Showdown in Congress: the Power to Discipline

It is settled that Congress, composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives, has the power to discipline its members, as well as non-members. This power is again in the spotlight.

First – the power to discipline a member. This is expressly provided in Article VI, Section 16 (3) of the Constitution:

(3) Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of all its Members, suspend or expel a Member. A penalty of suspension, when imposed, shall not exceed sixty days.

First Gentleman Mike Arroyo recently filed a complaint against Taguig-Pateros Representative Alan Peter Cayetano before the House Committee on Ethics (according to House Minority Floor Leader Francis “Chiz” Escudero, the committee is not supposed to act on the complaint until the completion of the libel case also filed by Mr. Arroyo against Cayetano). This is not the first time that disciplinary action is sought against a Representative before his peers. In 1960, Representative Sergio Osmeña, Jr. was suspended for 15 months after he made allegations of bribery against Pres. Garcia during a privilege speech delivered before the House.

Second – the power to discipline a non-member. News last week indicate that the Senate is bent on issuing warrants of arrest to compel attendance of witnesses in inquiries in aid of legislation. The power to discipline witnesses has already been upheld by the Supreme Court. In the 1950 case of Arnault vs. Nazareno, the Supreme Court upheld the power of Congress to enforce discipline against non-members. If the subject of investigation before the committee is within the range of legitimate legislative inquiry and the proposed testimony of the witness called relates to that subject, obedience to its process may be enforced by the committee by imprisonment.

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