Bam Aquino: Lascañas testimony will 'test Senate independence'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) A Senate hearing on the case of self-confessed death squad leader Arthur Lascañas is a chance to show an impartial institution, Senator Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV said on Wednesday.

"The independence of the Senate will be tested with this Lascañas testimony," Aquino told CNN Philippines' The Source.

"Sabi nga namin [We said], for those of us who do want to push through with the hearing, it's a chance for the Senate to show that we are impartial, we are independent... transparent, [and] we can actually go through this hearing and do it in a fair and just way," he added.

"I think just to turn a blind eye to this would be worse for our institution," the senator further said. Aquino is a member of the Liberal Party, which has been critical of the administration's policies.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV delivered a privilege speech on the issue Monday, and this was referred to the Senate Committee on Public Order and Illegal Drugs, chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson. Lacson said yesterday his committee will hold an inquiry as a matter of course.

Related: Senate to conduct hearing on Lascañas' claims next week

Lascañas is a retired police officer who on Monday claimed he carried out orders from President Rodrigo Duterte to kill targets and bomb a mosque.

The confession was a turnaround from his previous testimony in the Senate last year, when he dismissed the death squad as "media hype."

This is also the reason some lawmakers, including Sen. Richard Gordon, were averse to listening to Lascañas again. Gordon was chair of the Committee on Justice, which found no state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings.

But for Aquino, the Senate should find out why Lascañas went back on his word.

"Palagay ko mahalagang malaman natin ano talaga ang nangyari," said Aquino. "Considering... He's practically writing his death warrant. He is admitting to... perjury at the minimum, [and] murder, which is maximum crime."

[Translation: I think it's important that we find out what really happened.]

While such hearings are conducted in aid of legislation, Aquino said the public should also be allowed make their own call on current issues.

"Yung mga Senate hearings, yung isang purpose niya is para marinig ng taong bayan directly, and for people to judge on their own," Aquino said. "We sit as representatives of the people. Yung mga tanong na gustong alamin ng taong bayan, yun yung tinatanong namin."

[Translation: One of the purposes of the senate hearings is for the people to hear it directly, and for people to judge on their own. We sit as representatives of the people. The questions that the people want to pose are the ones that we ask.]

"And it's up to the people to decide how to appreciate the people who are talking are they credible or not?" he added.


Probe on Tanay bus crash

Meanwhile, Aquino also filed yesterday Senate Resolution 297 which called for a probe on the bus crash in Tanay, Rizal that took 15 lives on Monday.

Related: Students in Tanay bus crash allegedly forced to attend ill-fated field trip

"Sen. [Tito] Sotto yesterday was raising the issue, but from the angle of the bus companies," said Aquino. "So we'll have a joint hearing, [Committees on] Public Services and Education, to look at the-not just the culpability... but how we can stop this from happening again."

The accident prompted the Commission on Higher Education to impose a moratorium on field trips beginning today.

Aquino said he supports the move. He also explained the investigation will cover guidelines for field trips, adding this is not the first time a deadly crash involving students happened.

"Gusto nating malaman [We want to know] how we can avoid these types of accidents," he said. "Are there tight guidelines to make sure that our children are safe? We need to make sure that walang napilit [no one was forced]."

"We need to make sure na yung mga kwento na thinreaten daw yung mga bata na ibabagsak kung hindi sumama sa field trip (are) not true," he added.

[Translation: We need to make sure that the stories that the kids were threatened with failing if they did not got on the field trip (are) not true.]

Aquino is also pushing for free education in state university colleges, which he says senators are hoping to pass in the next two weeks.

EDSA revolution

Aquino also weighed in on the upcoming anniversary of the 1986 EDSA revolution, as the administration opted for a "simple" and "quiet" commemoration to the event this year.

"Ang maganda kasi sa [What is nice about] EDSA, it's for everyone... There are a lot of different celebrations done by different people," said Aquino. "Hindi yan pagmamay-ari ng isang tao o ng isang pamilya [It is not owned by one person or one family]."

Duterte was slammed for supposedly patronizing the Marcos family. He gave the go signal for the burial of former president Ferdinand Marcos at Libingan ng mga Bayani last year.

Aquino is the nephew of democracy icon former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. and a cousin of former President Benigno Aquino III.

"There's always a temptation for any president, any person in power... to take all that power," said Aquino. "And I think it's up to the people, it's up to us, the media, the people, even officials who are independent to always say wag tayo diyan [let's not go there]. Let's always go back to a democracy."

He also said that "democratic spaces" should also be allowed in public discourse.

"Allow for people who are dissenting to be able to speak out... sometimes, this dissent actually does actually lead to better policy," said Aquino.

"We should allow for these democratic spaces especially this week na inaalala natin ang [as we commemorate] EDSA," he added.