
In January 2011, while Senator Panfilo Lacson was in hiding from the law, the committee’s chairman, Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, set a meeting with the members of his panel. “We will have [an] organizational meeting of the committee on ethics and first agenda will be the rules,” he told reporters then.
“The intention is to assure that I will not be bias or prejudice. We will not make rules in accordance with the pending complaints. I will be a mediator rather than advocate,” Cayetano said.
And Cayetano was true to his promise. The committee did, indeed, not make rules. At all.
The senator said in an interview on DZMM this morning that the committee has to meet again to finalize the rules.
Ang naging status po noong magdedesisyon na kami sa finality ng rules ng komite noong Hunyo ng nakaraang taon, doon na po pumasok ang mabibigat na hearing sa Senado tungkol sa PCSO scam, sa 2004 at 2007 elections, at iba pang mga hearing. Matapos po nito ay pumasok rin po ang impeachment ni CJ Corona. Kaya ang nangyari po noon, hindi na po masyadong maganda ang attendance ng hearing ng Ethics Committee at hindi na bumalik yung consensus sa gagawing rules.
The senator says there were “several meetings, technical working groups and hearings that were working on the rules of the committee” before the members basically just lost interest. Who, after all, wants to have a mechanism in place to hold senators accountable, a mechanism that might one day be used against him?
Why was there a need to craft new rules for the ethics committee? Cayetano explains in Filipino that, during the 14th Congress, “the Ethics committee became controversial because there were always accusations within the Senate that cases were political in nature, or members of the Senate were using the committee against other members.” He neglects to mention that those accusations came from him and other allies of Senator Manuel Villar Jr., then aspiring for the presidency and facing an ethics probe.
Funnily enough, the head of the Ethics committee at the time was Senator Lacson, who was also Villar’s accuser.
Given the probe on Villar was partly political in nature (and achieved nothing in terms of accountability), Cayetano was right that better rules were needed when trying senators for disorderly conduct. He was wrong in not pushing for those rules to be finalized and adopted. As committee chairman, he certainly had the power to call for meetings and it should not have been impossible to get two to three members of the seven-member panel to attend.
In his radio interview this morning, Cayetano mentions failed attempts in past Congresses to come up with a Code of Ethics for senators. He does not mention, however, whether he will try to come up with one.
And this is what is the most irksome about Cayetano. For all his statements and speeches about transparency and justice and good governance, he has done little in the way of legislation. It is not uncommon for his office to issue statements that sound great but are not backed up by bills or resolutions that will actually make things happen.
According to a GMA Network News report in 2011, Cayetano beat only Senator Joker Arroyo in the number of bills and resolutions filed. Considering Arroyo only filed 17 resolutions by then, that is really not saying much.