Detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima on Sunday, Oct. 17 urged Congress to stand up against constitutional violations committed by the executive department as she underscored the need to avoid a precedent that would diminish the powers of the legislature in conducting legislative inquiries.
De Lima said Congress has to assert its constitutional authority 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 hearings being conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on reported massive irregularities int he procurement of vital COVID-19 medical suplies.
So far, nobody in the legislative department has challenged Duterte’s directive before the judiciary notwithstanding protests from senators against the supposed unconstitutionality of the ordfer.
“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,” said De Lima in a press statement.
It will be recalled that Duterte accused senators of being unfair to members of the executive department who were summoned to the blue ribbon hearings. He insisted that his men have not been given a chance to explain fully statements or even give their testimonies.
Less than a month later, 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 Bicolana senator 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,” the former justice secretary explained.
“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.