How not to conduct a hearing

What a spectacle!

Drama unfolded at the Senate yesterday as the senators tried to conduct a hearing (in aid of legislation they say, although exactly what kind of legislation is being aided remains to be seen since the senate’s record as a legislative body is, quite frankly, dismal). The senate is an institution that is fast degenerating in the public eye. Our senators seem to be tripping all over themselves in their desperate efforts to justify their existence. As an institution that is fighting tooth and nail to gain public sympathy to maintain its existence, I am afraid that it is losing heavily in the bar of public opinion.

I have no love lost for the PCGG. I think that the commission has failed to live up to its mandate. It has been almost a score since it was established and yet it still has nothing to show for its efforts. I think that even the current pragmatic stance for compromise settlements is doomed simply because the cases have become hopelessly mired in legal entanglements that now require a miracle to sort out.

But bullying a commissioner, engaging him in a shouting match and calling him all kinds of unsavory names during a hearing is definitely not the way to go. As they say, ang pikon talo. Thus, PCGG Commissioner Sabio may be bluffing and all the accusations against him may be true, but he has suddenly become the underdog in this whole spectacle. He has suddenly and officially assumed the status of a martyr.

Thanks to the emotional tantrums of Senators Gordon and Enrile, I have no doubt that there are many out there who are buying this emotional yarn of Sabio being a humble public servant simply doing his job and who is now suffering at the hands of bullies. It was a good thing a cooler and more sensible Senator Osmena eventually interfered to restore some semblance of civility into the whole proceedings– but sadly, all that was not enough to overshadow the earlier drama. Expectedly, all the newscasts last night focused more on the shouting match, showing a very livid Senator Gordon spewing fire and brimstone while on the other side of the room, a seemingly meek and harmless PCGG Commissioner sat trying to get a word in.

PCGG Commissioner Sabio may have provoked the outburst with his dogged insistence to interrupt, but there is absolutely no justification for Gordon’s hysterics. Sadly, the gravity of the whole purpose of the hearing is now lost and all people will remember about the senate hearing is that unfortunate power tripping.

That was definitely a powerful lesson on how not to conduct a public hearing.


domingo said…
The arrest and detention of PCGG Commissioner Sabio reminds me of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin and Edward R. Murrow in the 1950s.

Murrow “who set the standard for television journalism” by his 1954 televised critique of what is now known as “McCarthyism.” Murrow warned: "We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.”

And concluded with the now famous line: “And so, good night, and good luck.”

Is the power to inquire the power to disregard the command in the Bill of Rights that “no person shall be deprived of … liberty … without due process of law”?

Does “due process of law” allow “indefinite detention” and “warrantless” arrests?

Does the power to inquire include all the powers the Constitution already grants to the constitutional Office of the Ombudsman?

Is the congressional power to punish its members the authority to try and punish non-members by resorting to “trial by legislature”?

The U.S. Congress, in fact, has “practically abandoned” its practice of detaining a recalcitrant witness as noted in Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178 (1957) handed down at the height of the “McCarthy-era paranoia”:

"Since World War II, the Congress has practically abandoned its original practice of utilizing the coercive sanction of contempt proceedings at the bar of the House. The sanction there imposed is imprisonment by the House until the recalcitrant witness agrees to testify or disclose the matters sought, provided that the incarceration does not extend beyond adjournment. The Congress has instead invoked the aid of the federal judicial system in protecting itself against contumacious conduct. It has become customary to refer these matters to the United States Attorneys for prosecution under criminal law. The appropriate statute is found in 2 U.S.C. 192.

"In fulfillment of their obligation under this statute, the courts must accord to the defendants every right which is guaranteed to defendants in all other criminal cases ..."

To repeat for emphasis: “[T]he courts must accord to the defendants every right which is guaranteed to defendants in all other criminal cases.”

The U.S. Supreme Court reiterated this view in Groppi v. Leslie, 404 U.S. 496 (1972.):

"Legislatures are not constituted to conduct full-scale trials or quasi-judicial proceedings and we should not demand that they do so although they possess inherent power to protect their own processes and existence by way of contempt proceedings. The Congress of the United States, for example, no longer undertakes to exercise its contempt powers in all cases but elects to delegate that function to federal courts."

