Duterte to Cabinet: Seek clearance first before attending congressional probes

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte is requiring his Cabinet members to seek his approval first before attending congressional inquiries as lawmakers ramp up scrutiny of his administration’s pandemic deals.

“I will require every Cabinet member to clear with me any invitation and if I think he will be called for walang silbi except to harass, to be berated in front of the Republic, eh hintuin ko na ‘yan at pagbawalan ko na,” Duterte said in a taped address that aired Tuesday.

(I will require every Cabinet member to clear with me any invitation and if I think he will be called for no other purpose but to be harassed, to be berated in front of the Republic, I will stop it and will not allow it.)

He added that he would not allow Cabinet members to appear before congressional investigations if they have “no other purpose except really to ramble on, to stretch the hearings because that is good for the elections.”

Duterte cited the case of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, whom he said “has not been in control of the workings” of his department as he has been busy attending congressional hearings which have largely centered on the government’s procurement of pandemic supplies.

At the center of the controversy is Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., a small company that had a paid-up capital of just P625,000 when it was established in 2019 that bagged the following year P8.68 billion in contracts with the government for personal protective equipment and testing kits.

Pharmally chairman Huang Tzu Yen revealed Friday during a Senate hearing that Michael Yang, Duterte’s former economic adviser, had assisted the firm by acting as its financier and guarantor to Chinese suppliers.

A precedented move

Duterte’s move to potentially bar Cabinet members from attending congressional hearings is not unprecedented as former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had also enacted a similar policy during her term.

Macapagal-Arroyo issued on Sept. 28, 2005 Executive Order No. 464 which prevented Cabinet members and other government officials from attending congressional probes unless given permission by the president.

Portions of the order were struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on April 20, 2006, which upheld the right of Congress to compel the appearance of officials to hearings “in aid of legislation.”

But the SC also upheld the president’s right to bar officials from appearing before congressional inquiries known as “question hour,” which “do not relate to specific legislation but are directed merely to congressional oversight over the implementation of laws.”

Two years after this ruling, Macapagal-Arroyo revoked EO 464 after a meeting between government lawyers and Catholic bishops.





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