Tampering with Senate Journal punishable, records show

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    A RETIRED Senate director said the Senate has sanctioned two of its officials for tampering with the Journal, which is required by the Constitution to faithfully reflect plenary proceedings and discussions.

    Lawyer Aluino P. Tolentino, retired Executive Director for Legislation of the Senate, said the incident happened in 2000 and involved then Deputy Secretary Emma Lirio Reyes and former chief of the Legislative Journal Service Dodi Simon D. Dimalibot Jr.

    Tolentino said under Committee Report No. 492 issued by a special ad hoc committee, Dimalibot and Reyes were subjected to “appropriate administrative proceedings” for altering some words in the Journal of the November 15, 2000 session of the Senate.

    CRN 492 was issued on Dec. 5, 2000 and was signed by former senators Teofistio Guingona Jr. and John Osmeña.

    Dimalibot was sanctioned for changing the original text of the Senate plenary from “Senator Tatad opined that the phrase ‘file his answer’ precludes filing a motion to dismiss or to quash,” to “Senator Tatad opined that the phrase ‘file his answer’ does not preclude filing a motion to dismiss or to quash.”

    CRN 492 said Dimalibot “was not authorized” by his superiors to “make changes on his own” even if “the changes made in the Journal by Mr. Dimalibot were therefore actually meant to make it a faithful summary of the proceedings.”

    On the other hand, Reyes reprimanded for “negligence” for ordering the deletion of the words “or Vice President” from the Journal “to make it jibe with the Constitution.”

    Senators at the time were discussing who between the Senate President and the chief justice of the Supreme Court should preside during the impeachment trial of the president and the vice president.

    “In the case of Atty. Reyes, the Committee finds from the TSN that the Senate President actually made reference to the ‘Vice President.’ Hence, if Atty. Reyes believed there was a mistake, she should have taken it up with Senate President before ordering the deletion of the words ‘or Vice President’,” the committee said.

    Citing the above findings, Tolentino said: “If these two were sanctioned for adding and changing just a few letters in the Journal, how more so should someone be investigated and punished for tampering with the Journal and adding proceedings that never happened during the Senate session?”

    Tolentino was referring to the complaint filed by a group of anonymous Senate employees with the Office of the Ombudsman against Senate Secretary Myra Villarica for allegedly tampering with the Senate Journal by inserting the reading of the title of the sin tax bill before it was subjected to a third reading approval by the plenary on Dec. 16, 2019, which did not happen as shown by a video footage of the session.

    Tolentino, who worked at the Senate on different capacities for more than three decades, stressed that section 51 of the Senate Rules mandates that the Journal “shall contain a succinct and accurate account of what has taken place in every session.”

    Tolentino said that “a close review near the end of YouTube footage of Session No. 40 on December 16, 2019 clearly shows that the final title of Senate Bill No. 1074 re tax on alcohol products … was not read by Secretary Myra Villarica as required by the Constitution before its approval on third reading.”

    “Whether this was intentional or not, this may be considered as very fatal and an unforgiveable mistake,” he said, adding: “It appears that an attempt was made to cure the blunder by fixing the stenographic transcript and the Journal to make it appear that Secretary Villarica read the title of the bill before roll call vote. The correctness of the Journal was certified by her, and maybe considered as falsification and dishonesty.”

    Tolentino stressed that senators cannot just sweep under the rag the issue of falsification raised against Villarica, and urged that an impartial investigation be initiated similar to what was done in 2000.

    “If the senators do not follow, obey and respect the Constitution, how could they expect the people to obey and respect the laws that they passed?” Tolentino asked.

    Former Sen. Francisco Tatad has said that the non-reading of the title of SBN 1074 before it was approved on third reading could be fatal to the sin tax law, which has been signed by President Duterte.

    Tatad has said that the flawed Senate approval of the measure invalidated the Senate bill that was used as basis for the final version of the measure. An invalid Senate measure, he stressed, makes the sin tax law virtually illegal.