Should Janet Napoles be compelled to testify before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the PDAF scam? Or is this unwise, given the fact that she, with others, have now been charged for plunder and other crimes before the Ombudsman?
Senator TG Guingona has invoked the Senate’s prerogative to call any witness before it for investigations in aid of legislation. He has argued that the Senate investigation on the pork-barrel fund scam would not be complete without the testimony of Napoles, and that he would not allow anyone to obstruct the bid of his committee to ferret out the truth.
Senate President Franklin Drilon, on the other hand, refused to sign the subpoena for the so-called “Pork Barrel Queen” in deference to the opinion of the Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales who earlier said that it would not be advisable for Napoles to come to the Senate. The Ombudsman later modified this to say that calling Napoles to testify is up to the collective wisdom to the Senate.
My understanding is that this issue will now be brought to a vote before the plenary of the Senate.
Let us examine the jurisprudential and legal support both sides have invoked to support their positions.
The power of the Senate to conduct legislative instigations is enshrined in Section 21 of Article VI of the Constitution. Explaining the rationale behind this authority, the pre-eminent constitutionalist, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, citing the landmark case of Arnault vs. Nazareno, said that “The power of legislative inquiry is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function. A legislative body cannot legislate wisely or effectively in the absence of information respecting the conditions which the legislation is intended to affect or change. Where the legislative body does not itself possess the requisite information—which is not infrequently true—recourse must be had to others who might possess it.”
On the other side, Justice Secretary De Lima took the cudgels for the Ombudsman by invoking the confidentiality rule under Rule 5 of the Ombudsman Rules of Procedure Rule 5 to the effect that “When circumstances so warrant and with due prudence, the Office of the Ombudsman may publicize in a fair and balanced manner the filing of a complaint, grievance or request for assistance, and the final resolution, decision or action taken thereon: Provided, however, that prior to such final action, no publicity shall be made of matters which may adversely affect national security or public interest, prejudice the safety of witnesses or the disposition of the case, x x x ” This supplements the Ombudsman Act (R.A. 6770) which allows the Ombudsman, under its rules and regulations, to determine what cases may not be made public.
In my view, the weight of authority seems to tilt heavily in favor of the power of the Senate to summon Janet Lim-Napoles to testify over and above the confidentiality rule being invoked by the Ombudsman and her supporters.
First. As pointed out by retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno, this constitutional right to investigate in aid of legislation cannot be defeated nor diminished by any confidentiality rule, which is only found in the rules of procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman. An administrative rule can never negate a constitutional grant of power. Indeed in the hierarchy of laws, the Constitution prevails over a mere rule of procedure of an administrative body.
Second. The weight of jurisprudence also veers decidedly in favor of the importance of Senate investigations over other kinds investigations, be it judicial or quasi-judicial. The case of Standard Chartered Bank vs. Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies is instructive. Here, the Court categorically stated that the mere filing of a criminal or an administrative complaint before a court or quasi-judicial body should not automatically bar the conduct of legislative investigation. Otherwise, it would be extremely easy to subvert any intended inquiry by Congress through the convenient ploy of instituting a criminal or an administrative complaint.
Third, as a consequence of the previous arguments, a Senate decision that emasculates its own authority will be precedent for other cases. If Napoles is not subpoenaed, others in the same category (those where charges have been filed but no probably cause yet determines) should be excused from a Senate investigation. Napoles cannot be treated as if she is an exception to the rule. If she is not compelled to testify, then the Senate would have adopted what would be become an infamous Napoles rule that would effectively decapacitate Senate power and independence.
Finally, there is an important political function that the Senate investigation fulfills. The truth is that the results of the criminal process will probably not be known for five, maybe even up to 10 years with appeals expected if there are convictions. The Senate investigation can however be completed once Napoles testifies even if she invokes her right to self-incrimination, which is speculative at this juncture. Without her testimony, the Senate cannot come up with conclusions and a final report, as that would be unfair to Napoles. Basic fairness dictates that she should be given a chance to give her side. It does not matter if she says nothing when she appears as long as she has been invited and asked the right questions. Then the committee can make findings about her and not be unfair. Without subpoenaing her and asking her questions, the Senate cannot make conclusions about her role and therefore about anybody else.
Simply put, compel Napoles to testify before the Senate. The transcendental importance of the subject of investigation and the very high public interest in her testimony and the resultant conclusion of the Senate investigation far outweighs the concerns about her appearance.