CONGRESSMEN belonging to the two committees conducting a joint inquiry into the Mamasapano incident on Tuesday voted to junk a proposal of the Makabayan bloc to make President Benigno Aquino 3rd answer questions on the ill-starred January 25 police mission.
Voting separately, members of the House committees on public order and safety and on peace, reconciliation and unity thumbed down the motion of a Makabayan bloc member, Rep. Neri Colmenares (Bayan Muna party-list), to send a list of questions to the President and make him reply in writing.
The Makabayan bloc had prepared 20 questions for the President, whom they initially wanted to be summoned to appear before the House probe. The questions covered
authorization given to suspended Philippine National Police chief Director-General Alan Purisima to take part in the police operation; details and reasons behind executive and tactical decisions carried out during the raid; and extent of involvement of the United States in the “law enforcement mission” to capture international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and his Filipino cohort, Abdul Basit Usman.
The House Committee on Public Order and Safety voted 14-3 against Colmenares’ motion while the House Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity voted 17-2.
Colmenares, a member of the two committees, voted twice on his motion.
His fellow Makabayan bloc members — Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmi de Jesus and Rep. Luz Ilagan and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate joined his side in the voting.
Before the voting, the congressmen spent over two hours debating on how the two-day hearing should proceed, but much time was spent arguing for and against Colmenares’ motion.
Dasmariñas City (Cavite) Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, a lawyer, said asking the President to answer a questionnaire will “set a dangerous precedent” and make Congress “the most powerful branch of government.”
“Questioning the President will have far-reaching consequences and affect the foundation of our Constitution: the separation of powers between three co-equal branches, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. We [in the House]cannot even make Regional Trial Court judges to appear here in aid of legislation because of separation of powers,” he pointed out.
“If we are going to question the President, that would set a dangerous precedent. Congress will now be the most powerful, and nobody can prevent Congress to do the same thing to future Presidents, and lawmakers will be haphazardly calling each other out to appear before their respective chambers,” Barzaga, a member of the National Unity Party that is allied with the administration, said.
Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, who was a prosecutor in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, argued that the President can only be questioned under one circumstance—impeachment.
“I oppose this motion because the President, as the Chief Executive, is immune from suit. Because of such immunity, we can’t investigate him, unless [he is being impeached]. He is immune from charges because if the law will allow anybody to sue the President for every government failure, he can’t do his job anymore,” Fariñas, topnotcher of the 1978 Bar exams, said.
Colmenares, who is also a lawyer, however, argued that the move would give the President the chance to answer questions that had bedeviled his administration in the last two months.
He criticized Aquino’s allies, saying they were invoking separation of powers because it was the most convenient way to shield the President from any liability in the Mamasapano incident.
“If it’s the lawmakers who get called in Malacañang, they don’t invoke separation of powers. We just want the President to answer questions since the President himself said that he is open to answering queries in writing. That is a reasonable compromise,” Colmenares said.
“We are abandoning our constitutional duty by not questioning the President,” he added.
Meanwhile, Malacañang said they will yield to the decision of the joint House committees.
“They have actually voted it down. As far as we are concerned, there is nothing more to discuss owing to our recognition of separation of powers. It’s their business, not ours,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told reporters.
He said as a co-equal branch of government, Malacañang respects the decision of the legislative branch.
“It’s their prerogative. The basis for this is the principle of the separation of powers and mutual respect among separate and co-equal branches of government,” Coloma added.