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AmorLegis:Senatevs.Ermita(G.R.No.169777)­Digest 0 HigitPa SusunodnaBlog» Dashboard Mag­s Amor Dashboard Mag­s

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Senate vs. Ermita (G.R. No. 169777) - Digest


This case is regarding the railway project of the North Luzon Railways Corporation with the China National Machinery and Equipment Group as well as the Wiretapping activity of the ISAFP, and the Fertilizer scam.

The Senate Committees sent invitations to various officials of the Executive Department and AFP officials for them to appear before Senate on Sept. 29, 2005. Before said date arrived, Executive Sec. Ermita sent a letter to Senate President Drilon, requesting for a postponement of the hearing on Sept. 29 in order to “afford said officials ample time and opportunity to study and prepare for the various issues so that they may better enlighten the Senate Committee on its investigation.” Senate refused the request.

On Sept. 28, 2005, the President issued EO 464, effective immediately, which, among others, mandated that “all heads of departments of the Executive Branch of the government shall secure the consent of the President prior to appearing before either House of Congress.” Pursuant to this Order, Executive Sec. Ermita communicated to the Senate that the executive and AFP officials would not be able to attend the meeting since the President has not yet given her consent. Despite the lack of consent, Col. Balutan and Brig. Gen. Gudani, among all the AFP officials invited, attended the investigation. Both faced court marshal for such attendance.


Whether E.O. 464 contravenes the power of inquiry vested in Congress.


To determine the constitutionality of E.O. 464, the Supreme Court discussed the two different functions of the Legislature: The power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation and the power to conduct inquiry during question hour.

Question Hour:

The power to conduct inquiry during question hours is recognized in Article 6, Section 22 of the 1987 Constitution, which reads:

“The heads of departments may, upon their own initiative, with the consent of the President, or upon the request of either House, as the rules of each House shall provide, appear before and be heard by such House on any matter pertaining to their departments. Written questions shall be submitted to the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives at least three days before their scheduled appearance. Interpellations shall not be limited to written questions, but may cover matters related thereto. When the security of the State or the public interest so requires and the President so states in writing, the appearance shall be conducted in executive session.”

The objective of conducting a question hour is to obtain information in pursuit of Congress’ oversight function. When Congress merely seeks to be informed on how department heads are implementing the statutes which it had issued, the department heads’ appearance is merely requested.

The Supreme Court construed Section 1 of E.O. 464 as those in relation to the appearance of department heads during question hour as it explicitly referred to Section 22, Article 6 of the 1987 Constitution.

In aid of Legislation:

The Legislature’s power to conduct inquiry in aid of legislation is expressly recognized in Article 6, section21 of the 1987 Constitution, which reads:

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“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.”

The power of inquiry in aid of legislation is inherent in the power to legislate. A legislative body cannot legislate wisely or effectively in the absence of information respecting the conditions which the legislation is intended to affect or change. And where the legislative body does not itself possess the requisite information, recourse must be had to others who do possess it.

But even where the inquiry is in aid of legislation, there are still recognized exemptions to the power of inquiry, which exemptions fall under the rubric of “executive privilege”. This is the power of the government to withhold information from the public, the courts, and the Congress. This is recognized only to certain types of information of a sensitive character. When Congress exercise its power of inquiry, the only way for department heads to exempt themselves therefrom is by a valid claim of privilege. They are not exempt by the mere fact that they are department heads. Only one official may be exempted from this power -- the President.

Section 2 & 3 of E.O. 464 requires that all the public officials enumerated in Section 2(b) should secure the consent of the President prior to appearing before either house of Congress. The enumeration is broad. In view thereof, whenever an official invokes E.O.464 to justify the failure to be present, such invocation must be construed as a declaration to Congress that the President, or a head of office authorized by the President, has determined that the requested information is privileged.

The letter sent by the Executive Secretary to Senator Drilon does not explicitly invoke executive privilege or that the matter on which these officials are being requested to be resource persons falls under the recognized grounds of the privilege to justify their absence. Nor does it expressly state that in view of the lack of consent from the President under E.O. 464, they cannot attend the hearing. The letter assumes that the invited official possesses information that is covered by the executive privilege. Certainly, Congress has the right to know why the executive considers the requested information privileged. It does not suffice to merely declare that the President, or an authorized head of office, has determined that it is so.




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The claim of privilege under Section 3 of E.O. 464 in relation to Section 2(b) is thus invalid per se. It is not asserted. It is merely implied. Instead of providing precise and certain reasons for the claim, it merely invokes E.O. 464, coupled with an announcement that the President has not given her consent.

When an official is being summoned by Congress on a matter which, in his own judgment, might be covered by executive privilege, he must be afforded reasonable time to inform the President or the Executive Secretary of the possible need for invoking the privilege. This is necessary to provide the President or the Executive Secretary with fair opportunity to consider whether the matter indeed calls for a claim of executive privilege. If, after the lapse of that reasonable time, neither the President nor the Executive Secretary invokes the privilege, Congress is no longer bound to respect the failure of the official to appear before Congress and may then opt to avail of the necessary legal means to compel his appearance.

Wherefore, the petitions are partly granted. Sections 2(b) and 3 of E.O. 464 are declared void. Section 1(a) are however valid.

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