Last week House Speaker Jose de Venecia announced the passage by his chamber of a record 1.125 TRILLION Peso budget. "Intact" is how the President and the House want their pork, please, intoning the hope that the Senate will immediately work on the measure.
There is only one law that Congress needs to pass every year, as far as I am concerned. That law is the General Appropriations Act, otherwise known as the National Budget. The annual passage of this legislation is to me the quintessence of the work of the Legislature. But it is actually impossible for the Congress to pass this law WITHOUT THE AID of the Executive Branch officials, from whom the budget comes and by whom it must be justified. That mutual aid and collaboration between the Executive and Legislative Branches to pass the budget legislation can only occur in hearings and inquiries conducted by House and Senate. Thus, budgetary hearings are ipso facto "inquiries in-aid-of-legislation" under the 1987 Constitution, which proclaims that
Article VI Section 21 The Senate or the House of Representatives or any of its respective committees may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure. The rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected.This principle of the Congressional Power of Inquiry has been unanimously upheld and exhaustively construed, explained and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of the Philippines this year, not ONCE but TWICE: first in Senate Vs. Ermita, then just this week, in Sabio vs. Gordon. The first conclusively affirmed the power of the Congress to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation with process to enforce the same. The second decision involving Sabio and PCGG makes in crystal clear that mere COMMITTEES of Congress themselves are conferred by the Constitution with this same Power of Inquir with process to enforce the same.
In Sabio Vs. Gordon the Court said memorably:
It can be said that the Congress’ power of inquiry has gained more solid existence and expansive construal. The Court’s high regard to such power is rendered more evident in Senate v. Ermita, where it categorically ruled that “the power of inquiry is broad enough to cover officials of the executive branch.” Verily, the Court reinforced the doctrine in Arnault that “the operation of government, being a legitimate subject for legislation, is a proper subject for investigation” and that “the power of inquiry is co-extensive with the power to legislate.” ...This recent decision, in my humble opinion, also dispels some of the muddleheadedness created by Senate vs. Ermita with respect to a NON-EXISTENT Question Hour in which the assailed Exec. Order. No. 464 was construed to have a Twilight Zone of Constitutionality -- conjured up merely by quoting a provision of the Constitution; built upon that sand were the sandcastles the Court found to be UNConstitutional. In any case, all that is non sequitur when in comes to budget hearings, and all inquiries in aid of legislation.
The unremitting obligation of every citizen is to respond to subpoenae, to respect the dignity of the Congress and its Committees, and to testify fully with respect to matters within the realm of proper investigation.
LIPOSUCTION: Regarding the proposed 2007 National Budget, the good Senators ought to put that pig through the wringer and do a VICKY BELO job on an election-season oinker that's just bursting with bacon-and-butter cholesterol. The Senate should do an honest-to-God good job and pass a budget that is lean and mean and truly responsive to the needs of the nation, not the needs of the President alone. In the process they can even call on every single one of the Department Heads of GMA, for whom attendance is mandatory upon the summons of the Congress. There, their rights will be respected, and whenever necessary they may invoke such rights, such as the right against self-incrimination, or executive privilege. But they may not contemptuously refuse to appear before the elected representatives of the People.