Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Thursday expressed disappointment that none of her colleagues in the majority rose on Tuesday to counter Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile’s opinion that Congress could not pass a law to impair contracts such as the one entered into by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and two water concessionaires.
Santiago, a lawyer, was referring to Enrile’s interpellation of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who called for a Senate inquiry into the pass-on charges, such as the cost of income tax payments, of Maynilad Water Services Inc. and Manila Water Corp.
It was Enrile’s position that Congress can do nothing to address the situation of consumers in Metro Manila and nearby areas if the concession agreement with franchise holder and regulator MWSS provided for the pass-on charges.
“The Enrile speech was an egregious example of ignorance of the law, used as a tool to bludgeon the heads of nonlawyers. I am very disappointed that none of the lawyers in the majority coalition to which I belong stood up to unmask Enrile’s ignorance,” Santiago said in a statement.
Among the lawyers in the Senate majority are Senate President Franklin Drilon, Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Sen. Pia Cayetano, Sen. Francis Escudero, Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara and 1989 bar topnotcher Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III.
Various expenses, such as those for foreign trips, entertainment and recreation, advertising, gifts, flowers and other tokens for all occasions, have been passed on to customers of the two water concessionaires, according to a consumer advocacy group.
The Water for the People Network said these expenses were on top of the P15.3 billion in income taxes that Maynilad and Manila Water passed on to consumers from 2008 to 2012.
Santiago said that in the 1992 case of Juarez v. Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court ruled: “The impairment clause is now no longer inviolate; in fact, there are many who now believe it is an anachronism in present-day society …. These agreements have come within the embrace of the police power.”
She traced the police power limitation on the so-called “contract clause” or “impairment clause” as far back as 60 years ago, with the decision by the Supreme Court in the landmark 1953 case of Rutter v. Esteban, ushering in a consistent line of cases holding that police power prevail over the contract clause.
Public welfare superior?
Santiago then cited the 1993 case of PNB v. Remigio, in which the Supreme Court ruled: “The constitutional guarantee of nonimpairment of obligations of contract is limited by the exercise of the police power of the State, the reason being that public welfare is superior to private rights.”
She went on to cite the 1995 case of Conference of Maritime Manning Agencies v. POEA in which the Supreme Court similarly ruled: “The freedom of contract is not absolute; all contracts and all rights are subject to the police power of the State and not only may regulations which affect them be established by the State, but all such regulations must be subject to change from time to time….”
Santiago defined police power as “the inherent and plenary power of a sovereign to make all laws necessary and proper to preserve the public security, order, health, morality, justice and general welfare.”
On Enrile’s boast that if he would be allowed to appear in court, he would certainly defeat Trillanes, Santiago said: “He does not want the Senate to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation, which is one of our duties. Instead, he wants Trillanes to file a case in court, which is no longer part of our legislative functions.”
“Under the Senate rules, that kind of boasting and self-praise at the expense of another senator, who is a nonlawyer, constitutes unparliamentary language because it offends Senator Trillanes and the Senate as a whole,” she added.
Sought for comment, Enrile stood by his view on the inviolability of contracts.
“I have a different notion. I’m not an author of books on the Constitution, but I have enough understanding of the Constitution,” Enrile said. “Maybe she studied a different Constitution.”
Enrile said he didn’t bully Trillanes as Santiago had indicated.
“In fact, I greeted him a happy birthday. You know, she’s debating with us but she’s not on the floor. She should come and perform her job,” he said.
Told that Santiago said that she almost had a heart attack when she heard his opinion on contracts, Enrile said, “Well, good luck to her.”
Santiago has been on an extended medical leave due to chronic fatigue.