Congress’ power to probe

WE often hear of complaints from those accused for graft and corruption that Congress’ role is only to pass laws and pursuant to its mandate to investigate government officials “in aid of legislation.”

This is a lame excuse for those who say that the proper forum to investigate any anomaly is the court of law, as if Congress is not a court of law.

Congress’ power is awesome. It can send anybody to jail for an indefinite period if it so desires and not even the Supreme Court or the Department of Justice can stop Congress or the President of the Philippines from stopping the legislators to pursue any such investigation.

That power is referred to as check and balance both the Philippines and the United States adhere to.

Many times, Senator  Miriam Defensor Santiago had threatened to jail in Senate premises  those who misbehave during hearings or high officials caught lying with their testimonies.

Th US Congress has also long asserted the power to investigate and the power to compel cooperation with an investigation.

Since the power to investigate is an aspect of Congress’ power to legislate, it is as broad as Congress’ powers to legislate.

The US  Congress too has the power to investigate that which it could regulate, and American courts have interpreted Congress’ regulatory powers broadly.

The courts will not inquire into whether Congress has an improper motive for an investigation (i.e., using a legitimate legislative purpose as a cover for “expos[ing] for the sake of exposure”), focusing only on whether the matter is within Congress’ power to regulate and, thus, investigate.

Persons called before a congressional investigatory committee are entitled to the constitutional guarantees of individual rights, such as those in the Bill of Rights, the US Congress can punish those who do not cooperate with an investigation via holding violators in contempt of Congress.

Yesterday, Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile upheld the right of the Senate to conduct an investigation in aid of legislation amid speculations that the death of former Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes might have been due to corruption allegations hurled at him during its hearings.

“As head of this institution, I must uphold the right of the Senate to conduct an investigation in aid of legislation to perform the work of the people and this nation in order to help in its development in spite of this incident,” Enrile said in his statement before the plenary on Tuesday.

Enrile maintained that the chamber was just doing its duty when it conducted the hearings on the alleged corruption in the military involving the former AFP Chief of Staff.

“Of course we will not tolerate any act that would demean or inflict indignities to any member of the public that will appear before us,” Enrile said.

“But if in the course of our performance of duty to the people, in the course of our performed duty to serve the people, incidents like this will happen, I dare say that all of us not to give up the prerogative entrusted to us by the Filipino people to perform this job. Otherwise, this government, this nation, this institution will break our democratic tradition to ferret out the truth no matter how painful that ferreting out will be,” he said.-Raul Valino


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