THE conduct by the Senate yesterday of an inquiry into the allegations of a retired Davao City police officer concerning the operations of an alleged Davao Death Squad (DDS) and President Duterte’s alleged involvement as former Davao City mayor, invites examination and study of the precise nature and extent of the constitutional authority of the legislature to investigate the Executive.
This is imperative because the Senate inquiry concerns the affairs of a local government unit (LGU) and the alleged actions of a local executive. And congressional investigations normally concern the activities of national government agencies and their implementation of laws.
To comprehend and sort out the situation, we should turn to the governing constitutional provision, and determine how it might have been misconstrued.
That authority is embodied in Article VI, Section 21 of the Constitution, which reads:
“The Senate or the House of Representatives or any of its respective committees may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure. The rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected.”
We do not comprehend how the affairs of one city of the archipelago, Davao City, has become a fitting subject of inquiry by the Senate. If it is suggested that this is because local government units are part of the executive branch, then we must wonder why the Senate local government committee is not the one conducting the probe.
It will also be averred that President Duterte no less is being accused by one witness of involvement in the alleged death squad, when he was Davao mayor. If that is so, then the subject of inquiry is not the actions of the President or his administration during the current presidential term, but the actions of one person in another office and in another time.
The question of what happened in Davao City in the period of Mr. Duterte’s mayoral incumbency may indeed be worthy of investigation. But the issue is whether it is proper and sound for the Senate to poke its nose into this matter, and whether it is consonant with its authority for oversight.
The congressional authority to investigate the Executive, is also called “congressional oversight” for a very good and specific reason. It encompasses the review, monitoring and supervision of government agencies, programs, activities, and policy implementation. Congress exercises this power largely through its congressional committee system.
In the United States, where the practice originated, congressional oversight is an implied rather than an enumerated power under the US Constitution. In the Philippines, it is an enumerated power in our 1987 Constitution.
By this, it means that Congress has the authority to conduct inquiries or investigations of the Executive, to have access to records or materials held by the Executive, or to issue subpoenas for documents or testimony from the Executive.
We are not persuaded that congressional oversight can be sensibly directed at every thing or every issue under the sun. It should be used judiciously, not capriciously.
The propriety of the probe into Arthur Lascañas’ allegations is complicated further by the fact that he testified before the Senate last October on the DDS, and he testified under oath that the squad did not exist. That he has now decided to recant his testimony, and seeks to testify to the contrary, is no reason to jump at the chance to hear him.
Many have fittingly questioned why the Senate fell prey so easily to the claims of Arthur Lascañas that he lied before the chamber earlier and now wanted to correct his testimony.
To fall for this line is to trivialize the congressional power of oversight, and to distort the Senate’s responsibility as the upper chamber of the legislature.