The U.S. law cited was enacted in 1857 yet. Irving Brant in “The Bill of Rights, Its Origin and Meaning,” at p. 433, cites the remarks of Senator Bayard at the time the law was passed:

"One of the greatest recommendations of this bill, said [Senator] Bayard, was that it transferred the power of punishment for contempt from Congress to a court of justice after judicial inquiry. 'I am aware,' said he, 'that legislative bodies have transcended their powers--that under the influence of passion and political excitement they have very often invaded the rights of individuals, and may have invaded the rights of co-ordinate branches of government.' if our institutions were to last, there could be no greater safeguard than to transfer that indefinite power of punishment to the courts of justice."

Chapter 37 of Brant’s book, aptly titled “Attainder by Congressional Committees,” is recommended reading for members of both Houses of Congress.

To thwart any attempt in the future to transform congressional inquiry "in aid of legislation" into "congressional attainder," our own Congress should be respectfully petitioned to adopt the solution offered above in 2 U.S.C. 192 (identical to Sec. 150 Revised Penal Code?), and let the separate, co-equal Court try, decide and punish after a "judicial" (not “legislative”) inquiry has been concluded.

This way, "[t]he rights of persons appearing in or affected by such [legislative] inquiries" the Constitution commands Congress "to be respected" are upheld (particularly the privilege against self-incrimination).

Meanwhile, "Good Night, and Good Luck," McCarthyism lingers to haunt. It lurks clothed with that assumed congressional authority to "attaint" and, like the "sword of Damocles," hangs unsheathed ready to decapitate its next victim--journalists, perhaps?.

"He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." --Thomas Paine

Justice Rutledge quoted Paine's line, dissenting in In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1 (1946), to emphasize the Court's unwavering commitment to due process of law--the bedrock--that he viewed as having been compromised by the majority decision, and concluded forcefully:

"That door is dangerous to open. I will have no part in opening it. For once it is ajar, even for enemy belligerents, it can be pushed back wider, perhaps, ultimately for all."

To that, add this dying wish of St. Thomas More—King Henry VIII's "bosom friend" (later his "enemy") ordered beheaded by an "Act of Attainder" in 1535, canonized 1935:

"Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"--"A Man of All Seasons"

Domingo T. Arong
alden said…
Hi Bong,

Just wante dto sahre to you this article a came across here whiel riding teh subway back home....

Looks like, Filipino are not teh only one who are sick and tired of partisan politics. Americans too...

Kaya lang dito, mukhang may napipisil na personality to fill in the gaps and coming from the middle, in the person of Mayor Bloomberg....

At of course dito walang hysterics na katulad ng nagyayari dyan

Now my question to you sino ba sa palagay mo ang taong pwedeng mag ala Mike Bloomberg dyan???
Anonymous said…
Exactly, to the nth power! Actually I was wondering last night if you would blog about this because in my disgust upon seeing the news, I wanted to say something. That affair in the senate yesterday was a sorry, horrid, disgusting, stupid, sickening, maddening, #$%#@ palabas! My husband and I were sitting there in front of the TV and one couldn't describe our facial expressions. I was asking him: " Are you telling me I'm funding this, this spectacle with my tax money?" I was thinking if there was an election now about what form of government we'll have, I am sure as hell going to vote for anything that will abolish completely these 2 houses of nothing but self aggrandizing bunch of sorry excuses for human beings! Ay nako, obvious ba na I'm angry? I was livid! NAKAKAHIYA, to be mild about it!!! I am sickened to the core!
Like you, I have no more faith in these PCGG people and suspect that they are guilty of corruption. But isn't it going to be better on our collective sanity that they just get all the strongest evidence against these people and just sue the hell out of them, instead of useless endless senate investigations in aid of farce? Can we do something with these senators sooner than the next elections, other than praying for the roof to fall hard on all of them?
This Gordon-@#$%. Remember how he looked like when Erap was yanking him out of SBMA? He was like an api-apihan in front of the TV cameras, much like what Sabio looks like now. I hope next elections he wouldn't be voted even as a barangay captain. I feel like dunking him in the oil goo in Guimaras.
Can we still have a good day?
Taga-Iyam said…
I watched the hearing last night....past 10PM Denver time....and it sure was very disappointing watching supposedly mature and professional senators bully/intimidate Sabio. If they were there for a hearing in aid of legislation, why were they treating Sabio like he is a criminal to defend himself? Talaga bang ang mga hearing para na lang ilabas ang baho nang isat-isa? What hearing have they conducted that has a definite closure and has helped the formation of laws that can protect the public?

