MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - The House of Representatives has all but lost one of its more notorious members.
Dinagat Islands Rep. Ruben Ecleo Jr.’s conviction for 3 counts of graft from his tenure as mayor carries a penalty of 18 years in jail and perpetual and absolute disqualification from public office.
House Majority Leader Neptali 'Boyet' Gonzales told ABS-CBN News that the House will strike out of its rolls Ecleo as soon as the House of Representatives receives a certificate of finality upholding his conviction.
“If the penalty imposed includes the accessory penalty of perpetual and absolute disqualification to hold any public office, as soon as the House of Representatives receives certificate of finality of judgment, his name will be deleted from the roll,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales opined there will be no need for ethics proceedings to expel Ecleo since he has been convicted by final judgment.
Loses parliamentary immunity
Ecleo also loses parliamentary immunity from arrest.
Congressmen facing penalties of 6 years or less may not be arrested while Congress is in session.
“Parang yung kay [Romeo] Jalosjos,” Gonzales added. Gonzales was referring to former Zamboanga Rep. Romeo Jalosjos who was stricken off the rolls after his rape conviction became final.
The Sandiganbayan today reiterated its warrant of arrest for Ecleo and his 2 other co-accused.
Through the years, congressmen facing cases have been allowed to stay in office while their cases were pending and no final or executory judgment had been rendered.
No need for ethics proceedings
House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo 'Erin' Tañada told ABS-CBN News on the phone that if the original conviction has been sustained, then “mere motion lang sa floor, pwede na siya tanggalin."
This suggests there may be no need for an ethics proceedings against Ecleo to remove him from the House.
“Of course, we will have to get a copy of the final decision of the SC with regard to his case, and once we're able to confirm such a decision, then a motion on the floor will be in order to have his name removed," he added.
Tañada said there will no longer be a need for Ecleo to go through proceedings at the ethics committee.
Ecleo can be arrested
Both Tañada and House Speaker Feliciano 'Sonny' Belmonte said Ecleo can now be arrested.
Tañada said, “Yes, he can be arrested and he cannot invoke parliamentary immunity. Because the penalty imposed on him is more than 6 years. You can invoke only parliamentary immunity if less than 6 years.”
Belmonte, in a text message, said, “we’re trying to get a copy of the SC [Supreme Court] decision. But we will not prevent service of the warrant.”
Tañada expressed hope this will not tarnish the reputation of the Lower House, especially since many of its members face cases in courts.
“I don’t think so, so long as House acts decisively on these cases. It would show we do not tolerate acts of criminality within the halls of Congress. Since there has been a final decision, the House should act accordingly.”
Not so for Singson
Tañada, however, said that the same swift action may not be applicable to the case of Ilocos Sur Rep. Ronald Singson who faces illegal drugs charges in Hong Kong.
“He did not break Philippine laws. Singson, after he has served sentence, may be able to run," he added.
Once Ecleo is stricken out, the total House membership will stand at 282 representatives.