Cabinet execs who failed to attend Senate probe on Puno hit-A A +A
Friday, September 14, 2012
MANILA (Updated 3:40 p.m.) -- Malacañang received backlash from Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and a militant group for preventing Cabinet officials from showing up on the probe about issues surrounding resigned Interior undersecretary Rico Puno.
Before the start of Friday's hearing at the Senate session hall, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa sent a two-page letter expressing the Palace's position that it could not send representatives due to the vague objective of the hearing.
Asked to appear before the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes and laws are Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and incoming Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II.
"In light of this we endeavoured to obtain details regarding the committee hearing to guide members of the Cabinet who have been invited as resource persons to the said hearing. Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain the requisite referral by the plenary to your committee. Neither have we been furnished with a list of the committee's questions to guide the invited resource persons," the letter dated September 13 read.
Friday's hearing tackled Puno's alleged anomalous purchase of assault rifles for the Philippine National Police (PNP), the supposed break in on the house of the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, anti-jueteng initiatives and the Manila hostage crisis.
The issue of illegal logging was also listed in the agenda but Paje was not there to give updates on the interagency efforts to curb the practice.
In a text message, the militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) chided the Palace for acting like the Arroyo administration, which used the now scrapped Executive Order 464 to bar officials from attending legislative queries without Malacañang's blessing from September 2005 to March 2008.
"The hearing is important that it sheds light on Puno’s role in questionable arms purchases, among other issues. There's double standard. They go all out in investigating a Palace enemy but not in the case of the President's friend," Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda clarified that the Executive branch is willing to cooperate but it wanted clarifications and enlightenment on several rules concerning the investigation.
He added that the Executive cluster had a scheduled meeting in Malacanang on Friday, where Ochoa and de Lima were present.
"The good senator should not take this as a position that is adversarial to the investigation or to her evaluation," Lacierda said.
Santiago said she has the power to conduct the hearing even with the absence of a resolution, proposed law or privilege speech citing Section 17 of the Senate rules which states that "the transmittal of matters to the committees may be done with instructions through a motion by a majority of the senators present."
"[T]he use of the word 'may' indicate that another method may be used, such as simple assumption of jurisdiction by the committee, instead of referral by the plenary session," she said.
She also quoted Director Edgardo Garvida of the Senate Committee Affairs Bureau as saying that Senate tradition has upheld committee jurisdiction, even if there is no resolution, bill, or privilege speech referred by the plenary session to the particular committee.
Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile and Senator Panfilo Lacson earlier raised the possibility that the probe's legality might be questioned because it failed to pass procedures.
Santiago will no longer hold another hearing, saying the information she culled from resource persons were already "sufficient." She said a committee report will not be drafted as well because her recommendations might not be heeded by the rest of the 23-member Senate. (Virgil Lopez/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)