President Rodrigo Duterte has legal basis to prohibit members of his Cabinet from attending Senate inquiries, but not private individuals, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson said Wednesday.
The senators made the remark after Duterte instructed officials to get his go-ahead before attending Senate hearings on the government’s alleged anomalous pandemic transactions.
Sotto said Duterte might block his Cabinet men from attending Senate hearings but not his former economic adviser, Michael Yang, and other personalities being dragged into the controversial Pharmally deals with the government.
“The executive department can’t prohibit those who are not government officials. They can prevent Cabinet officials but not Michael Yang. He’s not part of the Cabinet,” Sotto told TeleRadyo.
“It’s up to him (Duterte). However, the Senate will exercise our legislative oversight function over government projects and expenditures that we approved,” the senator added,
Lacson said there was a provision in the Constitution that states Cabinet members need the permission of the chief executive to attend hearings but stressed it was “used sparingly.”
He was referring to Section 22, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, that partly states, “The heads of departments may upon their own initiative, with the consent of the President, or upon the request of either House, as the rules of each House shall provide, appear before and be heard by such House on any matter pertaining to their departments.”
Lacson also cited former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Executive Order 464 following the “Hello, Garci” scandal in 2004.
He said the common denominator was “you would only do this because you’re hiding something or there’s something you don’t want to be made public.”
But while it is discretionary upon the President, Lacson said it was the public which would suffer.
“The public will stand to lose, not the Senate, because we’re not inventing facts. The people are facing hardships... Then they see the government not giving value to public funds,” he said.
He pointed out the Duterte administration would also lose in the court of public opinion.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is investigating the government’s contracts worth P8.68 billion with Pharmally Pharmaceuticals, a company with a starting paid-up capital of less than P625,000.
Jailed Senator Leila de Lima, however, said she was not surprised with Duterte’s effort to prevent the unraveling of the truth about any irregularities in his administration by requiring his clearance before his Cabinet members attend Senate hearings.
De Lima said Duterte’s gag order relative to Cabinet members’ attendance at the ongoing Senate Blue-Ribbon Committee probe on the alleged corruption in his administration’s pandemic response is not even based on executive privilege, “but presidential hubris.”
“It was only a matter of time before Duterte resorted to an illegal action to prevent the unraveling of the truth in the Senate hearing,” she said.