Investigations in aid of legislation or election?

Article VI, Section 21 of the Philippine Constitution grants the Senate or the House of Representatives or any of its respective committees with the power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation. Under Senate Rule No. 5, Section 17, the concerned Committee shall have "the powers of an investigating committee, including the power to summon witnesses and take their testimony and to issue subpoena and subpoena duces tecum, signed by its Chairman, or in his absence by the Acting Chairman, and approved by the (Senate) President."

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, also known as the Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations, initiates investigations on serious allegations of graft and corruption, plunder and other wrongdoings of government officials and their respective executive agencies. While the primary purpose is to amend existing laws or develop/propose new laws in relation to issues discussed, the committee is also given the power to recommend the prosecution of officials. Under our present system, the task of prosecution belongs to the Ombudsman or Department of Justice.

In past years, the Blue Ribbon Committee has investigated high-profile controversies surrounding Cabinet Secretaries, Undersecretaries, and career officials in aid of legislation. However, the conversion rate of these inquiries to amended laws/proposed bills seems to be low. Based on data from the 15th to the latter part of the 16th Congress, only about 3 of 13 Blue Ribbon inquiries ended with proposed bills or amendments to existing laws. As a further measuring stick, only two laws were passed namely R.A 10365 and 10167 to strengthen the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

In 2015, about 25 hearings were conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Subcommittee to investigate the alleged overpricing of two city infrastructure projects in Makati where former Vice President Jejomar Binay was Mayor for about 21 years. It is noteworthy that the investigations were launched in 2015, one year before election year, when former VP Binay was still leading Presidential polls.

It appears that we are again in overpricing investigation season one year prior to the 2022 Elections as an investigation was recently launched by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on overpriced face masks and face shields purchased by the DOH through the PS-DBM based on the most recent COA report. While it is important to investigate the details of the controversy and the veracity of the allegations, the timing of the conduct of investigations and the active voices probing into these controversies seem suspect to some.

The Senate floor has always been a platform not only for the legislative work of its members, but also to help catapult certain personalities into higher office. On a grander scale such as committee hearings which are covered on social media platforms and seen on national television programs, Senate members aspiring for higher office are given free media mileage and publicity which can be seen as disadvantageous to their foreseen competitors. This is indirectly at the expense of the tax paying public who shoulder expenses of these inquiries, without much to show for in terms of new/amended bills based on recent available data.

I'm all for transparency and accountability in public office. However, committee hearings in aid of legislation should be handled in a manner where "the rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected," as written in Article VI, Section 21 of the Constitution as well. If the hearings are used by aspirants for higher office to destroy and demean their potential competitors, then these are no longer conducted in aid of legislation but in aid of election.

About the Author
Mr. Aaron Benedict De Leon is currently a Business Development Practitioner in a private consulting firm. He has more than six years of professional experience in leading and managing political and non-government organizations, specializing in organizational management, policy development and program management. He has had stints with notable political/socio-civic organizations, serving in various capacities as: Secretary-General of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines (CDP) [2013-2015], Founding Chairperson of the Centrist Democratic Youth Association of the Philippines (CDYAP) [2012-2014], Philippine Representative to the International Young Democrat Union (IYDU) [2011-2012], Chairperson of the Christian Democratic Youth [2011-2012], Secretary-General of YOUTH Philippines [2010-2011], and Spokesperson/Communications Director of the GT2010 Gilbert Teodoro Presidential Campaign [2009-2010].
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