Sen. Ping Lacson and SP Tito Sotto
Section 22, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution states in part: The heads of departments may upon their own initiative, with the consent of the President, or upon the request of either House, as the rules of each House shall provide, appear before and be heard by such House on any matter pertaining to their departments.
Clearly, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson must have read this when they said, separately, this week that President Rodrigo Duterte had a legal basis to prohibit members of his Cabinet from attending Senate inquiries although both said as much that the public would suffer.
Lacson made the remark in an interview on ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo after Duterte instructed officials to get his go-ahead before attending Senate hearings on the government’s alleged anomalous pandemic transactions.
Sotto said Duterte might block his Cabinet men from attending Senate hearings but not his former economic adviser, Michael Yang, and other personalities being dragged into the controversial Pharmally deals with the government.
“The executive department can’t prohibit those who are not government officials. They can prevent Cabinet officials but not Michael Yang, he’s not part of the Cabinet,” Sotto told TeleRadyo.
But Sotto added, “it’s up to him (Duterte). However, the Senate will exercise our legislative oversight function over government projects and expenditures that we approved,” said Sotto.
He also related there were two modes of executive response to congressional investigations: Block or Unblock.
“In 1962, President Diosdado Macapagal deported American Harry Stonehill when his ‘Blue Book'” became too hot to handle; while President Noynoy (Benigno Aquino III) just allowed Napoles to testify. We’ll know soon enough the current style and the Filipino people will judge,” added the Senate leader.
Lacson also cited former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Executive Order 464 following the “Hello, Garci” scandal in 2004.
He said the common denominator was you would only do this “because you’re hiding something or there’s something you don’t want to be made public. “
But while it is discretionary upon the President, Lacson said it was the public that would suffer.
“The public will stand to lose, not the Senate, because we’re not inventing facts. The people are facing hardships… Then they see government not giving value to public funds,” he said.
He pointed out the Duterte administration would also lose in the court of public opinion.
Since they have reached the point where they have gathered much information, documentary evidence, and testimonies, if they retreat, they would lose, Lacson said.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is investigating the government’s contracts worth P8.68 billion with Pharmally Pharmaceuticals, a company with a starting paid-up capital of less than P625,000.
It is looking into the procurement of “overpriced” personal protective equipment, face masks, and shields made by the Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service on behalf of the Department of Health in 2020.
Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the committee, said government funds supposedly wasted on anomalous transactions could have been allotted to benefits of health workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in the frontlines.
But jailed Senator Leila de Lima is not surprised with Duterte’s effort to prevent the unraveling of the truth about irregularities in his administration by requiring his clearance before his Cabinet members attend Senate hearings.
De Lima said Duterte’s gag order relative to Cabinet members’ attendance at the ongoing Senate Blue-Ribbon Committee probe on the alleged corruption in his administration’s pandemic response was not even based on executive privilege, “but presidential hubris.”
She said Duterte’s gag order on Health Sec. Francisco Duque III and other Cabinet members, preventing them from attending the Blue-Ribbon Committee hearing were expected.
“It was only a matter of time before Duterte resorted to an illegal action to prevent the unraveling of the truth in the Senate hearing,” she said.
She insisted Duterte would continue to push the government to a constitutional crisis if only to save the Davao boys in their P8.7 billion plunder, the details of which were slowly uncovered in the Senate hearing.
Duterte on Tuesday said he would require Cabinet members to secure his clearance first before they could attend Senate inquiries.
His statement came as the Senate continued to investigate the purchase of allegedly overpriced medical supplies in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year and the link of his former economic adviser Michael Yang to anomalous contracts.
The President said he would “limit” what the Senate could do over the Executive Department since he had the hand over it.
We hope we will eventually get to the bottom of the truth in these exchanges.