August 20, 2001, Inquirer, Senate matching recklessness with own recklessness, by Amando Doronila, Inquirer News Service, Posted: 0:03 AM (Manila Time)
Terms of reference
THE INQUIRY by three Senate committees into allegations of money laundering by and drug traffic connections of Panfilo Lacson on Friday shifted the heat from the senator and scorched two of his accusers, Col. Victor Corpus and Angelo "Ador" Mawanay, alleged ex-civilian agent of Lacson.
The inquiry took a different trajectory from the assurance of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. that the hearing would not turn into an "inquisition" against Lacson's critics.
The outcome of the first hearing was that the Senate detained Mawanay after he testified that Sen. Loren Legarda-Leviste had bought "smuggled" cell phones from him, an assertion that Legarda-Leviste vigorously denied.
The hearing also brought Corpus under sharp interrogation, with some senators inquiring into Corpus' military-dissident background, implicitly raising doubts about his sanity, and into the factual basis of military intelligence and national police reports on Lacson's activities. These side issues had little to do with the main charges against Lacson and raised questions about what the Senate is really up to.
If the Senate hearings were aimed at getting into the bottom of the charges aired by Corpus against Lacson, Friday's hearing strayed from that purpose. It was transformed into a McCarthyist witch-hunt in which the senators demonstrated that they have the power to bully and send witnesses to jail, through a process in which they are the prosecutor, judge and sheriff--all rolled in one.
The score in Round One of the Senate hearings is that Lacson was the winner, without lifting a finger, and the Senate came out of it diminished. The outcome was the senators' gang-up on the witnesses.
What really happened was not so much a test of the credibility of Corpus and Mawanay as witnesses. It was a test of whether the Senate can carry out a fair inquiry without its members succumbing to a hysterical defense of their integrity or expanding the scope of the inquiry such that it blurs the main issue and it becomes unmanageable.
The tendency of the Senate to shield Lacson showed even before the hearing opened, through the terms of reference of the three committees. While the main purpose is to determine the basis of the military intelligence report leaked to the press, accusing Lacson of the alleged offenses, other resolutions were passed expanding the terms of reference.
One senator wanted to determine whether the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) was conducting surveillance on senators and politicians. Another raised the issue of whether the Isafp and the military were waging a political demolition job to undermine civil institutions, paving the way for a military takeover. Still another demanded to know whether the Isafp had a mandate to conduct investigations overseas of crimes--a job that, it is claimed, ought to be done by the national police.