Sotto reminds colleagues: Respect resource persons during Senate hearings

Robie de Guzman   •   July 22, 2019   •   596

Senate President Vicente Sotto III

MANILA, Philippines – Reelected Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III on Monday reminded his colleagues to respect the rights of the resource persons they invite in their inquiries, saying they are primarily legislators and not prosecutors.

“We are not prosecutors, we are not Judges, our hearings had been known to be precursors of high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and even self-injury. It should not be the case,” Sotto said in his speech after he was reelected through viva voce.

“The constitution expressly provides that the rights of the invitees must be respected,” he added.

However, Sotto was quick to clarify that respecting the rights of resource persons does not mean they will be soft on those lying to them.

“I only mean that our inquiries should really be in aid of legislation, although I also believe that those who lie in our face must stay in our premises or Muntinlupa if they continue to do so. What I am only saying is that we are legislators, primarily,” he said.

Sotto retained his post as Senate President after he was after majority of senators voted for him at the start of the First Regular Session of the 18th Congress on Monday.

READ: Sotto retains post as Senate President

Sotto said the Senate will continue to be cooperative but independent and transparent on issues.

The senate leader also outlined some of the priority bills they will deliberate on in the 18th Congress, including the proposal to amend the Human Security Act of 2007 which will be called the Anti-Terrorism Act, the proposed Public Services Act, and the proposed national budget.

Sotto, meanwhile, sees heated debates ahead for the proposed revival of the death penalty. (with details from Nel Maribojoc)

Drilon, Sotto question basis for possible release of ex-Mayor Sanchez

Robie de Guzman   •   August 22, 2019

Senate President Vicente Sotto III (L) and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon (R)

MANILA, Philippines – The possible early release from jail of former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted for rape and murder of two students in the 1990s, has sparked outrage among the public including several senators.

Sanchez was sentenced in 1995 to seven terms of reclusion perpetua (or 40 years of imprisonment) over the rape and murder of Eileen Sarmenta, and the murder of her companion Allan Gomez.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) earlier said Sanchez might soon walk free due to a 2013 law that increased good conduct time allowance (GCTA) and a Supreme court ruling last June applying this law retroactively.

The application of good conduct time allowance, which reduces the years and days spent in jail has been stated in the Philippine Revised Penal Code.

But under the Republic Act 10592 signed by then President Benigno S. Aquino III in May 2013, the periods that may be credited for good conduct to inmates was expanded.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who was the country’s justice secretary during Sanchez’s conviction, said he was shocked and saddened by the news and questioned the applicability of the new GCTA rule to Sanchez.

READ: Drilon seeks Senate probe on reduced sentence of convicted rapist ex-Mayor Sanchez

Drilon cited the allegations of possession of illegal drugs against Sanchez in 2006 when a prison guard found a packet of shabu and marijuana in his jail cell. In 2010, he was again caught with P1.5 million worth of shabu.

Five years after, authorities seized an air conditioning unit and a television set from his cell.

“Ang balita ay involved siya sa drug trade sa Muntinlupa. Paano naman siya nagkaroon ng allowance for conduct of good behavior? Ang balita pa natin ay mayroon siyang aircon sa kaniyang kulungan. Paano naman naging good conduct ito?” Drilon said.

“Is Mayor Sanchez really qualified under RA 10592? This is a question of fact, so it is best for the Department of Justice to put on hold its decision until these issues are resolved,” he added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III echoed Drilon’s sentiments.

“Possession of illegal drugs is good behavior?” he asked.

Both senators warned the Bureau of Corrections and the Bureau of Pardon and Parole to carefully compute sentence reduction of Sanchez and the thousands of other inmates who may be eligible for early release under the new rule.

“Kapag sila ay hindi nag-comply sa law o nagkaroon ng maling computation they can be subject to one year imprisonment, P100,000 fine and perpetual disqualification from office pati sa mga nagko-compute ng mali aba ay mananagot pa sila,” Sotto said.

“Kung talagang ipipilit nila, I would assist the Sarmenta family to bring the case before the regular courts. Iku-question natin ang exercise of the discretion to release Antonio Sanchez,” Drilon said.

