Of blocs and bloc heads

Right after Congress was organized last 25 July 2022, an unusual thing happened in the Senate: When traditionally the Upper House would be split into majority and minority blocs, the brother-and-sister team of Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano announced that the two of them would be comprising an “independent bloc” separate from the minority group of Koko Pimentel and Risa Hontiveros. Thus, we now have three groupings in the Senate: The “supermajority” led by Senate President Migz Zubiri, the small minority with Pimentel as its floor leader and the “independents” led by Alan Peter.

The significance of having a so-called Cayetano faction within the Senate is not clear at this point, as the configuration would thus be 20-2-2, with 20 members in the supermajority. Under the circumstances, two votes would hardly matter, even if the “independent bloc” aligns itself with the minority. Unless, of course, the Cayetano siblings will be waiting in ambush until some highly contentious issue causes a rip in the ranks of the supermajority, and then perhaps — just perhaps — the Cayetanos can become the swing votes.

Speaking of blocs, the first flurries of legislative measures filed by the members of the majority reflect their respective priorities, as well as their support for the newly-minted President’s legislative thrust. But as the Senate majority syncs itself with the Executive as regards the latter’s legislative agenda “to foster unity and good governance” without “railroading the bills of Malacañang” (in the very words of Zubiri), what does the minority (meaning Kiko and Risa) do? File a resolution asking the Senate to tell the Department of Justice to withdraw all drug charges against former senator Leila de Lima, that’s what!

Not being a lawyer, Hontiveros may be forgiven for not knowing the jurisprudence relating to the dropping of cases against a person already indicted for a capital offense and who is already being tried in a court of law. In fact, although a lawmaker, she should have known enough of the law to have been aware that looking over another person’s shoulder to take screenshots of the messages he has received and publicizing them constitutes wiretapping, a criminal offense. Unfortunately, under the principle of ignorantia legis neminem excusat (ignorance of the law excuses no one), charges were filed against Hontiveros before a Pasay court for doing exactly that, and to the then Justice Secretary no less.

But what is Pimentel’s excuse for filing such a laughable resolution? After all, he is not just a maker of laws, he is himself a lawyer. And not just a lawyer, but someone who got the highest score in the 1991 Bar examinations. He therefore could not have been unaware of the doctrine of separation of powers (which every high school student learns in Social Studies), whereby the Legislative is instructed not to meddle in the affairs of the Judiciary. He also could not have been ignorant of the leading case of Crespo vs Mogul, which is one of the first cases taught, not only in Political Law, but in Criminal Procedure as well. In that decision, the Supreme Court held that when a person is already being tried in criminal court, ONLY the court may have the case dismissed by acquittal or some other valid cause. The Department of Justice has practically no say on the matter. And the Legislature has no business telling it to do anything.

So, we now have the ludicrous spectacle of Pimentel and Hontiveros asking the Legislature to do something that it should not do, and that is to ask the Executive to do something the Judiciary says cannot be done. Funny if it were not so pathetic. But then, that is Pimentel’s privilege as the leader of the Senate minority bloc. For, after all, he is the bloc head.

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