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Cabinet execs need Duterte permission to appear at Senate

President Rodrigo Duterte (AP/Bullit Marquez)

PRESIDENT Duterte said he may no longer allow Cabinet officials to attend Congressional hearings if he deems their time is being wasted by lawmakers.

Duterte issued the statement in response to the alleged “abuse of authority” by some senators for repeatedly summoning Cabinet members in hearings so they could be “harassed or berated,” before the public.

“Well, I think I can do it as President really, if there is an abuse of authority there or exceeding the authority of the reasonable time that Congress conducts a hearing, I will limit you to what you can do with the Executive department of the government,” Duterte said, publicly addressing senators.

Duterte has condemned the ongoing inquiry by the Senate Blue Ribbon panel chaired by Senator Richard Gordon on alleged anomalies in the purchase of pandemic supplies by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management.

The PS-DBM bought the medical supplies using P42 billion in funds transferred by the Department of Health (DOH) —without any memorandum of agreement, thus inviting attention of state auditors. The Senate recently zeroed in on the involvement of Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation.

Many of the subpoenaed source persons, Duterte said, end up doing nothing in the said hearings since senators would tend to only focus on some source person, which includes Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

At Monday’s sixth Blue Ribbon hearing, Gordon apparently sought to rebut Palace accusations that the probe was taking time of many health officials away from urgent pandemic response. He noted that the panel had merely invited Duque but the latter had opted to bring along his subalterns, to consult with, thus bloating the number of DOH personnel at the hearing.

Duterte said while he respects the authority of the Senate to investigate in aid of legislation, it has no right to hold government officials in such hearings for long periods during the pandemic.

“It’s a waste of time. And I am ordering Senator—ah Secretary Duque that the next time that he is invited, he should clear the invitation to appear with me and I will decide,” Duterte said.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte’s pronouncement to require clearance from Cabinet officials attending Congressional hearings has legal basis: the Supreme Court ruling of Neri vs Senate.

To note, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 464 implementing such clearance requirements.“The Supreme Court said a Cabinet member cannot be accused of contempt when required to attend hearings if it is ordered by President because they are alter egos of the President,” Roque said in a virtual briefing last Tuesday.

Image courtesy of AP/Bullit Marquez
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