Albay 1st district Rep. Edcel Lagman warned the House of Representatives against being a mere legislative “copycat” of the Senate, which he said the Lower Chamber did with its passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).
“I think the House of Representatives should not be a copycat of the Senate,” Lagman said during a virtual hearing of the Committee on Justice Wednesday.
“We concede that in the process of legislation, there should be cooperation between the House and the Senate. But the House should never be subservient to the Senate and adopt its formulation,” said the veteran solon and lawyer.
Lagman was reacting to Leyte 3rd district Rep. Vicente “Ching” Veloso III’s House Bill (HB) No.7668, which institutionalizes penalties for persons who commit perjury or give false testimonies outside court proceedings.
Supposedly, the measure is designed to discourage witnesses or resource persons from lying in House or Senate inquiries done in aid of legislation. A recent example of this are the high-profile PhilHealth scam investigations held by both chambers.
Veloso, Justice panel chairman and a former magistrate, admitted Wednesday that his bill was a straight copy of the Senate’s version of the same measure.
“Paki-usap lang kasi ito ng Senado, kung pwede yung version nila ay gawin na rin natin para tuloy-tuloy na. Ang dami raw kasi talagang resource persons, mga guests na nagte-testify sa kanila na walang takot magsinungaling kasi any way mababa naman ang penalty. (This is a request from the Senate, if possible they want us to adopt their version to expedite this. According to them, a lot of resource persons and guests simply aren’t afraid of lying in their testimonies since the penalty is light),” he said.
He said that amending or changing HB No.7668 in its current form would result to a Bicameral Conference Committee hearing with senators. This could be chaotic, he said.
“So what happened when we adopted the formulation of the Senate in the Anti-Terrorism Act? 37 petitions are now lodged in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of that (law),” Lagman said.
The House version of the controversial ATA, Lagman pointed out, was lifted directly from the Senate version. “It was completely adopted by the House. So we shouldn’t make the same mistake of being subservient to the formulation of the Senate. We should be able to act alone.”
“I would really resist any attempt from the Committee of Justice to just adopt the formulation of the Senate,” the Bicolano solon added.
Incidentally, another lawyer-solon in Cagayan de Oro 2nd district Rep. Rufus Rodriguez found several infirmities in HB No.7668. He said the measure violates the notion of equal protection of the law twice–first by prescribing a different set of penalties for liars within court proceedings and those outside court proceedings; and second, by giving heftier penalties for public officials who perjure, as opposed to civilians.
Rodriguez also described the proposed penalties for public officials who give false testimonies (P1 million fine and perpetual disqualification from holding public office) as “too severe.”
“This will have a chilling effect. Officials coming to us…instead of being open, they will be so afraid of being able to tell something that may not be true, but based on their recollection is what they remember. Investigations will be hindered because we are giving severe penalty on public officials. I believe present laws will already discourage (lying) because there is already a jail term,” he said.
“This is one time that I believe we should not agree with the Senate on this. The senators do not have a clear understanding of this particular bill,” added the Mindanaoan.