A legal expert and a respected political analyst on Sunday scored some members of the Senate for “abusing” their power to investigate which, according to them, results in “wastage of public funds” and in some instances violates jurisprudence on the conduct of public hearings set by the Supreme Court (SC).
In separate interviews, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) national president Vicente Joyas and Ramon Casiple noted that some of these abuses were observed in the ongoing Senate probe of the alleged hidden wealth of Vice President Jejomar Binay which, they said, is actually “in aid of elections.”
Joyas noted that not all Senate investigations purportedly in aid of legislation resulted in passage of bills that took off from the inquiries.
“How many legislations did they file in aid of legislation after these investigations? I am convinced that this [Binay probe] is in aid of elections,” the IBP president said.
“How much do they spend for each hearing and how many bills have they passed after each hearing? This power to investigate in aid of legislation is abused and used for political purposes,” Joyas added.
He claimed that the Senate, most of the time, merely passes on the results of its inquiries to the Office of the Ombudsman or the Department of Justice (DOJ), clearly a duplication of investigative functions.
Since the Senate and the House of Representatives have no prosecutorial powers, Joyas said, investigating committees there eventually endorse their findings to the Ombudsman and the DoJ.
“So they waste the people’s money and they should be answerable to the people. They should present to the people how many pieces of legislation they have actually filed or passed in connection with these hearings,” the IBP official noted.
When asked if senators can be held liable for such “abuse,” Joyas replied: “We can do nothing about it because they’re the ones in control. But certainly, they are answerable to the people. How can they be reelected after showing arrogance and abusing the process?”
Casiple said Joyas was “generally right” but explained that committees such as the blue ribbon, which is looking at alleged overpricing of construction of the Makati City Hall Building 2 when Binay was still city mayor, was principally established to “investigate high crimes of public officials.”
But Joyas said some senators have violated an existing jurisprudence borne out of a 1991 SC decision that sets the “parameters” in the conduct of a congressional investigation.
“The SC has set parameters on the conduct of hearings. Not even in court can us lawyers shout at or humiliate a witness. In the Senate, they [those who present themselves to the chamber]are resource persons, not witnesses. They [the senators]should treat them with respect,” the IBP chief added.
Joyas was referring to G.R. No. 89914 dated November 20, 1991, in the case Bengzon vs. Blue Ribbon Committee, where the High Court ruled that lawmakers should exercise caution in their probes so as not to violate the constitutionally established rights of “witnesses.”
“ . . . the mere semblance of legislative purpose would not justify an inquiry in the face of the Bill of Rights. The critical element is the existence of, and the weight to be ascribed to, the interest of the Congress in demanding disclosures from an unwilling witness. We cannot simply assume, however, that every congressional investigation is justified by a public need that overbalances any private rights affected. To do so would be to abdicate the responsibility placed by the Constitution upon the judiciary to insure that Congress does not unjustifiably encroach upon an individual’s right to privacy nor abridge his liberty of speech, press, religion or assembly,” the SC said.
Joyas said Senators Aquilino Pimentel 3rd and Alan Peter Cayetano, being lawyers themselves, should be aware of these “guidelines.”
Pimentel is the chairman of the blue ribbon sub-committee that is conducting the inquiry into the allegations against Binay. Cayetano is a member of the panel.
Joyas said the two senators should emulate the way Sen. Grace Poe handles hearings.
The lawyer observed that Poe showed decorum when she asked Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima about the his alleged mansion in Nueva Ecija and the questionable declarations in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth or SALN.
In Malacañang, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said while critics’ observations may be valid, they are bound to respect the conduct of the investigations.
“We respect the Senate’s conduct of inquiries in aid of legislation. As elected officials, we believe our senators are ever mindful of their responsibilities to our people,” he told The Manila Times.