What would an assertive and truly independent Congress have done had the President warned it against investigating an anomalous development in the executive department? We may never know, because in the face of presidential bluster, neither the Senate nor the House has asserted its right—no, its constitutional duty—to launch congressional inquiries into matters of national import.
Article IV, Section 21 of the Constitution is unambiguous: “The Senate or the House of Representatives or any of its respective committees may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure. The rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected.”
Nowhere in the Charter does it say that the legislative branch may not investigate co-equal branches of the government, as administration apologists suggest.
But on Monday night, Duterte warned Congress not “to tinker” with the Presidential Security Group (PSG) personnel over their early use of an unauthorized vaccine against COVID-19.
“I would like to call on Congress–and this is not an appeal. I want to tell you straight: do not tinker with the PSG. I’m telling you as President it’s a matter of self-preservation,” he said in his taped speech.
He said he was “not keen” on allowing PSG commander Brig. Jesus Durante III and other personnel to face Congress to explain how the vaccine doses were procured and who supplied them.
“If they will be called to testify in Congress… I will just tell…to just shut up. Do not answer,” the President said.
“Do not force my soldiers to testify against their will. And don’t cite them in contempt and detain them. I do not think it will be good for you and for me. It would not be healthy for everybody,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Duterte said if Congress decides to proceed with the inquiry, something “nasty” would transpire.
Now the President may believe that there was truly nothing wrong in what his bodyguards did, but that belief does not allow him to order Congress not to investigate the early and clandestine use of an unauthorized vaccine in contravention of stated government policies—and possibly even some laws.
The President need not warn that something nasty will happen—it already has.
Because instead of truly standing up for the Senate’s right to investigate anything under the sun, Senate President Vicente Sotto III responded with bogus bluster of his own, saying a hearing on plans for the national vaccination program would push through next week as planned—and that he had no intention of calling the PSG men.
In other words, the headline might say the Senate will push through with hearings despite the presidential warning, but the real story suggests that it will investigate only the official vaccination program and obediently do as the President bids—and leave his bodyguards alone. Now that’s nasty.