Senate panel still reviewing Ejercito’s suspension order, de Lima’s ethics complaint

MANILA — Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said Wednesday he is still reviewing the suspension order issued by the Sandiganbayan against Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito and the ethics complaint against Senator Leila de Lima.

The Sandiganbayan has ordered the 90-day suspension of Ejercito and three others over the graft case filed against them on the alleged anomalous purchase of firearms in 2008, when Ejercito was mayor of San Juan.

Meanwhile, a complaint was filed by lawyer Abelardo de Jesus against de Lima in relation to her culpability in the reported illegal drug operations inside the New Bilibid Prison.

Sotto, chairman of both the Committee on Rules and the Committee on Ethics which handle both cases, said that even before the suspension order came, the Senate has already debated on Ejercito’s issue.

“If you are incumbent mayor, you should be suspended because you will be able to implement investigation. But he is no longer a mayor, he’s a senator. So that’s the issue we took up,” Sotto said.

He said he has already gathered comments from committee members but also cited that there were times when previous suspension orders against legislators were not followed or accepted.

The senator said he will come up with a committee report after a decision on Ejercito’s case has been made.

Sotto however was mum on de Lima’s case, reiterating that it should be kept “confidential” because the committee members are still studying if the complaint has “core and substance”.

“We’ll meet again as a committee after they have all received copies. Three senators (committee members) were absent yesterday (Aug. 30). Let’s give them a few days. Maybe by Monday we can meet,” he said.

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who earlier said that Ejercito’s suspension is not “automatic”, echoed Sotto’s statement, saying that the case needs “in-depth” study.

“Let’s give the Committee on Rules due respect and time to study the matter. Whatever action we take, we just inform the Sandiganbayan,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel meanwhile said that the extent of confidentiality regarding de Lima’s case is for the purpose of avoiding undue publicity.

“(The meetings) are closed-door but nothing prevents them from changing their minds. They decide on the extent of secrecy,” Pimentel said.

“In due time, the essence of the complaint will come out if it should be entertained. Let’s not dwell on it for the meantime,” he added.

The Senate President emphasized that the priority of the Senate is to decide on the postponement of the barangay and Sangguniang Barangay (village and youth council) polls.

He also dismissed assumptions that meetings on de Lima’s ethics complaint are being kept low-key because the former justice secretary is his friend.

“Actually, all senators are my friends. If there are issues involving a senator, I am concerned. Senator de Lima never asked for my help anyway,” he further said. Azer Parrocha/PNA/