De Lima urges Congress to assert Constitutional powers; condemns Duterte Memo telling officials to skip Senate hearings

De Lima urges Congress to assert Constitutional powers; condemns Duterte Memo telling officials to skip Senate hearings

By Ernie Reyes

MANILA — Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima urged Congress to
assert its Constitutional power and condemn the Oct. 4 Memorandum
issued by the Office of the President, directing all officials and
employees of the Executive Department to ignore the Blue Ribbon
Committee’s hearings on the irregularities in the COVID 19-related
purchases.

De Lima, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice,
Welfare and Rural Development filed Proposed Senate Resolution (SR)
No. 931 expressing the sense of the Senate condemning the said
Memorandum for being violative of the Senate’s power of legislative
inquiry and the people’s right to information.

“It is imperative that this Senate assert its constitutional powers
and condemn the practices that disrespect and weaken our institution,
lest we establish a precedent that would diminish this chamber’s very
role in our democracy,” she said.

In his public address last Sept. 14, Duterte claimed that some
resource persons, especially those coming from the Executive
Department, attended the hearings for hours but were not given a
chance to give their testimonies.

In the same address, he said, “this time, I will require every Cabinet
member to clear with me an invitation and if I think, that he will be
called for walang silbi [no purpose] except to harass, to be berated
in front of the republic, eh hintuin ko na yan at pagbawalan ko na [I
will bar them from attending].”

Less than a month after, on Oct. 4, Executive Secretary Salvador
Medialdea issued a Memorandum providing that “the President has
DIRECTED all officials and employees of the Executive Department to no
longer appear before or attend the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee
hearings effective immediately.”

As a result of the said Memorandum, it was noted that officials from
the Executive Department, such as Health Secretary Francisco Duque III
and DBM officer-in-charge Jasonmer Uayan, did not attend the Blue
Ribbon Committee hearing on Oct. 5.

“The absence of those executive officials appeared to have encouraged
Atty. Christopher Lloyd Lao to likewise skip the same hearing, even
though he is no longer part of the Executive Department,” De Lima
noted.

The lady Senator from Bicol lamented how the Oct. 4 Memorandum is
replete with what she called as “constitutional infirmities.”

“Foremost of which is the violation of the authority of the Senate to
conduct inquiries in aid of legislation,” she said.

While the executive branch is a co-equal branch of the legislature, De
Lima noted that it cannot frustrate the power of Congress to legislate
by refusing to comply with its demands for information.

“The interplay between the Department of Health (DOH) and the
Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in the procurement of
apparently overpriced goods under the Bayanihan Act is a clear and
legitimate issue that necessitates legislative intervention: from
investigation to corrective legislation,” she said.

“From the national budget to private bills, public interests are not
served if Congress is denied access to information from the very government that is mandated to enforce the laws,” she added. (ai/mtvn)

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