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Senate should follow its own rules on inquiry jurisdiction – SC

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate should follow its own rules in resolving challenges to a committee’s jurisdiction to hold inquiries in aid of legislation, the Supreme Court (SC) has ruled.

This was enclosed in an SC decision which denied the petition for certiorari and prohibition filed by the Senate, which challenged the constitutionality of a memorandum issued by then president Rodrigo Duterte barring executive officials from attending hearings conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.

In October 2021, when the Blue Ribbon committee was conducting hearings on the budget utilization of the Department of Health (DOH), Duterte, through executive secretary Salvador Medialdea, prohibited executive officials and employees, through a memorandum, from attending the Senate hearings on the government’s disbursement of COVID-19 funds.

The hearings, which were initially attended by concerned officials in the executive branch including then health secretary Francisco Duque III, stemmed from a Commission on Audit (COA) report which found a P67-billion deficiency in public funds intended for the government’s COVID-19 response.

The memorandum claimed the hearings, which had been going on for two months by then, were affecting the ability of the officials to fulfill their duties, especially during the height of the pandemic.

It also claimed that the hearings were no longer being conducted in aid of legislation but instead to identify the persons allegedly liable for irregularities already punishable under existing laws.

With this, the memorandum claimed that the Blue Ribbon committee has stepped into the mandates of other branches of government.

In denying the Senate’s petition, the SC said it failed to meet the requisites for a petition for certiorari to prosper, among which is that there is no appeal or any plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the court of law.

The high court said the Senate Blue Ribbon committee itself has a remedy within its office to resolve the jurisdictional challenge raised by the president in the memorandum.

Under Section 3 of the Senate Rules of Procedure Governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation, a jurisdictional challenge, raised on any