Wednesday, August 09, 2006


CODAL is seriously concerned over the government’s continued refusal to allow public officials from appearing in the Senate OWWA Fund investigation in open defiance of the constitutional powers of the Senate and the Supreme Court decision on EO 464.

The Executive Branch’s justification that they have to first attend to the evacuation of OFWs before they appear in any congressional investigation is of no moment, otherwise, the congressional power to investigate in aid of legislation is defeated by merely using executive work as justification.

There is also no legal basis for the claim of Exec. Sec. Eduardo Ermita that Congress must first transmit the questions before an executive official is allowed to testify. The provision he erroneously cited, specifically Article VI, Section 22 of the Constitution pertains to the Question Hour. The Senate investigation is provided for under Section 21 and guaranteed by the Supreme Court EO 464 decision. This not only exhibits a clear misreading of the Constitution but of an unexplained fear of the information the OWWA officials may divulge.

The Supreme Court has upheld Congressional power to summon executive officials in congressional inquiries in the case of Drilon vs. Executive Secretary, when it declared that “when the inquiry in which Congress requires their appearance is ‘in aid of legislation’ under Section 21, the appearance is mandatory x x x 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.”

Should Pres. Arroyo want to prohibit officials from appearing, she must personally or through Exec. Sec. Ermita claim confidentiality through the principle of ‘executive privilege’ as required by the Supreme Court in Drilon :

“Congress is not bound in such instances to respect the refusal of the department head to appear in such inquiry, unless a valid claim of privilege is subsequently made, either by the President herself or by the Executive Secretary.”

In invalidating EO 464 the Supreme Court categorically prohibited such unjustified refusal to cooperate as not only violative of the legislative power of Congress but also of the people’s right to information:

“Resort to any means then by which officials of the executive branch could refuse to divulge information cannot be presumed valid. Otherwise, we shall not have merely nullified the power of our legislature to inquire into the operations of government, but we shall have given up something of much greater value – our right as a people to take part in government.”

CODAL urges Pres. Arroyo to immediately order her officials to appear in the investigation as the efficient and speedy evacuation of OFWs is threatened considering that the issue involves the misuse of funds meant for the evacuation. It must be noted that millions of pesos were allotted before the 2004 elections, through retired general Roy Cimatu, for the evacuation of OFWs during the last US invasion of Iraq. There has been little public knowledge of how these millions were accounted for considering that no evacuation actually took place. It is imperative that use of funds for this latest evacuation be transparent and subject to congressional checks and balance, otherwise, many of the OFWs will be stranded in Lebanon since the supposed funds may not be sufficient or transmitted on time.

CODAL is seriously concerned by Pres. Arroyo’s open defiance of a Supreme Court decision which may lead to a constitutional crisis as this may escalate into an open clash between the Executive branch and the Supreme Court and the Senate. With the refusal of even minor officials from the Professional Regulatory Commission to heed the Senate invitation, it may be a matter of time before an open clash between the Senate and the Executive will erupt, particularly if the Senate will order the arrest of the recalcitrant officials.

CODAL is also afraid that this recalcitrance is preparing the public mind for the President’s refusal to disclose information should an impeachment hearing prosper, despite the Supreme Court’s declaration that even if the President is exempted from appearing in a congressional inquiry, such exemption does not apply to an impeachment proceeding. In Drilon, the Court stated that that: “Only one executive official may be exempted from this power (to summon officials in a congressional inquiry)— the President on whom executive power is vested, hence, beyond the reach of Congress except through the power of impeachment

By usurping and transgressing congressional and judicial powers and prerogatives, Pres. Arroyo’s government is a ‘dictatorship’ under general principles of international law, akin to Pres. Marcos’ usurpation of both the judiciary and the legislature during martial law. This merely strengthens impeachment charges that she used ‘dictatorial powers’ to maintain herself in power.

CODAL asks the Supreme Court to declare Exec. Sec. Ermita, OWWA and PRC officials in contempt for its contumacious defiance of the Court’s ruling. The executive is not above the law, nor is it above the judiciary and the legislature.

Reference Person: Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares

News Report Date: August 9, 2006


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