In an apparent retaliation against Sen. Richard Gordon, Malacañang on Wednesday said the Senate blue ribbon panel chaired by the lawmaker has been “inciting to sedition” for restraining the Executive branch’s work amid the pandemic.
Duterte’s chief legal counsel Secretary Salvador Panelo took up the cudgels for the President after Gordon claimed that the Chief Executive’s recent tirades against the Congress would cripple the Legislature’s work, which he said may be construed as “inciting to sedition.”
“The remarks of Senator Gordon against the President on inciting to sedition may thus actually refer to his committee,” said Panelo, referring to the Senate blue ribbon panel.
“It is them who have been restraining the Executive branch to do its work, including addressing the present pandemic, by compelling key officials to a hearing which has been described by many as an investigation in aid of election,” he added.
While the senior Palace official acknowledged the Senate’s oversight function and authority to conduct hearings, he pointed out that such inquiries should be conducted in an “efficient manner so as not to prevent the body or agency subjected to such inquiry from performing its mandate to serve the people.”
“Rambling inquiries that partake of the nature of witch hunts or fishing expeditions should be refrained from, particularly those that practically prevent a body or agency of government from performing its functions,” Panelo added.
He then urged lawmakers to keep themselves in check to avoid “transgressing” the limits prescribed by the Constitution as he noted the need for “mutual respect” among co-equal branches of government.
Gordon has yet to respond to Panelo’s remarks at press time.
The issue stemmed from Duterte’s declaration on Monday that he would bar Cabinet officials from attending the ongoing hearings of the Senate blue ribbon committee on the controversial purchase of pandemic supplies last year if he thinks they were “harassed” and “berated” by lawmakers.
Duterte then ordered members of the Executive branch to seek his permission before attending any Senate inquiry, as he expressed frustration over how a series of hearings “wasted” officials’ time by letting them sit for long hours supposedly meant to give exposure to lawmakers running for office in 2022.
Gordon, in response to Duterte, said that such a declaration may be construed as “inciting to sedition” since it restrains the Senate from exercising its oversight function.
The committee led by Gordon has been conducting hearings on the government’s P10 billion contract with Pharmally, then a lowly-capitalized firm, which supplied Covid-19 protective gears, anti-virus face masks and face shields to the Philippines at the onset of the pandemic last year.
Since then, Duterte has been utilizing his weekly “Talk to the People” to clear his Cabinet men of any wrongdoings as he vouched for their integrity and track records.
In the country, the Executive and the Legislature are co-equal branches of the government that should be independent from each other. In practice, however, the Philippine president can influence the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional mandates.