Interview with Senator Santiago on ARMM Election, Ligot "right against self-incrimination"

A press release of the Senate of the Philippines, March 21, 2011

On the moves to postpone the ARMM elections

I'm very sclerotic (meaning to say I am very rigid) in my principles on my position against the postponement of the ARMM elections because there are more than three constitutional reasons that militate against the postponement.

Number one, our Constitution provides for an Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Autonomy means a "certain degree of independence". If we are going to empower the executive branch of government to appoint so-called officers in charge starting this year to 2013 in the next elections, then in effect Mindanao is not autonomous to the national government.

Second constitutional point: the Constitution specifically provides that the President exercise general supervision to see to it that the laws are faithfully executed. The term "general supervision" is a term of art. It is usually contradistinguished from the term "control". The President exercises general supervision, which means that he must see to it that the officials in the ARMM execute their functions properly. If the Constitution only gives the power of general supervision, the Constitution does not give the president the power of control. The "power of control" means the power to alter, modify, nullify and to set aside the decisions of his subordinates. To be able to postpone the elections will be the exercise of the power of control because it will alter and modify what is already existing. That is prohibited by the Constitution.

Number three: Our Constitution provides that the legislature of the ARMM should be free to legislate for its own region, except in certain areas which are reserved for the national government. There is a definite enumeration of those areas that the national government can intervene, and holding of elections is not included in the list. When the law specifies a list, then it is meant to be exclusive and must not be interpreted to mean that it includes other subjects that are not included in that list.
So there are at least three constitutional counts against postponement. I am sure that if a case shall be brought to the Supreme Court, the postponement by statute will be automatically declared unconstitutional by the high court.

The Constitution ordered our government to pass an Organic Act for Muslim Mindanao--in other words, its own charter and own constitution--and we already have that Organic Act. But that act passed by Congress is not an ordinary law. It is not the same as laws that Congress churns out almost every month because that Organic Act provided that it will take effect only after a plebiscite among the Muslim Mindanaoans, and if the plebiscite produces at least a majority vote. Therefore, if you want to change the Organic Act with respect to the elections scheduled to be held this August, you must not only pass a new law in Congress but also hold a plebiscite because that is how the Organic Act was passed in the first place. So if you cannot muster a plebiscite, there is no point going through the House and the Senate. Remember we are talking about autonomy in local government. If the people in that local government area are against postponement, why should we impose it especially when our Constitution protects their right to autonomy?

Remember that our sessions end this week. How can we possibly have hearings, then the sponsorship, and then the debate, then the third reading? These could not be done in the remaining days. And it is possible that we have the impeachment case in our hands.

The Constitution is being violated in at least three counts, so I can't possibly vote for this law. It is the fault of the president's legal advisors. They should all be sent to Fukushima.

On the Blue Ribbon committee hearing earlier this morning

The right against self-incrimination--in other words, the right not to testify against yourself--has two categories. Number one, the right against self-incrimination by the accused himself, and number two, the right against self-incrimination by a mere witness. If the accused himself altogether refused to testify, he can just say "I don't want to testify" or "I don't want to take the witness stand", that is his right and it is recognized by our Constitution because there is a constitutionally protected right against self-incrimination for reasons of policy and for reasons of humanity. If you are a witness, that is a different story. You have to take the witness stand, you have to testify, and you cannot invoke the right against self-incrimination.

In the case of the Ligot couple, remember they are the accused. So if their lawyer produced more neurons in his brain, he would have advised the couple not to take the stand absolutely because that is their right. But they took the witness stand, so in effect they have waived their right to self-incrimination. They could now be forced to testify. They waived it because their lawyer did not counsel them otherwise. It will be the Blue Ribbon committee that will decide on whether the invocation of the right against self-incrimination is correct or not, so let them decide it.

With respect to the answer "I cannot remember", there is a difference between the phrase "I cannot remember" and the phrase "It will tend to incriminate me". The phrase "It will tend to incriminate me" excuses the witness but only if he is the accused. If he is the witness, then he must await for the decision on the matter of self-incrimination by the tribunal. On the matter of "I cannot remember", that is a refusal to testify, and that could be ground for citing the witness in contempt. In any event, because they have given the answer "I cannot remember", I would vote for contempt in that because to keep saying "I cannot remember" eternal amnesia is a virtual challenge to the tribunal to arrive at the truth.