The two senators have filed separate resolutions calling on their colleagues to probe into the sentence reduction of Sanchez, and amend the provision of the Republic Act 10592 to exclude from the granting of pardon and parole those who were found guilty of committing heinous crimes.

“Basta’t classified na heinous crimes hindi dapat mag-qualify, dapat reclusion perpetua ka tutal ayaw nyo ng death penalty sige reclusion perpetua ka. You die in your cell,” Sotto said. (RRD with details from Grace Casin)

Sotto says SOGIE bill no chance of getting Senate nod if…

Robie de Guzman   •   August 22, 2019

28-year-old transgender woman Gretchen Diaz at the Senate hearing deliberating the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill. Calls for the passage of the bill sparked anew following a viral video showing Diaz being barred from using the women’s restroom at a shopping mall in the Philippines. (Prib photo: Joseph Vidal/20 August 2019)

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the proposed Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality bill has no chance of passing in the Senate.

In a message to reporters, Sotto said the Senate could pass an anti-discrimination bill but not one that is focused only on members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community.

“Anti-discrimination on persons pwede. Pero focused on gays, which the SOGIE bill is, and religious and academic freedom impeded plus smuggling of same sex marriage? No chance!” he said on Wednesday.

Sotto clarified his statement on Thursday, saying the bill has no chance of getting Senate’s nod if it violates certain freedom, including women’s rights.

“It has no chance of passing in the Senate, ‘IF’ it transgresses on academic freedom, religious freedom, and women’s rights,” he said in a statement.

The SOGIE bill, filed by Senator Risa Hontiveros, seeks to criminalize discrimination on basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

She earlier urged her colleagues to immediately pass the measure following the incident where a transgender woman was barred from using a female comfort room at a mall in Quezon City.

Hontiveros refiled the bill in the 18th Congress after the previous Congress failed to approve the measure.

Senators likely to support bill on dissolution of marriage than divorce – Sotto

Robie de Guzman   •   August 5, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III believes that senators are more likely to express support for a bill if it is called “dissolution of marriage” than “divorce.”

“Mukhang mas madali. Karamihan sa amin, mas madali kung pag-uusapan namin ay dissolution of marriage,” he told reporters in an interview on Monday.

Sotto issued the comment after Senator Risa Hontiveros vowed to work hard for the passage of the bill. She was also reported to have met with groups advocating for the legalization of divorce proceedings in the country.

Hontiveros, who chairs Senate Committee on Women, has been seeking to make “psychological incapacity of either spouse,” “irreconcilable marital differences,” marital rape, or being “separated for at least 5 years” grounds for divorce, among others.

She said the bill aims to free Filipinos “from abusive, loveless and unhappy marriages.”

“Buo rin ang aking simpatiya at suporta sa ating mga kababayan lalo na yung mga kabaro ko na naipit na sa mga abusive, loveless and unhappy marriages,” she said in an interview.

Since the 18th Congress opened last July 22, at least two divorce bills have been filed including that of Hontiveros.

READ: Hontiveros vows to push hard for divorce law in Philippines

But Sotto said many senators are not in favor of the proposal because of the word “divorce.”

He said some of his colleagues are more inclined to support the proposal it is termed as “dissolution of marriage,” which would simply relax and make the existing annulment proceedings more efficient and affordable.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri agreed with Sotto, saying their colleagues would rather accept a bill seeking for efficient annulment process.

“Maya-maya divorce kaagad, tapos kasal uli, tapos panibagong girlfriend, divorce kaagad. Ayaw ko ng medyo dysfunctional na concept ng marriage,” he said, noting how married couples in the United States could easily get divorce.

Senator Joel Villanueva also expressed strong opposition to the bill, saying the Philippines is a Christian nation where marriage is considered sacred.

“Banal na sakramento ang kasal, at naniniwala po tayo na hindi po dapat payagan, in general concept hindi dapat paghiwalayin ng tao,” he said. (with details from Nel Maribojoc)

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