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Keeping its own

It was an assertion of its fierce independence as a separate constitutional body.

The Senate zealously guards the individual and collective freedom of its members like an elite, exclusive club.

This is because, for all intents and purposes, the chamber is precisely that—an elite, exclusive institution where only the best and the brightest can supposedly join.

After all, it is one-half of the Congress. But its members are elected nationally.

This means senators and the President have a common constituency—the people.

Such national mandate gives them vast and compelling power to investigate, summon, arrest, and even detain government officials and even private citizens who defy its orders.
   
In fact, such awesome powers enable senators to challenge the powers of the President and even directly and openly oppose him on either principle or policy.
   
So if it won’t bend or blink in the face of an overbearing President—the most powerful official in the land—would it yield to an inferior agency?
   
Of course, not.  
   
And so as expected and true to its constitutional character the Senate has voted against implementing the dismissal order on Sen. Joel Villanueva by the Office of the Ombudsman stemming from his alleged misuse of pork-barrel funds when he was still a member of the House of Representatives.
   
Upon the motion of Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, the chamber voted on Monday not to recognize the dismissal order of the Ombudsman.  The senators adopted the opinion of the Senate legal counsel that the dismissal of Villanueva “cannot and should not be implemented on both procedural and substantive grounds.”
   
The Ombudsman ordered the immediate dismissal of Villanueva for allegedly misusing his congressional funds in 2008, which the senator strongly disputed. Villanueva has filed a motion for reconsideration before the ombudsman.
   
The legal opinion of the Senate, penned by Ma. Valentina Cruz, stated the Ombudsman has yet to decide on the motion for reconsideration, so there is no basis to immediately implement the decision.
   
The opinion also stated the Ombudsman has no disciplinary authority over members of Congress in accordance with Section 21 of Republic Act 6770 or the Ombudsman’s Act of 1989 and its Rules of Procedure (Section 2, Rule III).
   
“The doctrine of separation of powers necessitates that only the Senate, acting in accordance with its rules of procedure, can impose a penalty of either a suspension or expulsion on any one of its members. The authority of the Senate to discipline and punish its members is an inherent power,” it stated.
   
Villanueva had lamented the Ombudsman ignored or glossed over evidence he previously presented that proved he was innocent of the charges.
   
The lawmaker was referring in particular to the report of the National Bureau of Investigation that stated that his purported signatures in the documents disbursing his pork barrel funds were forged.
   
Villanueva said one document showed him using the letterhead of the Buhay party-list group of which he is not a member. He was the representative of the Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption in the House.
   
Villanueva also pointed out another document claimed that one of his staff, a certain Ronald Samonte, facilitated the illegal transactions.
   
The senator said a simple check with the records of the House would show that he did not have a staff with that name.
   
“They (Ombudsman) never really touched on those glaring fakes and omissions,” he said.