Sunday, November 07, 2004

Another legislative 'pakulo'

Another legislative 'pakulo'

Updated 01:34am (Mla time) Nov 07, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the November 7, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

ALTHOUGH I was much interested in the alleged acquisition by Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia of millions of pesos (and dollars, too) of ill-gotten wealth, I did not bother to watch the investigation of the case by the legislative committees headed by Representatives Roilo Golez and Jaime Lopez. I knew it would amount to nothing except a lot of grandstanding, particularly by Golez. I wasn't about to waste my time again watching the legislators exhibiting another pakulo while more urgent matters demanded their attention.

The principal task of Congress is legislation; right now, the most demanding of that task is the approval of the general appropriations act for the next fiscal year, which seems to have been sidelined by the Garcia expos‚. The power of legislative investigation is allowed only when it is undertaken in aid of legislation and not to determine if there is probable cause of the commission of a crime that will justify the filing of the corresponding information or complaint in court.

The preliminary investigation of a crime is done by the prosecuting arm of the government, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman, not Congress.

The role of the legislature is to ascertain from its own investigation if the laws it has passed are being enforced by the executive department or whether the present laws should be supplemented or amended, or whether such laws should be repealed and replaced if found to be inadequate.

The preliminary investigation of a crime requires a basic knowledge of criminal law and criminal procedure. That is why it is entrusted to lawyers. The finding of a legislative investigating committee that a crime has been committed is not conclusive on the executive department; all the committee can do is recommend, if it sees fit, the filing of appropriate charges against the respondent. The prosecutors may or may not act on such recommendation, depending on their own appreciation of the case, based on their own special training and experience.

I realize that some legislative investigations have produced beneficial results like the investigation of the purchase of the Tambobong-Buenavista estate in 1950 for which Congress had appropriated the necessary compensation. It had a right to ascertain if the money had been used for the intended legislative purpose. But these and several other useful investigations have been the exception rather than the rule. Most of the investigations conducted by the legislature have proved useless and have simply allowed the legislators to show off, especially now that the proceedings are exhibited on the idiot box.

Not a few of our supposedly intelligent solons have proved otherwise during these legislative investigations, and they have pictorially proved their defects on television. They can have the congressional record edited to correct all their grammatical errors, but this cannot be done on the boob tube. Even their "propesterous" pronunciation is irremediable. But these are only the least of their shortcomings. Their major faults are their pretensions, as when they claim an expertise they cannot prove and often in fact easily disprove. I have watched with amusement some legislators acting as if they were expert cross-examiners like Clarence Darrow whom they probably never even heard of.

One legislative investigation I watched from start to finish, as did hundreds of other interested citizens like me, was the probe of the charges filed against Panfilo Lacson which was held almost daily in 2001. It was conducted by three Senate committees that heard a number of witnesses for the complainants, including Mary Ong and Victor Corpus, and particularly Reynaldo Acop for the respondent, until it was terminated on Sept. 5 of that year. The joint report of the three committees recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against Lacson, but when it was finally called for deliberation by the Senate plenary last year, it was blocked by the minority senators.

With new senators from the last election changing the composition of the Senate, the Lacson case is now dead. Even Sen. Robert Z. Barbers, the chair of the lead committee who would have sponsored the joint report, is no longer a member. The public has a right to know what the Senate felt about that investigation, but it will never know now. It was one of the most important legislative investigations ever held in that chamber, and much official time and public funds were spent for nothing.

I think we have enough laws to apply to General Garcia even without the investigation held by the House of Representatives. Even now the Office of the Ombudsman has already filed information against him for unexplained wealth under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and the court martial is also intending to charge him under the Articles of War. We also have the Anti-Laundering Law to invoke if necessary. Golez and his investigators are merely saling pusa in this case but he is acting as if he was the main attraction.

When will all this exhibitionism end? No wonder actors want to become legislators and legislators want to become actors.


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