President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has “legal basis” to require government officials to get his consent before attending Senate probes, Malacañang said on Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this statement after Duterte said Cabinet officials invited to Senate hearings on the deficiencies in the government’s use of Covid-19 pandemic funds will have to seek his clearance first.
He said Duterte could issue a document similar to Executive Order (EO) 464 issued by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2005, which required all heads of departments of the Executive Branch to secure the consent of the President prior to appearing before any congressional probe.
Citing the High Court’s 2008 ruling on the case Romulo Neri vs. Senate, Roque said the Senate’s contempt power is limited.
“He (Duterte) could and of course we have the decision in Neri where the Supreme Court said that they cannot be cited in contempt if they will be prohibited from attending a hearing by order of the President himself because they’re alter egos of the President. So there’s legal basis for that if the President will do it,” he said partly in Filipino in a Palace press briefing.
Asked to clarify when Duterte’s order will take effect, Roque said he is still not sure.
“I cannot say for certain but the President did mention that possibility,” he added.
Roque also echoed Duterte’s remark about politics being behind the Senate’s inquiry into the government’s medical supplies contracts.
“The Supreme Court said, number one, investigations should be done in aid of legislation. If it is clear that it is done in aid of election, the executive should not allow it,” he said in Filipino.
He said the Senate should show that they are serious about improving existing laws or enacting new laws.
“It should be clear what kind of legislation the Congress wants to pass based on the hearings they are conducting,” he added in Filipino.
Roque acknowledged the power of the Senate to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation but reminded them that only the judicial department and Ombudsman can determine the guilt or innocence of those accused of violating the criminal laws.
“There is actually equality [among] three different branches of government. The power to determine guilt or innocence of a person lies in the Judiciary and the Ombudsman,” he said in Filipino.
In a pre-recorded public address aired Tuesday morning, Duterte said he refused to let the Senate waste any more of government officials’ time that should have been used to attend to pandemic-related measures.
“I will require every Cabinet member to clear with me every invitation and if I think he will be called for nothing except to [be] harass[ed], to be berated in front of the Republic, I’ll stop it and prevent them from attending,” he said.