Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Arroyo Blinks

Text Message suggests a new alphabet that goes:
(or Abalos, ZTE, First Gentleman)

In a reversal which could be momentously significant, President Gloria Arroyo this afternoon has just ordered three of her Cabinet members to attend Thursday's Senate hearing on the ZTE National Broadband Network deal, which only this morning she had been deriding as "vaudeville show."

Perhaps hoping to avert a major collision with a Senate that is becoming more and more assertive of its institutional rights and prerogatives, the President has ordered Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Trade Secretary Peter Favila and Romulo Neri, former National Economic Development Authority to answer questions on the controversial deal with a government-owned Chinese firm, the lid on which blown wide open Tuesday with explosive testimony from telecommunications entrepreneur (and the House Speaker's son from a previous marriage) Joey De Venecia III.

The President had only the unpleasant option of forcing another battle with the Senate in the Supreme Court, but she has to relent because even her Senate allies like Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago "had no objection" to issuing subpoenas and making petitions to the Supreme Court to compel the attendance of high government officials at Senate hearings. The magic words are "in aid of legislation" since the landmark 2006 decisions, Senate vs. Ermita and Gordon vs. Sabio, both unequivocally upheld the obligatory nature of answering a Senate summons to appear and testify before it.

Blue Ribbon Committee chairman Alan Peter Cayetano also demolished the original excuse of
Sec. Mendoza that because of a pending case in the High Court involving the ZTE contract, the matter was "sub judice" and he could therefore not testify. The DOTC lawyers have apparently not read Gordon vs. Sabio which rules otherwise:
"Let it be stressed at this point that so long as the constitutional rights of witnesses… will be respected by the respondent Senate committees, it is their duty to cooperate with them in their efforts to obtain the facts needed for intelligent legislative action."

"The unremitting obligation of every citizen is to respond to subpoena, to respect the dignity of the Congress and its committees and to testify fully with respect to matters within the realm of proper investigation."
Although the ZTE controversy is huge in its own right given that First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos, are involved in alleged criminal wrongdoing of plunderous proportions, perhaps the even more significant issue is the disordered relationship between the President, the Senate and the Supreme Court.

Ever since the issuance last year of Exec. Order No. 464, and even after the Supreme Court issued a unanimous but ambivalent decision questioning it, the rights and obligations of Executive Dept. officials with respect to Congressional investigations and hearings can only fuzzily be limned and and can only be tentatively construed from the ruling in Senate vs. Ermita.

In my post last year analyzing the Supreme Court Decision, I thought that King Solomon Just Cut the Baby In Half.

Today, President Arroyo may have blinked and may now be forced to admit that the true Mother of Public Accountability and the true repository of the Public's Right to Know, is indeed the Congress of the Republic of the Philippines.

On the hand, she may yet cling on to the half the Supreme Court did give her, a matter I have addressed recently in How the Supreme Court Upheld the Half of EO 464 GMA Really Needs.

Also, I've been considering the limits of Supreme Court Power and myth of the Supreme Court's supremacy and posted a preliminary salvo against its despicable record in the commentary, What Is Fair Has Just Priority Over What Is Good.

In the latter, I advance the theory that in EDSA DOS the Supreme Court basically USURPED the sole power of the Senate over all cases of impeachment and removal of public officials, which the Constitution unequivocally invests in the Political Dept. of the government, namely the Congress as House and Senate. The implications of this anomaly and its continuance and amplification under the Arroyo administration can explain much of the dysfunctional situation we are observing in the government. More on this in coming posts.

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