Friday, February 11, 2011

Angelo T. Reyes: Lessons learned

There are many lessons to be learned from the tragic death of Angelo T. Reyes, former Armed Forces Chief of Staff and Defense Secretary.
Reyes, who served government for almost half a century, shot himself Tuesday after hearings in the senate and congress linked him to anomalies in the Armed Forces.
Reyes plunged deep into depression after having been publicly pilloried in the senate hearings.
He himself revealed there was a concerted effort to destroy him.
When the public humiliation extended to his family, he wouldn’t allow it.
One of the lessons which I hope will be addressed is the way congressional investigations are conducted.
I once worked as a lawyer in this Blue Ribbon Committee more than a decade ago.
Things were different then.
Senators participating in blue ribbon hearings accorded respect to their resource persons.
Unfortunately, over the years, things have turned for the worst.
Resource persons, invited to senate house investigations are instantly converted into virtual accused, even criminals.
Senate investigations have become an arena for political grandstanding, headline-grabbing, power-tripping and ego enhancement, and personal vendetta.
This is not the kind of senate hearing that our constitution envisioned.
Senate hearings have a specific purpose, that is, it must be in aid of legislation, not in aid of persecution.
One of the changes we want to see in the senate is the imposition of restraint in the treatment of resource persons because these invitees come not as persons accused in a criminal case.
Senate hearings should not be likened to a police interrogation.
The best way to learn how to conduct congressional investigations properly is to watch C-SPAN coverage of U.S. congressional investigations (unfortuntately you will not see a Jinggoy Estrada manner of questioning there).
We wish to see changes in the manner of treating resources persons who invoke the right against self incrimination.
This is a very important constitutional right which insulates a person him from becoming a witness against himself.
Yet, I have sensed that this constitutional protection has been emasculated by senators who feel discomfort every time a guest invokes this right.
Again, the senate is not an arena for criminal investigation that is why leeway must be given to guests who invoke the right to refuse to be a witness against himself.
What is happening is that the senators will have to evaluate every time a resource person invokes this right.
The senators will determine whether the availment of the right by the resource person was proper.
In the United States, resource persons in congressional investigations are respected when they invoke the Fifth Amendment.
The Fifth Amendment of the U..S. Constitution is the counterpart guarantee against self incrimination.
This is in recognition of long-recognized supreme court interpretation that the privilege against self incrimination extends not only to answers that support a conviction of a crime, but also those which merely furnish a link in the chain of evidence needed to prosecute a claimant for a crime (Hoffman versus United States 341 U.S. 479)
Since a senate investigation is not a criminal inquisition, the senate should leave criminal probes to proper bodies like the office of the ombudsman and the department of justice and just focus on the proposed legislation being considered.
What is happening is that when a resource person invokes his right against self incrimination, the senators will insist in forcing the recourse person to give an anticipated answer already lingering in the legislators’ minds.
And if unsuccessful, they threaten the resource person with contempt and deprivation of liberty.
Worse they threaten to bring their family into the hearing.
What kind of legislative investigation is that?
I believe the sacred right against self incrimination that protects all of us individuals is being unconstitutionally diluted and emasculated in congressional inquiries.
I hope the death of Angelo T. Reyes will serve as a constant reminder that congressional inquiries should not endanger individual liberties and tromp personal dignity.
Legislators should not demean themselves and the institutions they represent.

No comments: