Palace-Senate feud and its implications
The Philippine Bar Association, the oldest national organization of lawyers established in 1891, has expressed grave concern over recent orders of President Duterte that in effect obstruct the Senate inquiry into transactions related to the government response to the pandemic.
It is unfortunate that the Duterte-Senate clash comes at a time when the nation is reeling from COVID-19, which has infected at least 2.6 million Filipinos, killing more than 38,900 of them, and devastated the economy since the Wuhan virus slipped into the country in 2020.
We reprint below the full PBA statement to help readers, most of whom are not lawyers, understand better the Malacañang-Senate feud as well as its legal context and socio-political implications.
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“The theory of the separation of powers is designed by its originators to secure action at the same time to forestall overaction which necessarily results from undue concentration of powers, and thereby obtain efficiency and prevent despotism. Thereby, the ‘rule of law’ was established which narrows the range of governmental action and makes it subject to control by certain legal devices”. – People v. Rosenthal 68 Phil. 328,343 (1939)
The Philippine Bar Association views with grave concern verbal directives recently made by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in connection with the ongoing Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigation on various alleged anomalous transactions amounting to billions of pesos, in the midst of a pandemic, principally involving the Department of Health, the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management, and an alleged favored supplier.
First, we are of the considered view that the directive of President Duterte, acting as Chief Executive, directing officials of the Executive Department to disobey summons issued by the Senate upsets our system of checks and balances and transgresses the doctrine of separation of powers among the three branches of government under our Constitution.
The directive is detrimental to our people exacting public accountability from officials of the Executive Department, through our duly elected representatives in the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee exercising their Constitutional power of legislative oversight. That the ongoing investigation focuses on alleged anomalies in the use of huge amounts of public funds, during a pandemic that has cost countless Filipino lives, makes the quest of public accountability of vital importance.
It is in these times of great need that we express our agreement with President Duterte that there should not be a “whiff of corruption” in government, particularly in the use of our scarce resources to address our people’s pressing needs in these most challenging times. Let the ax fall where it may.
Second, the directive of President Duterte, as Commander-in-Chief, for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police and the uniformed services to ignore warrants of arrest issued by the Senate is equally concerning. We view the verbal directive as an undue impairment of Legislative prerogatives and violates the doctrine of separation of powers. The Senate has the power to enforce its own processes in accordance with the Rules of the Senate governing its legislative investigations which is recognized under our Constitution and settled jurisprudence. It is an important part of our system of checks and balances.
Instead of upholding professionalism in the ranks of our military, police and the rest of the uniformed services by shielding them from partisan politics, the directive unjustifiably reduces them into political pawns used as shields against what is perceived as political attacks. The directive is a disservice to the principle of civilian supremacy over the military. We should be mindful that an unlawful order invites disobedience and challenge.
We remind everyone that it is of utmost importance for us all to recognize that the principles involved in the soundness and validity of these directives are drawn from our Fundamental Law that serves as the bedrock of an orderly society. We enshrined these fundamental principles in the Constitution that we ordained, as a sovereign people, to define how power shall be properly exercised by the government of the day.
We, the sovereign Filipino people, divided and distributed power among the three branches of government to prevent tyranny and the rise of absolute power that corrupts absolutely. We put in place a system of checks and balances to prevent the abuse of power by any branch of government and to ensure public accountability. We gave the President Commander-in-Chief powers to embody civilian supremacy over the military for the defense of our country and people, and not for it to be used to serve political ends.
We earnestly appeal for calm, sobriety and cooperation among our leaders.
We appeal for President Duterte, a brother in the legal profession, to IMMEDIATELY RECALL his twin directives that in our view constitute clear violations of our Constitution.
We demand for all politicians not to trifle with our people’s Constitution in the political games they play.
We humbly remind all our leaders, both elected and appointed, that they are all mere transients in power and that they are public servants, first and foremost – who hold office to be in the service of the Filipino people.
We call on all our leaders to have a long view of events that unfold while in public office – a view that seeks to build upon the institutions that we, as a people, established and that they, for the moment, occupy.
We must all stand and denounce any act of political expediency that erodes the Rule of Law.