Enrile: Sotto covered by parliamentary immunity

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012


MANILA (Updated 11:30 a.m.) -- Senators and congressmen can talk anything under the sun as long as it is done inside the halls of Congress, a Senate leader who took the cudgels for alleged plagiarist Senator Vicente Sotto III said.

Using Article 6 Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution as basis, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said they cannot be questioned for their speeches since it is an immunity given by the Filipino people.

"If you really respect the Constitution, then enforce that rule. If you don't want it, change the system of government or amend the Constitution," he told reporters.

On Tuesday, university professors filed an ethics complaint against Sotto supposedly to make him accountable for lifting passages from American bloggers and late Senator Robert Kennedy without attribution in his speeches from August to September against the Reproductive Health bill.

Complainants said Sotto went beyond expressing other people’s ideas as his own. They cited Section 193 of Republic Act 8293 or the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines, which specify the “moral rights” of authors over their work.

“It is true that legislators may discuss anything under the sun in the plenary or in the premises of the Senate and not have their word be taken against them in the court of law. However, it is precisely the same collegial body that has the sole responsibility to police their ranks, and that is why we are bringing the issue to the Senate,” said University of the Philippines Center for Women’s Studies director Sylvia Claudio.

Sotto had claimed he did nothing wrong.

The ethics committee headed by Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano assured that parties will be given a fair chance to air their side.

"Whether or not a particular act constitutes a violation or unethical behavior will have to fall under the definitions according to the rules and the consensus of the members. But I can assure everyone of a fair hearing with all of these issues at hand," he said on Monday.

Cayetano added that he already asked his staff to look for an available time and room and check the availability of the seven-man committee to approve the rules. He can’t promise, however, if a hearing will be done before the year ends.

Meanwhile, Enrile hinted that the complaint may not be enough to oust Sotto, whose term ends in June 2016.

"You can only kick of this House if you have I think 3/4 of the members or 2/3 voting in your favor or you can go to the people. You cannot discipline anybody here unless they commit a crime. If you commit a crime, you can charge them," he said.

Article 6 Section 16 (3) of the Constitution provides that either the Senate or the House of Representatives can punish its members for "disorderly behavior" through suspension or expulsion with the concurrence of two-thirds of all its members. A penalty of suspension shall not exceed 60 days.

Enrile advised the complainants to ask for civil damages instead. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)

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