Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday, October 6, both distanced from and defended President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to Cabinet members to snub the ongoing pandemic corruption probe of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, slammed widely as an unconstitutional memorandum.
Guevarra told Senator Franklin Drilon during the Department of Justice or DOJ’s budget hearing Wednesday that he did not participate in the drafting of the memorandum, and that he would rather not comment on the constitutionality of the order.
Still, Guevarra justified it by saying: “I view the memorandum not to defy the constitutional prerogative of Congress…but to protest the manner in which the Senate blue ribbon committee hearings had been conducted.”
Guevarra said the so far 10 hearings conducted by the committee should have already been enough to come up with a list of amendments or new legislations. Congressional hearings are allowed to aid legislation.
“But the perspective is the inquiry is quite stepping beyond the original purpose, and probably dealing with criminal investigation that may properly be handled by the executive department itself through the Department of Justice or the Office of the Ombudsman,” he said.
Guevarra, though, had been insisting that the DOJ, through the National Bureau of Investigation, can only investigate upon the filing of a complaint.
The DOJ has motu proprio powers or power to investigate even without a complaint, which they had used for much lower thresholds before. The Office of the Ombudsman has already opened a motu proprio fact-finding inquiry.
Guevarra appealed to Drilon for a compromise.
“This is a two-way thing. This is something, in my opinion, [that] requires adjustments from both sides. We are willing to make an adjustment, but on the part [of the] Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, certain adjustments have to be made as well. I hope mutual efforts can be exerted,” said Guevarra, giving as an example the length of time they stay in the hearing in one day.
The Philippine Bar Association (PBA) called Duterte’s memorandum a “clear violation of our Constitution.”
“We appeal for President Duterte, a brother in the legal profession, to immediately recall his directives that in our view constitute clear violations of our Constitution,” said the PBA.
The mandatory organization of lawyers, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), reminded Duterte that the Supreme Court had already settled this issue in the case of Senate vs Ermita.
In that ruling, the Supreme Court said: “While the executive branch is a co-equal branch of the legislature, it cannot frustrate the power of Congress to legislate by refusing to comply with its demands for information.”
Guevarra said he was asked for his input when Malacañang was drafting the memo, but “I just told [them] the memo should just revolve around the issue of legislative inquiry in aid of legislation.”
“That’s all I mentioned about the subject matter; other than that I have no direct involvement in the crafting of the memo,” said Guevarra, a law professor at the Ateneo.
After Duterte signed the memorandum, his Cabinet members heeded the order and snubbed the Senate hearing on Tuesday, October 5.
The usual resource speakers, former Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) chief Llloyd Christopher Lao and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, were absent. Tax chief Caesar Dulay, who was initially in the Zoom, went offline after.
Only the heads of the independent commissions – the Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Audit – were there.
“This has all the red flags of an unconstitutionality, it only covers the Senate, it only covers the Blue Ribbon, but not other Blue Ribbon hearings, only this particular hearing, this is really – I cannot see other memorandum as blatantly unconstitutional as what we have before us,” said Drilon, a former justice secretary.
The hearings focus on the PS-DBM’s favored supplier, Pharmally Pharmaceutical, an undercapitalized company created only in September 2019, and which got by through being financed and guaranteed by Michael Yang, former economic adviser to President Rodrigo Duterte.
The embattled Lao is from Davao City, and worked on the president’s 2016 campaign.
Pharmally’s owner, Singaporean Huang Tzu Yen, is wanted in Taiwan for financial crimes. – Rappler.com