Press Release
January 19, 2010

Sen. Madrigal v. Sen. Villar
By Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago

On the one hand, I have signed a draft resolution acquitting Sen. Villar of the charge filed against him with the ethics committee, which was later transferred to the Committee of the Whole. On the other hand, I have read the draft committee report, but I choose to dissent, thus affirming my vote to acquit.

I am concerned with the standard of proof, which is not provided by the Rules of the Senate. The draft committee report uses the following standard: "credible substantial evidence." I humbly submit that the standard of proof should be: "proof beyond reasonable doubt."

In my humble opinion, there should be a different standard of proof on the two occasions when the Senate exercises its power to investigate. The first occasion is when the Senate conducts ordinary public hearings of a criminal nature, which usually ends in a recommendation for preliminary investigation to the Ombudsman. This being the case, the standard is low: prima facie standard, which is lower than the "probable cause" standard in a preliminary investigation.

However, on the second occasion, when the Senate conducts an ethical investigation of its own members, the proceedings do not end in a mere recommendation to another government agency. On the contrary, an ethics investigation in the Senate leads to a decision which is immediately executory. According to the Senate rules, penalty is imposed by two-thirds vote of the entire membership. The Senate may punish any member for disorderly behavior, and may either go to the extent of suspending the senator, or expelling him. This being the case, since the penalty can be as high as expulsion, an ethics investigation can, in effect, even impose the capital punishment on a senator, by expelling him from the Senate. Hence, the standard of proof should be the same as the standard of proof in criminal cases: "proof beyond reasonable doubt."

Respondent Sen. Villar preferred not to participate in the investigation. Analogous to a civil case, the committee can validly issue an order of default, or consider Sen. Villar to have filed a demurrer to evidence. Analogous to a criminal case, the Senate investigation was a valid trial in absentia. Under the Rules of Court, absence of the accused is considered a waiver of the right to defend himself.

The draft committee report admits that there is "no direct evidence" against Sen. Villar. This being so, the lack of direct evidence does not meet the standard of "proof beyond reasonable doubt." This is why I voted to acquit him.

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