Senator Gordon intimidated Sabio by trying to talk fast and scream....yet....he accused Sabio the one who was screaming. I thought Senator Enrile has said he would be there in the hearing to watch, but, he just could not stop from opening his mouth too.

I wish these people would just learn to be less intimidating and be more watchful of their attitude.Nakakahiya sila.....and to think they are professionals.
BongA said…
Thanks for the input. I hope you do not mind if I quote you in my column for Monday. Trial by legislation in fact! Thanks!


Will check it out. Thanks! Ey, you should send me another comment with your email add - I will not publish it. Just want to catch up on whats up with you.


Mommy Jo,
Hay naku, sinabi mo! Nakakasuka talaga!

vic said…
I have witnessed so many hearings, inquiries and followed most of them from ‘aid to legislation’ to uncovering the “mystery” that normal police and criminal investigations can not dig out or to satisfy the Public demand for Answers. And Hundred Percent of the Time it never involves Elected Politicians, but Judges, Coroners, or Any Person considered knowledgeable to conduct such complex and very demanding tasks.

The one example I can site is one that happened locally. City of Toronto IT equipment lease contract double to 86 millions from 43 without the Council approval. Came madame Justice Bellamy to conduct an ‘aid to legislation’ or more of uncovering the dirt, and it was unbelievable how a millionaire City Budget Commissioner (one of the council member) can be tempted by a 25 grand grease money by a smooth (brother of a Hockey Star, a hairdresser turned Salesman) sales who nothing about computers. The city spent 20 million on the inquest, but it was well-worth it and the Lady Judge kept her cool with all the lies and bravado in her court. But in her report he cited the Budget Commissioner that his testimonies was worthy of Pinocchio., and recommended laws that may prevent such abuse from happening again.

I think that’s how a hearing should be conducted if everyone really wants to reform the system. Just my thoughts this nice weekend..
almabien said…
I signed up for the people's initiative with some initial reservation. However, after seeing how our taxes continue to be mindlessly wasted on the Senate I have no more qualms whatsoever. Good riddance to this sorry excuse of a legislative body. Enough said.
domingo said…

Thanks for spreading the "news."

The PCBB website (at provides interesting data on the “Past Chairmen” and their lengths of stay (The figures after their names show the number of months in office as Chair):

01. Jovito R. Salonga 13 months
02. Ramon A. Diaz 17
03. Adolfo S. Azcuna 1
04. Mateo T. Caparas 24
05. David M. Castro 21
06. Magtanggol C. Gunigundo 72
07. Felix M. De Guzman 4
08. Alexander G. Gesmundo (few days)
09. Magdangal B. Elma 27
10. Jorge V. Sarmiento 5
11. Haydee B. Yorac 46
12. Camilo L. Sabio 16 months

Take note that the PCGG has already been in existence for 246 months; and that Camilo L. Sabio, the incumbent Chair, has served for only 16 months, while the 11 “Past Chairmen” account for a total of 230 months (that’s 246 minus 16 months).

So, why should the PCGG be disbanded (as trumpeted by Senators Gordon and Enrile) simply because of the alleged “anomalous transactions” of the incumbent Chair Sabio who has only been in office for 16 months?

One of the three “Basic Tasks” entrusted to the PCGG under Pres. Aquino's Executive Order No. 1--“The recovery of all ill-gotten wealth accumulated by former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, his immediate family, relatives, subordinates and close associates”--must continue.

Sabio, Gordon and Enrile are dispensable.

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