By Mario Casayuran
The 24-member Senate on May 18, Monday, approved on third and final reading a bill seeking to impose longer prison sentences and larger fines for individuals, especially public officials, who will commit perjury, or the act of making untruthful statements under oath.
Sen. Richard J. Gordon, chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights and sponsor of Senate Bill No. 1354, said the increased penalties under the measure were meant to deter people from committing perjury as they testify under oath in proceedings, such as legislative hearings, and to create a culture of truth-telling in government: “In other words, you lie, you pay… Do not trifle with the truth.”
Along with Gordon, the bill was co-authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Leila de Lima. The bill was approved with 20 affirmative votes and no negative vote.
Gordon, also chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, said the bill would amend Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), which penalizes perjury.
Perjury, he explained, is committed by a person when he “knowingly makes untruthful statements and not being included in the provisions of the crimes of false testimony under judicial proceedings, shall testify under oath, or make an affidavit, upon any material matter before a competent person authorized to administer an oath in cases in which the law so requires.”
Under the bill, persons who would commit perjury face a higher penalty of prision mayor in its minimum period to prision mayor in its medium period, from six years and one day to 10 years of imprisonment. Under the existing law, Gordon noted, persons guilty of perjury are only sentenced to arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correcional in its minimum period, or from four months and one day to two years and four months of imprisonment.
For public officers or employees who would commit perjury, the penalty of imprisonment will be imposed in its maximum period, along with a fine of P1 million, as well as perpetual disqualification from holding any appointive or elective position in government, the senatori said.
Gordon believes the reforms under the bill would help address the issue of low conviction rates for people charged with perjury: “As we uncovered during our committee hearing, a factor for the low cases is the low penalty imposed on the crime of perjury. The current penalty for perjury is subject to probation and the bail imposed is also low, roughly P6,000 only. Given the high costs involved in prosecuting a crime, there is no motivation to prosecute the crime of perjury.”
The bill, he added, is also meant to help dissuade people who come to legislative hearings in the Senate and lie even when they are under oath to speak the truth.
“We must make a statement. They give false testimonies and hamper the administration of justice,” he said.
“Perjury does not only damage the victim of the crime but also damages the administration of justice, which is the most important. The law of perjury was created not only because the man lies or somebody lies, but because he practically impugns the time of the tribunals, hence, he damages the time and efforts of our people,” Gordon concluded.
In today’s voting on SB 1354, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, a former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, voted ‘’yes’’ on the Senate bill.
He said he himself suffered because of perjured testimonies against him during the Arroyo presidency.
To buttress his position, Lacson quoted a transcript of the testimony of Judge Felix Reyes, President of the Philippine Judges Association, during a public hearing by Senator Ronald dela Rosa, chairman of the Senate justice and human rights committee and sponsor of the measure, that the current penalty for the crime of perjury ‘’is very, very low.’’ Dela Rosa is also a former PNP chief.
Assistant Secretary Nicholas Felix Ty also told Senator dela Rosa, that he and Judge Reyes share the same sentiment on the current ‘’very, very low’’ penalty for perjury.
“But in the opinion we submitted to this committee, our focal point was mostly just the constitutionality and legality of the bill, and in so far as that is concerned, we have no objection. When it comes to increasing the penalty, we believe that is left to the wisdom of the Senate,” Ty said.
Ty, according to Lacson, said the bill does not fall under unusual and cruel punishment.