Enrile: Santiago’s Senate committee may not be right body to probe Puno
MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile vows he will not stop any attempt by colleagues to investigate resigned Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno but warned of possible technicalities that could arise in case they do.
First, there has been no resolution or proposed legislative measure filed, or privilege speech delivered that could serve as basis for an investigation, Enrile said.
Second, there are only two Senate committees – rules chaired by the majority leader and public accountability or blue ribbon – that can conduct investigations motu propio, according to Enrile.
Which means the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes and laws that intends to conduct a hearing on Friday (September 14) might not be the appropriate panel to “evaluate” Puno’s performance in the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Santiago, chairperson of that committee, announced this week she wanted Puno to justify why he assumed the department’s supervision over the police, which has always been the responsibility of the DILG secretary.
Santiago believes that because of this “irregular” set-up, the illegal numbers game “jueteng” continues to thrive throughout the country under the Aquino administration.
According to the senator, Puno has an influential backer with “jueteng” connections whom President Benigno Aquino III could not refuse.
Puno was given supervision over the Philippine National Police as an assurance that “jueteng” operations would not be disturbed, she said.
Enrile reminded Santiago that her committee has been tasked to deal “only with proposals to amend the Constitution or revise existing laws.”
Santiago said the committee would determine whether Puno’s assumption of powers of the DILG secretary violated the Administrative Code.
The senator added that as chair of her committee, she could initiate a hearing without a resolution or privilege speech.
Enrile suggested that the Senate committee on public order and illegal drugs chaired by Senator Gregorio Honasan would be a more appropriate panel for the investigation.
Or, Santiago can arrange for a Question Hour as provided by the Constitution since she also intended to invite Cabinet secretaries to the investigation, Enrile said.
A chamber of Congress can invite a Cabinet secretary to answer questions related to his department during the Question Hour. This is usually done during urgent situations such as a power crisis.
The Senate President noted that among the invited guests to the Friday hearing are Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and incoming DILG Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas.
Santiago said that if the Senate assigned another committee to investigate Puno, she would insist that her panel be the primary committee in the effort.
The Senate President clarified he had nothing against Santiago’s planned face-off with Puno except that it would be better if she filed a resolution calling for the investigation before conducting a hearing.
Besides, an evaluation of Puno’s performance was best left to the authority that appointed him in the first place, Enrile said.
“With due respect to Senator Miriam, an evaluation of Undersecretary Puno’s performance is a function of the executive department. That is not within the jurisdiction of the Senate,” Enrile said.
“That is a function of the executive. Only the President can evaluate the members of his official family, not the Senate. Besides, the undersecretary’s position is not among those subject to confirmation [by the Commission on Appointments],” he added.
The Senate President said that apart from the rules and blue ribbon committees, those with oversight functions could also hold investigations motu propio but only in connection with the responsibilities of that specific committee.
For example, the Senate energy committee has been given oversight functions to investigate power-related matters, he explained.
“I will not be the one to question all of this because as Senate President, I head the institution. But we have to examine the legalities because there might be issues that would be raised,” Enrile warned.
He added that he would not want any questionable precedent to occur because of a resolution-less committee hearing.
The Senate President cautioned he did not raise the warning as a favor to Puno.
“I am not saying that. However, those to be called to the investigation can raise an issue about it,” he explained.
Enrile instructed Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto and the chamber’s legal division to check whether Santiago could hold the investigation without a resolution could go without a hitch.
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