Reacting to the statement made by House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas about how members of Congress should not be pulled over by traffic enforcers for violating minor traffic rules, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said this is true, but only to a certain extent and with conditions. Philstar.com / AJ Bolando, File

Lawmaker, not driver, safe from traffic citations
Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) - September 19, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — Legislators may be safe from being apprehended for minor traffic violations, but not their drivers, according to two leaders of the Senate yesterday.

Reacting to the statement made by House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas about how members of Congress should not be pulled over by traffic enforcers for violating minor traffic rules, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said this is true, but only to a certain extent and with conditions.

Both senators cited the constitutional provision on parliamentary immunity, the same article cited by Fariñas, which states that any senator or member of the House of Representatives cannot be arrested while Congress is in session.

“The Constitution states that anything less than six years imprisonment, you cannot be arrested while Congress is in session,” Sotto said.

But Drilon clarified that the immunity from arrest does not mean that the legislator is not liable for criminal offenses.

“You can’t be arrested but you remain liable of course. You can be charged but not arrested because it’s just a minor offense,” he said.

Both senators agreed that the drivers of the legislators are not covered by the immunity.

So in order to enjoy the immunity prescribed in the Constitution, they said that the legislator himself should be the one driving the vehicle.

Sotto, for one, said he drives his own vehicle, so “if I am flagged down, I will say you cannot apprehend me because that is in the Constitution.”

If the driver is arrested and his legislator employer does not know how to drive, then both Sotto and Drilon said that the member of Congress should just walk to his destination.

Palace: No special treatment 

With President Duterte leading a modest life as a public servant, Malacañang said yesterday that no special treatment should be given to congressmen who seek immunity from traffic violations.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella urged lawmakers to follow Duterte’s example of living a modest lifestyle and avoiding any fuss whenever he goes around the metropolis or attends official functions here and in the provinces.

“The President himself continues to observe a modest lifestyle and he seeks no special treatment whether inside or outside the Palace. We hope our colleagues in Congress, especially our allies, can bring themselves to do the same,” Abella said.

Since he assumed office last year, Duterte has shunned the use of “wang-wangs” or sirens, openly detested the long convoy of his entourage composed of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) followed by an ambulance and motorcycle escorts. 

He also discouraged the use of protocol plates, noting how such have been abused by government officials who feel they are privileged while on the road.

Jojo Garcia, MMDA assistant general manager, claimed yesterday that the agency has no reason to refuse the legal privileges accorded to lawmakers and diplomats on immunity from minor traffic violations.

Garcia told radio dzMM that there are existing regulations that give privileges to lawmakers and diplomats regarding minor traffic violations.

“There are diplomatic privileges. If the law and existing regulation allow the request of congressmen, the MMDA would have no reason to refuse their legal privileges,” he said in an interview.

Fariñas, from Ilocos Norte, had reminded the MMDA to accord lawmakers immunity whenever they violate minor traffic laws.

To explain the House’s directive to MMDA, Fariñas quoted the constitutional provision where both senators and congressmen cannot be held liable – even for arrest – if the offense committed is punishable below six years imprisonment. 

Invoking parliamentary immunity, Fariñas warned the MMDA traffic enforcers against flagging down lawmakers who may be found to have violated traffic rules. 

In yesterday’s inter-agency transportation briefing before the House transportation committee, Fariñas told MMDA officials to

“Please read Section 11, Article VI of the Constitution. It’s called parliamentary immunity that is universally accepted.”

Gacia also clarified that aside from the statement of Fariñas there is no official communication on the parliamentary immunity of lawmakers from traffic violations.

He said the MMDA is just waiting for the formal request of congressmen, which will be referred to Metro Manila Council (MMC) for approval. –  With Christina Mendez, Perseus Echeminada, Delon Porcalla

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