Senate vs. Ermita , GR 169777, April 20, 2006
This is a petition for certiorari and prohibition proffer that the President has abused power by issuing E.O. 464 “Ensuring Observance of the Principles of Separation of Powers, Adherence to the Rule on Executive Privilege and Respect for the Rights of Public Officials Appearing in Legislative Inquiries in Aid of Legislation Under the Constitution, and for Other Purposes”. Petitioners pray for its declaration as null and void for being unconstitutional.
In the exercise of its legislative power, the Senate of the Philippines, through its various Senate Committees, conducts inquiries or investigations in aid of legislation which call for, inter alia, the attendance of officials and employees of the executive department, bureaus, and offices including those employed in Government Owned and Controlled Corporations, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
The Committee of the Senate issued invitations to various officials of the Executive Department for them to appear as resource speakers in a public hearing on the railway project, others on the issues of massive election fraud in the Philippine elections, wire tapping, and the role of military in the so-called “Gloriagate Scandal”.
Said officials were not able to attend due to lack of consent from the President as provided by E.O. 464, Section 3 which requires all the public officials enumerated in Section 2(b) to secure the consent of the President prior to appearing before either house of Congress.
Is Section 3 of E.O. 464, which requires all the public officials, enumerated in Section 2(b) to secure the consent of the President prior to appearing before either house of Congress, valid and constitutional?
No. The enumeration in Section 2 (b) of E.O. 464 is broad and is covered by the executive privilege. The doctrine of executive privilege is premised on the fact that certain information must, as a matter of necessity, be kept confidential in pursuit of the public interest. The privilege being, by definition, an exemption from the obligation to disclose information, in this case to Congress, the necessity must be of such high degree as to outweigh the public interest in enforcing that obligation in a particular case.
Congress undoubtedly has a right to information from the executive branch whenever it is sought in aid of legislation. If the executive branch withholds such information on the ground that it is privileged, it must so assert it and state the reason therefor and why it must be respected.
The infirm provisions of E.O. 464, however, allow the executive branch to evade congressional requests for information without need of clearly asserting a right to do so and/or proffering its reasons therefor. By the mere expedient of invoking said provisions, the power of Congress to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation is frustrated.