Arnault v Nazareno
ARNAULT v. NAZARENO G.R. No. L-3820 July 18, 1950
Note: This is the first time the Court was called upon to define the power of either House of Congress to punish a person not a member for contempt.
Facts: The Senate was investigating the purchase of two tracts of land: The Buenavista and Tambobong estates. o The Buenavista estate was originally owned by the San Juan de Dios Hostpital. It sold the estate to Ernest H. Burt, a non-resident American, but the latter failed to pay what was due and the sale was rescinded. o The Tambobong estate was originally owned by the Philippine Trust Company. It sold the estate to Burt, but the latter again failed to pay what was due. o In both cases, Burt had already paid P10,000 as down payment. o On October 1949, The Phil. Government bought them for P4,500,00 and P500,000 respectively. Of the first sum, P1,000,000 was paid to Burt thru his attorney-in-fact in the Philippines, the Associated Estates, Inc., represented by Jean L. Arnault, for alleged interest of the said Burt in the Buenavista Estate. o The second sum of P500,000 was all paid to the same Ernest H. Burt through his other attorney-in-fact, the North Manila Development Co., Inc., also represented by Jean L. Arnault, for the alleged interest of the said Burt in the Tambobong Estate. On February 27, 1950, the Senate adopted its Resolution No. 8. o The resolution created a special committee to investigate the Buenavista and the Tambobong Estates deal. o The duty of the committee was to determine whether the purchases were honest, valid, and proper and whether the price involved in the deal was fair and just. o It was alleged that the Government could have bought the Buenavista estate for P3,000,000 by virtue of a contract entered into between the San Juan de Dios Hospital and Philippine Government in 1939; and that the Government did not have to purchase the estate because the Occupation government had already paid for the amount. o It was also alleged that the Government did not have to pay for the Tambobong estate as it was already practically owned by virtue of a deed of sale from the Philippine Trust Company dated September 3, 1947, for P750,000, and by virtue of the recission of the contract through which Ernest H. Burt had an interest in the estate. In the subsequent investigation, the Senate had as a witness Jean L. Arnault. He was asked about the apparent unnecessariness and irregularity of the Government's paying to Burt the total sum of P1,500,000 for his alleged interest of only P20,000 in the two estates, which he seemed to have forfeited anyway long before October, 1949. Arnault testified that two checks payable to Burt aggregating P1,500,000 were delivered to him on October 29, 1949. On the same date, he opened a new account in the name of Ernest H. Burt with the Philippine National Bank in which he deposited the sum. On the same occasion, he draw on said account two checks; one for P500,000, which he transferred to the account of the Associated Agencies, Inc., with the Philippine National Bank, and another for P440,000 payable to cash, which he himself cashed. It was the desire of the committee
to determine the ultimate recipient of this sum of P440,000 that gave rise to the present case. The petitioner refused to reveal the name of the person to whom he gave the P440,000, as well as answer other pertinent questions related to the said amount. The Senate, in a resolution dated May 15, 1950, confined the petitioner in prison for the reason of contempt, which led to this petition for habeas corpus.
Issues: 1. Whether the Senate has the power to punish petitioner for contempt for refusing to reveal the name of the personto whom he gave the P440,000. 2. Whether the Senate has the authority to commit the petitioner for contempt for a term beyond its period of legislative session. 3. Whether the petitioner can rightfully invoke his right against self-incrimination? Held/Ratio: 1. Yes, the Senate has the power to punish the petitioner. The Constitution (1935) did not contain an express provision empowering either of the two Houses of Congress to punish non-members for contempt. But the power of inquiry — with process to enforce it — is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function. Once an inquiry is admitted or established to be within the jurisdiction of a legislative body to make, the investigating committee has the power to require a witness to answer any question pertinent to that inquiry, subject to his constitutional right against self-incrimination. The Court found that the question for the refusal to answer which the petitioner was held in contempt by the Senate was pertinent to the matter under inquiry. If the subject of investigation before the committee is within the range of legitimate legislative inquiry and the proposed testimony of the witness called relates to that subject, obedience, to its process may be enforced by the committee by imprisonment. 2. Yes, the Senate has the authority to commit the petitioner for contempt for a term beyond its period of legislative session. Had said resolution of commitment been adopted by the House of Representatives, the Court thought that it could be enforced until the final adjournment of the last session of the Second Congress in 1953. They found no sound reason to limit the power of the legislative body to punish for contempt to the end of every session and not to the end of the last session terminating the existence of that body. The very reason for the exercise of the power to punish for contempt is to enable the legislative body to perform its constitutional function without impediment or obstruction. But the resolution of commitment here in question was adopted by the Senate, which is a continuing body and which does not cease to exist upon the periodical dissolution of the Congress or of the House of Representatives. There is no limit as to time to the Senate's power
to punish for contempt in cases where that power may constitutionally be exerted as in the present case. 3. No, the petitioner may not exercise his right against self-incrimination in this case. As against witness's inconsistent and unjustified claim to a constitutional right, is his clear duty as a citizen to give frank, sincere, and truthful testimony before a competent authority. The ground upon which the witness' claim is based is too shaky, in firm, and slippery to afford him safety. Due to his inconsistent and evasive answers, the Courts believed that his answers were false, and that his insistent claim that if he should reveal the name he would incriminate himself, necessarily implied that he knew the name. Testimony which is obviously false or evasive is equivalent to a refusal to testify and is punishable as contempt, assuming that a refusal to testify would be so punishable. Since according to the witness himself the transaction was legal, and that he gave the P440,000 to a representative of Burt in compliance with the latter's verbal instruction, we find no basis upon which to sustain his claim that to reveal the name of that person might incriminate him. Decision: Petition denied.