Senate of the Philippines

Blocking Cabinet from Senate probe spells ‘constitutional crisis’

Pauline Macaraeg

SENATE PROBE. File photo of Senator Richard Gordon at the Senate.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

Senator Richard Gordon and a group of alumni from the University of the Philippines College of Law say the President's order is unconstitutional

President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to block the appearance of Cabinet officials and witnesses in the Senate’s ongoing probe into the alleged corruption in his administration’s pandemic response is provoking a “constitutional crisis,” said Senator Richard Gordon, head of the investigating panel.

Several alumni of the University of the Philippines College of Law agreed as they condemned Duterte’s decision prohibiting the appearance of his Cabinet secretaries in the ongoing hearings of Congress.

“This directive of President Duterte is clearly unconstitutional,” the group said. Among the signatories are retired Supreme Court senior justice Antonio Carpio, Emily Sibulo-Hayudini, and Edgardo Balbin.

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Furious Duterte seeks to block Cabinet, witnesses from appearing in Senate probe

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On Friday, October 1, Gordon tweeted a statement condemning Duterte’s order to issue a memorandum that would limit the appearance of those in the executive department in the Senate’s ongoing hearing.

“It is catastrophic for our country that the President is willing to provoke a constitutional crisis to protect these corrupt people who have lined their pockets with our people’s money and now go around in ostentatious displays of ill-gotten wealth, driving around in multi-million peso luxury cars and living in mansions while our people continue to suffer, starve, and die,” Gordon tweeted.

On Saturday, October 2, Gordon released another statement saying that Duterte’s move is unconstitutional, citing a similar case in 2006.

Ruling on the Senate vs Ermita case, the Supreme Court said then that when the inquiry in which Congress requires Cabinet officials’ appearance is in aid of legislation, the appearance is mandatory. The case involved then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s executive order that stopped Cabinet officials from attending a probe into an allegedly anomalous contract that her administration had entered into with a Chinese company.

“Consistent with the Supreme Court ruling, only a valid claim of executive privilege can exempt department heads from answering questions in congressional inquiries in aid of legislation. They are not exempt by the mere fact that they are department heads,” Gordon said.

Duterte had earlier accused Gordon of “playing God” and had said that Cabinet secretaries would need his approval before participating in the Senate’s hearings.

In their statement, the group of UP College of Law alumni asked that the President withdraw his directive, saying it has “created an unnecessary constitutional crisis in the middle of a pandemic.”

“The President must respect the constitutional exercise of power by a co-equal branch of government. The President must allow the Senate to perform its constitutional oversight function in investigating possible anomalies in the purchase…. If the President has nothing to hide, there is no reason for him to stop the investigation,” the group said. – Rappler.com

Pauline Macaraeg

Pauline Macaraeg is part of the Rappler Research Team’s fact-checking unit. Aside from debunking dubious claims, she also enjoys crunching data and writing stories about the economy, environment, and media democracy.