'No witch-hunting': Tolentino describes how Blue Ribbon panel will be different this time

Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings in the 19th Congress will not devolve into a political circus as they would no longer be allowed to continue ad infinitum, Senator Francis Tolentino said.

During the organizational meeting of the 16-member committee Wednesday, Aug. 17, Tolentino reminded everyone about the purpose of the committee, which is to ‘’fulfill our constitutional mandate, as well as to fulfill our job to exercise these powers in aid of legislation".

‘’We will respect the rights of the witnesses. We will respect the rights of the resource persons. Bearing in mind again that we have a constitutional duty to fulfill and that is to prevent abuses, to pass the proper remedial legislation but with a known standard of proof,’’ he said.

Tolentino emphasized that his committee’s hearings would have a ‘’known duration and a defined direction".

We are not going for “'guilt beyond reasonable doubt' standard—that is the job of the prosecutors as well as the courts,’’ he said.

Senators Robinhood Padilla and Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa who were the first to be physically present, agreed with the committee’s proposed roadmap as presented by Tolentino.

‘'Our job is to satisfy ourselves to have an inner conviction—that moral certitude—that a person appearing before this committee has committed a wrongdoing which would necessitate the filing the appropriate charges before competent authorities, notably the Ombudsman and the next stage would probably be the Sandiganbayan,’’ Tolentino said.

‘’We will not be here to witch hunt, (or) to have a fishing expedition. We will be here in the succeeding hearings to gather and uncover the truth. Kahit sino po ang masaktan (whoever will be hurt), we will do what is right,’’ he stressed.

‘’Bearing that in mind, the Blue Ribbon Committee will exercise its legitimate power. Further, it has been said that no matter what laws we pass, no matter how effective the implementation or execution of the laws maybe, we should accept the reality and I quote James Madison that: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary,’’ he added.

‘’But sad to say and to state all over again, our government, the future government, the past government, and 'all governments here on earth are administered by men over men'—and the great difficulty lies in abuses,’’ he said.

‘’That is what we intend to do—protect the legitimate source of power, the people, the fountain of power. And that is what this committee would try to achieve,’’ he stressed.

The committee later decided that it would hold its first public hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 23, regarding the subject of the privilege speech of Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on the Sugar Regulatory Board (SRB) mess.

It's second hearing will be on Aug. 25, a Thursday, on the purchase of alleged overpriced and outdated laptops by Procurement Service, Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) for the Department of Education (DepEd).

The committee also engaged the legal services of former deputy Ombudsman Melchor Carangdang as senior legal consultant and former deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Gerard Mosquera as general counsel.

These appointments, according to Tolentino, would show the seriousness of the committee.

Tolentino explained that the committee’s rules state that it has a detention order where those to be detained would be housed at the Office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms (OSAA) while a commitment order means that persons cited for contempt should be detained either at the Pasay City jail or National Bilbiid Prisons (NBP).