Case Digest Neri vs Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations

July 21, 2017 | Author: Sherwin Lingating | Category: Public Sphere, Common Law, Virtue, Social Institutions, Society
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Neri vs. Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations September 4, 2008

FACTS: On September 26, 2007, petitioner appeared before respondent Committees and testified for about eleven (11) hours on matters concerning the National Broadband Project (the "NBN Project"), a project awarded by the Department of Transportation and Communications ("DOTC") to Zhong Xing Telecommunications Equipment ("ZTE"). Petitioner disclosed that then Commission on Elections ("COMELEC") Chairman Benjamin Abalos offered him P200 Million in exchange for his approval of the NBN Project. He further narrated that he informed President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ("President Arroyo") of the bribery attempt and that she instructed him not to accept the bribe. However, when probed further on President Arroyo and petitioner’s discussions relating to the NBN Project, petitioner refused to answer, invoking "executive privilege." To be specific, petitioner refused to answer questions on: (a) whether or not President Arroyo followed up the NBN Project, (b) whether or not she directed him to prioritize it, and (c) whether or not she directed him to approve it. Respondent Committees persisted in knowing petitioner’s answers to these three questions by requiring him to appear and testify once more on November 20, 2007. Petitioner did not appear before respondent Committees upon orders of the President invoking executive privilege. The respondent Committees issued the show-cause letter requiring him to explain why he should not be cited in contempt. Respondent Committees found petitioner’s explanations unsatisfactory in his reply. Without responding to petitioner’s request for advance notice of the matters that he should still clarify, respondent issued the Order, citing petitioner in contempt of respondent Committees and ordering his arrest and detention at the Office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms until such time that he would appear and give his testimony. Petitioner moved for the reconsideration of the Order and then filed his Supplemental Petition for Certiorari. The Court granted his petition for certiorari. Respondent Committees filed the present motion for reconsideration.

ISSUE: Whether or not the Legislative Branch can assert their power to conduct legislative inquiries after respondent invoked “Executive Privilege”

RULING: The doctrine of executive privilege is thus premised on the fact that certain information must, as a matter of necessity, be kept confidential in pursuit of the public interest.

The sufficiency of the Committee's showing of need has come to depend, therefore, entirely on whether the subpoenaed materials are critical to the performance of its legislative functions. While fact-finding by a legislative committee is undeniably a part of its task, legislative judgments normally depend more on the predicted consequences of proposed legislative actions and their political acceptability, than on precise reconstruction of past events; Congress frequently legislates on the basis of conflicting information provided in its hearings. We see no comparable need in the legislative process, at least not in the circumstances of this case. Indeed, whatever force there might once have been in the Committee's argument that the subpoenaed materials are necessary to its legislative judgments has been substantially undermined by subsequent events. Whatever test we may apply, the starting point in resolving the conflicting claims between the Executive and the Legislative Branches is the recognized existence of the presumptive presidential communications privilege. The failure of the counsel for respondent Committees to pinpoint the specific need for the information sought or how the withholding of the information sought will hinder the accomplishment of their legislative purpose is very evident in the above oral exchanges. Due to the failure of the respondent Committees to successfully discharge this burden, the presumption in favor of confidentiality of presidential communication stands. The implication of the said presumption, like any other, is to dispense with the burden of proof as to whether the disclosure will significantly impair the President’s performance of her function. Needless to state this is assumed, by virtue of the presumption. The general thrust and the tenor of the three (3) questions is to trace the alleged bribery to the Office of the President. While it may be a worthy endeavor to investigate the potential culpability of high government officials, including the President, in a given

government transaction, it is simply not a task for the Senate to perform. The role of the Legislature is to make laws, not to determine anyone’s guilt of a crime or wrongdoing. Our Constitution has not bestowed upon the Legislature the latter role. Just as the Judiciary cannot legislate, neither can the Legislature adjudicate or prosecute. Motion for reconsideration is DISMISSED.

Note: Anent the function to curb graft and corruption, it must be stressed that respondent Committees’ need for information in the exercise of this function is not as compelling as in instances when the purpose of the inquiry is legislative in nature. This is because curbing graft and corruption is merely an oversight function of Congress. And if this is the primary objective of respondent Committees in asking the three (3) questions covered by privilege, it may even contradict their claim that their purpose is legislative in nature and not oversight. In any event, whether or not investigating graft and corruption is a legislative or oversight function of Congress, respondent Committees’ investigation cannot transgress bounds set by the Constitution. Broad as it is, the power is not, however, without limitations. Since Congress may only investigate into the areas in which it may potentially legislate or appropriate, it cannot inquire into matters which are within the exclusive province of one of the other branches of the government. Lacking the judicial power given to the Judiciary, it cannot inquire into matters that are exclusively the concern of the Judiciary. Neither can it supplant the Executive in what exclusively belongs to the Executive. At this juncture, it is important to stress that complaints relating to the NBN Project have already been filed against President Arroyo and other personalities before the Office of the Ombudsman. Under our Constitution, it is the Ombudsman who has the duty "to investigate any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient." The Office of the Ombudsman is the body properly equipped by the Constitution and our laws to preliminarily determine whether or not the allegations of anomaly are true and who are liable therefor. The same holds true for our courts upon which the Constitution reposes the duty to determine criminal guilt with finality. Indeed, the rules of procedure in the

Office of the Ombudsman and the courts are well-defined and ensure that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of all persons, parties and witnesses alike, are protected and safeguarded.

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