Guingona questions Drilon’s refusal to sign Napoles subpoena
MANILA, Philippines — “No logical and legal reason exists why caution, timing and prudence are now being used to prevent Janet Lim-Napoles from attending the hearings of the Senate blue ribbon committee.”
In a formal letter, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, the committee chair, pressed Senate President Franklin Drilon to stand down on his position respecting the advice of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales that calling Napoles to the Senate hearing would prejudice her investigation into plunder charges against the alleged brains of a P10-billion pork barrel scam.
Drilon, whose photographs with Napoles in her lavish parties have been widely publicized, has refused to sign a subpoena for the businesswoman to appear in the inquiry of the committee on the accountability of public officers and investigations.
Named in the plunder charges filed in the Ombudsman last week by the National Bureau of Investigation with the 49-year-old Napoles were Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. Another 34 people, including five former congressmen, have likewise been charged with either plunder or malversation of public funds.
“Government officials and even whistle-blowers have been summoned pursuant to this investigation,” Guingona said in his letter.
Guingona, who was also the chair of the blue ribbon panel in the 15th Congress, said a total of 22 subpoenas had been signed by former Senate President Enrile and the incumbent Drilon. “There is no reason why Janet Lim-Napoles’ subpoena must be treated differently,” he said.
“Caution, timing and prudence should not be used to diminish and destroy the constitutional power of the Senate to conduct investigations in aid of legislation,” Guingona said. “The Senate’s power has been upheld by the Supreme Court in several cases.”
However, Drilon on the last session day said that he had decided not to issue the subpoena and that there was no scheduled caucus to further discuss the issue. Hearings are allowed despite the two-week session break.
“The Ombudsman advised us that in the meantime, we can defer the testimony of Janet Napoles. We deferred to her judgment. We would rather err on the side of prudence because what is important is that the justice system must be able to work and the Ombudsman advised us to defer,” Drilon said.
“It is not a question on who is supreme, the Senate of the Philippines or the Office of the Ombudsman. What is important is that we uphold the supremacy of the law,” Drilon added.
Drilon had asked Morales’ opinion on whether summoning Napoles to the blue ribbon inquiry was in accordance with the law and the Ombudsman’s rules.
Morales said that “it would not be advisable at this time” for Napoles to testify before the Senate on what she knew about the alleged misuse of public funds since it could “among other things, adversely affect public interest, prejudice the safety of witnesses or the disposition of cases against her … or unduly expose them to ridicule or public censure.”
In his letter to Drilon, Guingona cited the Supreme Court decisions related to the power of the Senate to summon resource persons.
These include Romero v. Chavez that said “[ongoing] judicial proceedings do not preclude congressional hearings in aid of legislation” and Senate blue ribbon committee v. Majaducon and Flaviano that ruled that a regional trial court “had no authority to prohibit the committee from requiring respondent to appear and testify before it.”
Guingona also cited the case of Sabio v. Gordon that said “a mere provision of law cannot pose a limitation to the broad power of Congress, in the absence of any constitutional basis.”
Napoles is being held at the Special Action Force training camp at Sta. Rosa City, Laguna province, for serious illegal detention of her former employee, Benhur Luy. The NBI said Napoles held Luy captive to prevent him from talking about her alleged illicit activities. The businesswoman surrendered to President Aquino on Aug. 28, two weeks after she went into hiding. She said she feared for her life.
In a news conference, Guingona said Napoles’ testimony would complete the inquiry into the P10-billion racket involving the channeling of the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) into phantom projects and kickbacks.
“We already saw in the series of hearings the COA (Commission on Audit) findings, the role of the line agencies, the testimony of the whistle-blowers. The only thing remaining that will complete the story is the centerpiece—the main actor Janet Lim-Napoles,” he said.
Guingona said he would exercise his options at the proper time should Drilon continue to refuse to subpoena Napoles.
He also dismissed any legal clash between the Senate and the Ombudsman. “First of all, the Ombudsman’s was just an advice. It would have been different if it was an order. But this is just an advice so you cannot go to the Supreme Court on that,” he said. “Secondly, the power to approve the subpoena lies in the sole discretion of the Senate President. So you also can’t bring that before the Supreme Court.”
In a statement on Thursday, retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno urged the Senate not to be daunted by the Ombudsman’s confidentiality rule.
“An administrative rule can never negate a constitutional grant of power,’’ Puno said. He called the Senate’s right to investigate as a “crucial component of the power to enact laws which the Constitution exclusively grants to Congress.’’
“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,’’ the former Chief Justice said.
He warned any undue dilution of this exclusive power could “destroy the check and balance mechanisms of governmental powers” and, worse, could lead to the “impotence’’ of Congress to enact laws.
Puno said that the high court had ruled that Congress’ right to investigate can only be limited by a higher constitutional right such as the right to guard against self-incrimination and certain executive privileges.
“Personal improprieties on the part of some of its members may weaken the Senate but will not wreck it. What will wreck the Senate as an institution when it surrenders its constitutional right to investigate in aid of legislation,’’ he said, adding that this would be an “act of decapitation by the Senate on itself.’’
“For the Senate to self-destruct is the greatest tragedy of the PDAF scandal,’’ Puno said. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.