Senators fear constitutional crisis over ban on Cabinet men in Senate probes

Published October 2, 2021, 1:12 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

President Duterte could cause a constitutional crisis should he pursue his order to members of his Cabinet and law enforcers to ignore the legislative hearings of the Senate.

President Rodrigo Duterte (Malacañang photo)

Senators Richard Gordon and Panfilo Lacson both raised the possibility after Duterte said he would prevent Cabinet officials from attending Senate investigations and direct the police and military not to help the upper chamber in implementing arrest warrants.

Gordon, who leads the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s marathon hearings on the Department of Health’s (DOH) purchase of pandemic-related supplies through the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service (DBM-PS), stood firm that they are only doing their oversight function on the use of public funds.

“The Senate is doing its job to fight and right the corruption of the President’s appointees and friends whose greed has deprived so many of our countrymen of ayuda (aid), vaccination, and healthcare,” Gordon said in a statement issued on social media Friday night, October 1.

“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 pesoo luxury cars and living in mansions while our people continue to suffer, starve, and die,” he added.

In a separate statement on Saturday, October 2, Gordon further said: “The legislature can conduct inquiries not to specifically enact laws, but to specifically oversee the implementation of laws.”

“In the exercise of of the legislative oversight function, there is always the potential that the oversight committees may discover the need to improve laws,”‘ he maintained.

Lacson also said Duterte cannot prevent the Senate from pursuing inquiries in aid of legislation.

“Pwedeng bawalan pero magtr-trigger ng crisis ‘yon eh. Kasi may nga separation of powers (He can prohibit the attendance of his Cabinet, but it would trigger a crisis. Because there is separation of powers),” he also said in an interview over radio DWIZ on Saturday.

“May sariling mandato ang Kongreso o ‘yong Senado, so hindi pwedeng manghimasok ang executive department unless meron ngang request na mag-assist. So magkakagulo kapag ganon (The Congress, or the Senate, has its own mandates, so the executive cannot meddle, unless there is a request for assistance. So there will be trouble if this pushes through),” he added.

But should Duterte tell authorities not to cooperate with the Senate, Lacson conceded that “we’ll have to make do with our own resources”.

Duterte previously defended his allies from allegations of irregularities in the award of multi-billion peso government contracts to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation.

Senators learned that the firm and its officials had links to Duterte’s former economic adviser, Davao-based businessman Michael Yang.

On Friday, opposition senators also slammed the President for his plan to block the presence of his men in Senate hearings, noting a Supreme Court ruling which upheld the Senate’s authority to compel attendance legislative investigations.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, for his part, said their respect for their co-equal executive department “is still alive and well”, although he opined that “the orders are unnecessary”.