Wednesday 14 November, 2018
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SC rules Senate can’t detain anyone indefinitely for contempt

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The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that the Senate has no power to detain in an indefinite period of time any person who was cited in contempt during public hearings in aid of legislation.

Voting unanimously, the high court declared that an individual maybe imprisoned because of contempt until the termination of the legislative inquiry only.

“Accordingly, as long as there is a legitimate legislative inquiry, then the inherent power of contempt by the Senate may be properly exercised.

Conversely, once the said legislative inquiry concludes, the exercise of the inherent power of contempt ceases and there is no more genuine necessity to penalize the detained witness,” the Court declared in a 21-page en banc decision penned by Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo.

The SC came up with a ruling to “strike a balance” between the Senate’s inherent contempt powers and the right to liberty of private individuals.

Furthermore, the SC stressed a legislative inquiry is deemed terminated once the Upper Chamber act on the committee report.

The SC issued the ruling in the case of Aegis Juris leader Arvin Balag tagged in the hazing death case of Atio Castillo where he questioned before the Court his arrest by the Senate for being uncooperative in its hearings.

While it declared that Balag’s petition was already moot and academic because he was already released from detention, the SC noted that the petition “presents a critical and decisive issue” that must be
resolved, that is, the duration of the detention for a contempt ordered by the Senate.

“This issue must be threshed out as the Senate’s exercise of its power of contempt without a definite period is capable of repetition,” the SC noted.

“Moreover, the indefinite detention of persons cited in contempt impairs their constitutional right to liberty. Thus, paramount public interest requires the Court to determine such issue to ensure that the constitutional rights of the persons appearing before a legislative inquiry of the Senate are protected.,” it added.

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