The issue on Senator Leila De Lima had breached the relationship of the country’s legislative bodies. The Senate and the House of Representatives are apparently getting into heated arguments on how the case should be treated. Recently, the House had issued a show-cause order against De Lima. House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas had directed it toward the Office of the Senate Secretary together with Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali. This particular act received varying reactions from the Upper House.
The primary objective of the order was to compel De Lima to explain why she allegedly advised Ronnie Dayan to not present himself at the House probe on illegal drugs in the New Bilibid Prison. Because of the senator’s so-called “obstruction of justice,” the House even threatened to arrest her is she does not comply.
Given the order, however, De Lima remained staunch in her stance to “ditch” the hearing she described as a “kangaroo court.” She also accused the lower chamber of humiliating her instead of pursuing a legitimate investigation. “Mas maganda, ang itawag diyan, obstruction of persecution,” she had said.
Senate President Franklin Drilon then advised the Upper House to take a stand regarding the show-cause order. This signaled the beginning of the conflict between the two chambers. Drilon apparently presented the implications of the show-cause order saying that it is just appropriate for De Lima not to acknowledge the demand of the Lower House. The said act had an implication that the House is getting overboard, forgetting the rudiments of a democratic government.
The show-cause order, added Drilon, might also mean that the House can now compel or order against specific members of the Senate. As a result, he, together with Francis Pangilinan and Bam Aquino, asked for an interchamber courtesy.
As De Lima’s issue proved to be not only on a personal level, both the Senate and the House should not forget the principle of co-equality. Since the issue have broadened to the scope of the whole Senate, according to the three aforementioned senators, “the correct procedure is to bring the matter officially before the entire Senate and not directly to one senator.” It can be deduced from here that the House might have had the notion of demanding De Lima’s presence since they feared that the Senate is becoming too “nurturing” and “gentle” with its members.
In fact, the supposed filing of the ethics complaint against the senator would mean that the representatives are becoming conscious of their upper-hand position. However, although they affirmed they have the purest intentions of solving the issue, the House should “clean up” their acts on investigating De Lima. The Senate had been very critical of the misogynistic and sexist ways of interpellations in the House.
To be able to solve the conflict, the Senate and the House should lean upon the Constitution that subtly states their co-equal existence in the legislature. The Senate must not look down upon the House and expect it to be apathetic of legislative and/or controversial issues like De Lima’s. The provisional disregard to the principle of co-equality is inevitable when there is dire need for check and balance.
In the same way, the House should adhere to Article XI, Section 21 of the Constitution. It states that, “The Senate and the House… may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with the published rules of procedure. The rights of persons appearing in, or affiliated by the inquiries shall be respected.” Obviously, the House lacked sensitivity in the case of De Lima. As the people’s representatives, they should be the first ones to be knowledgeable of and comply to the law. They should also conduct themselves professionally and not turn Congress hearings into theatric acts or stand-up comedy.
Lastly, both chambers should keep in mind that senators are not impeachable officials unlike the president, the vice president, members of the Supreme Court, members of the Constitutional Commission and the Ombudsman. A senator or a House member also shall, in all offenses punishable by not more than six years of imprisonment, be privileged from arrest while Congress is in session. Therefore, both of them should adhere to the procedures specified by law.