MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte’s memorandum barring officials and employees of the Executive Branch from attending the ongoing Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings into government’s spending for the Covid-19 pandemic does not upset the principle of checks and balances, Malacañang said on Thursday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this remark after the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) urged Duterte to recall his memo, saying it “upsets the system of checks and balances and transgresses the doctrine of separation of powers” among the three co-equal branches of the government.
Roque disagreed with the IBP, noting that Duterte does not have the power to stop the Senate from conducting investigations.
“Hindi po apektado ang checks and balances. Bakit? Wala naman pong kapangyarihan ang Presidente na utusan ang co-equal branch of government na itigil ang kanilang pagdinig (Checks and balances are not affected. Why? Because the President has no power to order a co-equal branch of government to stop their hearings),” Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
Roque said the Senate has the power to conduct inquiries but noted that the lawmakers should not cite Cabinet officials in contempt for failing to appear.
“Ang sabi po ng Korte Suprema, ang mga kalihim ay under the direct control and supervision ng Presidente, pag sila’y pinagbawalan dapat sumunod at hindi dapat ma-cite in contempt kapag hindi nga po sila maka-attend ng Senate hearings. ’Yan po ay aktwal na desisyon ng Korte Suprema so wala pong paglabag sa Saligang Batas (The Supreme Court said that secretaries are under the direct control and supervision of the President, if they were barred, they should follow and not cite them in contempt for failing to attend Senate hearings. That is the actual decision of the Supreme Court so there is no violation of the Constitution),” he said, citing the high court in its 2008 ruling on the case Romulo Neri vs. Senate.
He reiterated that the President would have no problem should the Senate panel continue to conduct a series of investigations into the government’s spending of Covid-19 response funds, provided the hearings do not disrupt the work of the government officials.
“Sabi nga ni Presidente, e di luray-lurayin niyo ang Pharmally na ‘yan, wala siyang pakialam. Ang hindi lang niya gusto, e kinukuha yung panahon ng kanyang mga kalihim na namumuno dito sa giyera dito sa Covid-19 gaya ng Secretary of Health [Francisco Duque III], ang Vaccine Czar [Carlito Galvez Jr.], at saka ang Testing Czar [Vince Dizon] (The President even said, you can tear Pharmally apart all you want, he wouldn’t care. What he doesn’t want is that you waste the time of his secretaries leading the fight against Covid like the Secretary of Health, Vaccine Czar, and Testing Czar),” he added.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is currently looking into the government’s purchases during the onset of the pandemic last year, particularly its transactions with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.
Duterte has repeatedly said the Senate panel has been wasting his Cabinet officials’ time by summoning them in lengthy hearings amid the pandemic.
In his Talk to the People on Wednesday, Duterte said there is “no way” he will withdraw the memo and dared the Senate to challenge the document before the Supreme Court.
“Pinapa-withdraw nila yung order ko, yung (They want me to withdraw the order) prohibiting people from the Executive Department from testifying. There ain’t no way that I will withdraw it. You can do your worst and I will do mine,” he said.
He said only the SC could decide on whether the memo is “unconstitutional.”
“Eventually, I think this will reach the Supreme Court. I am not saying that I am all correct. I may be wrong, but I have to protect the Executive Department from the incessant and steady dose of insults coming from the senators,” he added. (PNA)