Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima urged the Congress to asserts its Constitutional power and condemn the Oct. 4 Memorandum issued by the Office of the President, directing all officials and employees of the Executive Department to ignore the Blue Ribbon Committee’s hearings on the irregularities in the COVID 19-related purchases.
De Lima, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, filed Proposed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 931 expressing the sense of the Senate condemning the said Memorandum for being violative of the Senate’s power of legislative inquiry and the people’s right to information.
“It is imperative that this Senate assert its constitutional powers and condemn the practices that disrespect and weaken our institution, lest we establish a precedent that would diminish this chamber’s very role in our democracy,” she said.
In his public address last Sept. 14, Duterte claimed that some resource persons, especially those coming from the Executive Department, attended the hearings for hours but were not given a chance to give their testimonies.
In the same address, he said, “this time, I will require every Cabinet member to clear with me any invitation and if I think, that he will be called for walang silbi [no purpose] except to harass, to be berated in front of the republic, eh hintuin ko na yan at pagbawalan ko na [I will bar them from attending].”
Less than a month after, on Oct. 4, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea issued a Memorandum providing that “the President has DIRECTED all officials and employees of the Executive Department to no longer appear before or attend the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings effective immediately.”
As a result of the said Memorandum, it was noted that officials from the Executive Department, such as Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and DBM officer-in-charge Jasonmer Uayan, did not attend the Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on Oct. 5.
“The absence of those executive officials appeared to have encouraged Atty. Christopher Lloyd Lao to likewise skip the same hearing, even though he is no longer part of the Executive Department,” De Lima noted.
The lady Senator from Bicol lamented how the Oct. 4 Memorandum is replete with what she called as “constitutional infirmities.”
“Foremost of which is the violation of the authority of the Senate to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation,” she said.
While the executive branch is a co-equal branch of the legislature, De Lima noted that it cannot frustrate the power of Congress to legislate by refusing to comply with its demands for information.
“The interplay between the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in the procurement of apparently overpriced goods under the Bayanihan Act is a clear and legitimate issue that necessitates legislative intervention: from investigation to corrective legislation,” she said.
“From the national budget to private bills, public interests are not served if Congress is denied access to information from the very government that is mandated to enforce the laws,” she added. (30)