“Parliamentary immunity is a legal instrument which inhibits legal action, measures of investigation, and law enforcement in civil or criminal matters against members of the legislature.”
“The raison d’être of parliamentary immunity is to protect parliament, the central institution of modern representative democracy, from undue external influence. Elected representatives, who collectively personify the public will and translate it into the laws which govern our lives, need to be able to debate freely in parliament and to discharge their mandate independently. They must not fear politically motivated prosecution or other forms of obstruction of the parliamentary process. This is what immunity tries to achieve by the partial exemption of members of parliament from the application of the law and the ordinary course of justice.”
In the broadest sense, “parliamentary immunity is a legal instrument which inhibits legal action, measures of investigation, and law enforcement in civil or criminal matters against members of the legislature.” The two main forms of parliamentary immunity are non- accountability and inviolability.
‘Non-accountability’ primarily means “freedom of the parliamentary vote and freedom of speech in parliament or in a parliamentary context. This is the most ubiquitous form of parliamentary immunity. Under non-accountability, parliamentarians may not be held legally accountable for their utterances and voting behavior in the assembly to which they belong. Usually, non-accountability is materially and temporally absolute. This means that any kind of legal action is barred and that this bar is perpetual, applicable even after the end of their mandate. Lastly, non-accountability usually cannot be lifted by parliament nor renounced by an individual member.”
The term ‘inviolability’ denotes “immunity from legal action, detention or measures of prosecution or investigation outside the immediate scope of a member’s activities in parliament. In short, inviolability covers matters which non-accountability does not. Whereas non-accountability is a virtually universal feature of parliamentarianism, inviolability does not exist in all countries, and its exact scope differs considerably between systems.”
What House Majority Floor Leader, Rudy Farinas, wanted to do was to exercise inviolability as in other parliaments where immunity is extended to traffic offenses. “Inviolability is usually limited in time. It often applies only while parliament is in session and usually ends with the end of the parliamentary mandate. This means that it only has suspensive effect: even where inviolability bars the arrest or prosecution of a parliamentarian during the time of his mandate, he can be prosecuted and arrested after his term has ended, also for criminal acts committed during the mandate.”
Problem is, Farinas failed to explain this clearly so the public felt Members of Congress were being given added privileges. Apart from getting full pay and privileges despite of attendance records, Farinas suggestion on having the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) grant immunity to members of the chamber from any traffic violations while Congress is in session did not sit well with the public. Technically, MMDA cannot grant immunity. They can extend courtesies but the House would need to amend its Rules if it will invoke inviolability. From 5 session days in the 8th Congress, today Congress only has 3 session days from Mondays to Wednesdays and still quorum remains an issue.
Rule II, Section 9 of the Rules of the House of Representatives clearly provides for the kind of immunity legislators have:
“Section 9. Immunities. – Members shall be privileged from arrest for any and all offenses punishable by not more than six (6) years imprisonment while Congress is in session. A Member shall neither be questioned nor held liable in any other place for any speech delivered or debate undertaken in the House or in any of its committees.”
Rep Farinas invoked parliamentary immunity so they cannot be arrested from any traffic violations when there is session. He claims because of the traffic jams, members are unable to attend the session. “Kapag nagpakilalang congressman, huwag nang dalhin sa presinto dahil di na niya magagawa ang kanyang trabaho.” And that the Speaker will surrender the said legislator after the session.
These days, building a privileged lane where members of Congress could pass would be a way not to highlight the obvious, apart from the plates and sirens. Indeed, when you are in a position of power, flaunt it.