Press Release
January 13, 2008


Minority Leader Aquilino "Nene" Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today expressed concern that the Senate will find its credibility being eroded if Cabinet members and other officials of the executive branch will continue to defy its summons to testify in its investigations without being sanctioned by the chamber.

Pimentel warned that the system of check and balance between the legislative and executive branches of government will be undermined unless the Senate will assert its power to impose sanctions on the Cabinet members and lower public officials for not appearing in legislative inquiries into the controversies and wrongdoing involving personalities of the administration.

The Senate, the opposition leader said, will have no choice but to cite the "no-show" Cabinet members and other officials for contempt and order their arrest.

Pimentel said the Upper Chamber should exercise its contempt power even as it awaits the decision of the Supreme Court on the petition questioning the constitutionality of Malacañang's practice of prohibiting executive officials from appearing in congressional hearings on scandals and anomalies in the Arroyo administration by invoking executive privilege.

"We have tried to be circumspect in invoking our contempt power against public officials who have shown disrespect to the Senate because we want to avoid confrontation with the executive branch. But the prevailing circumstances leave us no choice but to use this power otherwise we will be remiss in our duty to uphold and protect the authority and integrity of the Senate," he said.

The minority leader lamented that the Senate probe into the controversy over the national broadband project has virtually grounded to a standstill because of the "gag order" imposed by the Palace on Commission on Higher Education Chairman Romulo Neri, former director general of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), whom the Blue Ribbon and trade and commerce committees wanted to grill further on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's role in awarding the project to China's ZTE Corporation.

Likewise, acting NEDA director general Augusto Santos has been prevented by the Palace from furnishing to the Senate the transcripts and minutes of the NEDA board meeting when the NBN-ZTE deal was discussed.

In both instances, the Palace invoked the right of the President to executive privilege supposedly to prevent the unnecessary disclosure of information that may hurt public interest and national security.

"In view of these circumstances, I believe that the Senate should now decide on pending motions to cite the administration officials concerned for contempt. We should show them that we will not tolerate further their attempt to belittle or play around with the authority of the Senate," Pimentel said.

"We cannot allow a situation wherein the Senate find itself helpless in looking for information and for uncovering the truth regarding official transactions of government."

The senator from Mindanao also noted that although former military intelligence agent Vidal Doble has already completed his testimony on the "Hello Garci" scandal, the Senate probe is still hanging because of refusal of certain Cabinet members and officials of the military, including those from the Intelligence Services of Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) to testify due to lack of clearance from Malacañang.

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on a pending petition asking the tribunal to stop the Senate from pursuing the inquiry into the wiretapping scandal, including the replaying of the tapes of the phone conversations between President Arroyo and former Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano in connection with the 2004 Presidential Election.

The Senate including the Minority Senators led by Pimentel have sought the dismissal of the petition filed by two retired Court of Appeals Justices Santiago Ranada and Oswaldo Agcaoili.

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