Roque explains why Cabinet members aren't required to attend Senate Blue Ribbon panel hearings

Published October 7, 2021, 10:44 AM

by Ellson Quismorio

The ongoing Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings are “oversight” hearings in nature and does not entail mandatory appearance of resource persons from the executive department.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque makes a presentation before President Duterte during “Talk to the People” public briefing on Oct. 6, 2021 (Screenshot from Facebook live)

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this contention during latest “Talk to the People” public briefing, which was aired late Wednesday night, Oct. 6.

He said this is the main difference between Senate hearings conducted “in aid of legislation” and those held in accordance to the chamber’s oversight function.

“Babasahin ko lang din po iyong (I will just also read the) distinction between oversight function at saka (and) in aid of legislation. Tignan niyo po ito ha. Kapag it is oversight function gaya ng parang gustong gawin ngayon ni Senator [Richard] Gordon na siguraduhin na walang korupsiyon, hindi po mandatory ang attendance (Please look at this. If it’s for oversight function like what Senator Gordon is doing for the sake of ensuring there was mo corruption, then attendance is not mandatory),” Roque, citing Supreme Court (SC) jurisprudence in the case of Neri v. Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, said in his presentation to President Duterte.

He likened this oversight function to the “question hour”, where Congress (House of Representatives and the Senate) may only “request the appearance” of resource persons from the executive branch “in keeping with the separation of power”.

“It is only when an investigation is in aid of legislation na ang sabi ng Korte Suprema (that the Supreme Court says), diyan pupuwedeng kayong mag-issue ng mga (there you can issue) subpoenas and summons to compel compulsory attendance,” the spokesperson said.

Gordon chairs the Blue Ribbon panel, which for the past two months has been conducting investigations in aid of legislation on the alleged anomalies in the government’s purchase of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) supplies last year.

But Duterte, Roque, and other Palace personalities have claimed that the seemingly endless marathon hearings have been more about berating Cabinet officials and making Gordon look good ahead of the Mayc 2022 elections.

They’ve also repeatedly said that not a single evidence of corruption has been produced in the hearings.

“Is it really in aid of legislation? At sa tingin ko naman po, matapos ang doseng hearing, kung anong kinakailangan nilang malaman para doon sa batas na gusto nilang buuin at gawing batas ay dapat po malinaw na sa kanila by now (In my view, after a dozen hearings, it should be clear by now what laws they intend to create),” Roque said of the senators.

Dutere had earlier signed a memorandum prohibiting executive department employees from testifying in the Blue Ribbon panel hearings. The order covered Cabinet members, who have been mainstays in the inquiry.

“I have to protect the executive department from the incessant and steady dose of insults coming from the senators,” the President said.

Roque said he believes the memorandum will “pass the test of constitutionality” since Malacañang or the executive branch isn’t asking the legislators to halt their investigation.

He said all the Palace wants is for the Cabinet officials to be spared from attending the alleged pointless hearings sicne they have to tackle issues in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Roque is rumored to be eyeing the Senate race in next year’s polls.