Ex-CJ Puno tells Senate: You risk destroying yourself
MANILA - Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno said the Senate will wreck itself as an institution if it will surrender its right to investigate in aid of legislation.
“It is nothing less than act of decapitation by the Senate on itself. For the Senate to self-destruct is the greatest tragedy of the [priority development assistance fund] scandal,” he said in a text message to reporters.
Senate President Franklin Drilon on Tuesday did not sign a subpoena for Janet Lim Napoles, but did so for the whistleblowers.
This “unreasonable treatment” drew the ire of Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III who said it raises the obvious question: “What is so confidential about Ms. Napoles' possible testimony that it cannot be made under oath before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee?”
During the Senate hearing on Thursday, Guingona said he will appeal to have the subpoena for Napoles signed.
Puno, who has been chief justice for almost five years until his retirement in 2010, said: “The Senate, thru its Blue Ribbon Committee, should uphold its right to investigate in aid of legislation. This right to investigate is a crucial component of the power to enact laws which the Constitution exclusively grants to Congress.”
He said the Supreme Court has consistently decided in the past a “liberal and latitudinarian interpretation.”
In all these decisions, the high court said “the cardinal principle of separation of powers demands from all branches and agencies of government the highest respect for the legislative power of Congress and its right to investigate in aid of legislation.”
He said destroying this exclusive power “is dangerous for it can destroy the check and balance mechanism of governmental powers so delicately crafted in our Constitution. Worse, any substantial erosion of the power of Congress to investigate in aid of legislation can lead to the impotence of Congress to enact laws.”
Puno said this right can only be limited by more superior constitutional rights such as the right against self-incrimination and certain executive privileges.
“Hence, this constitutional right to investigate in aid of legislation cannot be defeated nor diminished by any confidentiality rule which is only found in the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman. An administrative rule can never negate a constitutional grant of power,” he said.
Drilon justified his actions after receiving a letter from the Office of the Ombudsman.
In her letter, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales only said “it would not be advisable, at this time, for Ms. Napoles to testify before the said Committee on ‘what she knows’ about the alleged scam.”
In signing the subpoena for the witnesses, however, Drilon said: “I am signing this subpoena in your presence now, for Secretary De Lima to produce the witnesses mentioned in this subpoena. This is now the subpoena for Secretary De Lima and the other witnesses that the Chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee wishes Secretary De Lima to bring. I agree with Senator Guingona that nobody should undermine the mandate and power of the Blue Ribbon Committee, much less of the entire Senate.”