The Senate investigation of the alleged overpriced Makati City Hall 2 building is obviously in aid of the senators’ own election bids. Vice President Jejomar Binay’s inquisitors, Senators Alan Cayetano and Antonio Trillianes, are both great young leaders and are also my closest friends. But friendships aside, the reality is that the two of them have also publicly admitted that they’re after higher office: Alan for President and Sonny for Vice possibly under the banner of the Nacionalista Party. This does not per se make the Senate investigation on Binay spurious. It however, casts a doubt that the investigation is being conducted precisely for partisan purposes: to bring down the presidential front-runner in 2016.
The on-going Senate smear against Binay though is not new. This is why despite the fact that the Senate’s power to conduct investigations in aid of legislation is plenary in nature, meaning that only the Senate itself can say if when its investigations are indeed pursuant to law making, the Supreme Court has recently ruled that these investigations, bereft of genuine legislative basis, is prone to abuse. This is why plenary or not, the Court has ruled that the Senate cannot investigate without a legislative purpose.
The starting point in this long line of Jurisprudence is Arnault vs Nazareno. In this case, the Supreme Court first ruled that Senate inquiries are plenary in nature and that witnesses may be cited in contempt of the Senate where they fail to appear before the investigation and when they are found to be lying before the body. Said the Court: “The power of inquiry – with process to enforce it – is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function. A legislative body cannot legislate wisely or effectively in the absence of information respecting the conditions which the legislation is intended to affect or change; and where the legislative body does not itself possess the requisite information—which is not infrequently true—recourse must be had to others who possess it.”
Much later, during the administration of President Corazon Aquino, the Court ruled in the case of Bengzon vs. Blue Ribbon Committee that despite the plenary nature of legislative inquiries, the Senate could no longer pursue an investigation on a matter which was already pending in Court. This is because parties to the Senate investigation, when they are already charged in Court for the same subject matter being inquired upon, have the right against self-incrimination. In other words, the rationale behind the prohibition is because persons appearing in the legislative hearings may be held criminally responsible for matters, which they may state before Congress.
But more importantly, the Court in Bengzon highlighted that legislative inquiries must be for legislative purposes. Said the Court: The power of both houses of Congress to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation is not, therefore, absolute or unlimited. x x x Thus, as provided therein, the investigation must be “in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure” and that “the rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected.”
The Court then enjoined the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee from further proceeding with the inquiry in the absence of a legislative purpose: “Verily, the speech of Senator Enrile contained no suggestion of contemplated legislation; he merely called upon the Senate to look into a possible violation of Sec. 5 of RA No. 3019, otherwise known as “The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.” I other words, the purpose of the inquiry to be conducted by respondent Blue Ribbon committee was to find out whether or not the relatives of President Aquino, particularly Mr. Ricardo Lopa, had violated the law in connection with the alleged sale of the 36 or 39 corporations belonging to Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez to the Lopa Group. There appears to be, therefore, no intended legislation involved”.
The words used by the Court in Bengzon could very well be applied to the ongoing smear against VP Binay. What is the legislative purpose of the investigation? What possible amendments to the plunder law and/or the anti-graft and corrupt practices acts could be introduced as a result of the investigation against Binay? Could not its investigations already conducted against the PDAF and Janet Lim Napoles already facilitate these amendments? Why investigate Binay and not the DAP?
The senators, even with their plenary powers, are still public officials. While they may engage in inquiries for legislative purposes, they should not waste the public coffers in investigations in aid of their own elections. Lest we are misunderstood, we already have the Ombudsman as the Constitutional body tasked with the investigation of public misfeasance of public officers. Let the very able and independent Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales do her job. Meanwhile, we expect our senators to do theirs as well: craft policies through laws.
A further word of advice to my good friends: Philippine history has shown that while smears have sometimes worked, it has not always resulted in poll victories. Jamby Madrigal spearheaded the smear against Manny Villar that proved to be somehow effective. Her smear though was not enough to win her a second term in the Senate. This shows that our electorate people do not appreciate individuals behind smear campaigns. They will still vote for people with positive achievements.
Beware, my friends!