Senators slam Duterte's 'unconstitutional' order barring Cabinet members from hearings

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 5) -- Senators on Tuesday criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent memorandum forbidding Cabinet officials from attending the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee’s hearing into the government’s handling of COVID-19 response funds.

Committee chairman Sen. Richard Gordon, who has been at the receiving end of Duterte’s insults, said the chief executive is “violating the Constitution” with the issuance.

“Walang issue ng national security dito, walang executive privilege dito, walang diplomatic discussions,” argued the lawmaker.

[Translation: There’s no issue of national security here, no executive privilege, no diplomatic discussions.]

Agreeing with Gordon’s remarks, Sen. Franklin Drilon questioned the nature of the President’s order and noted it has “all the red flags of constitutionality.”

“It only covers the Senate. It only covers the Blue Ribbon, only this particular Blue Ribbon hearing. I cannot see any other memorandum as blatantly unconstitutional as what we have before us,” said Drilon.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson even quipped about what would happen to Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Caesar Dulay, who testified during the hearing despite Duterte’s order.

Gordon, however, reminded his colleagues that this is “no laughing matter” and expressed disappointment over the issue.

Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Pangilinan issued a warning to government officials intending to heed the memorandum.

“To those who are not present in today’s hearing, we will see you in the budget hearings. We will raise these questions in the budget hearings,” said the senator.

In a statement, Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque confirmed the directive.

“The Philippines is currently in a state of calamity on account of COVID-19. Having said this, officials and employees should focus all their time and effort in addressing the challenges of the pandemic by performing their functions with utmost responsibility, integrity and efficiency,” he said.

Duterte has lambasted the Senate for probing the management of pandemic response funds, which included the awarding of billions of pesos in allegedly dubious contracts to Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation.

“Kung galit ka sa isang tao, huwag mo gamitin ang pera ng gobyerno para bumanat ka nang bumanat at siraan natin ang Commission on Audit, siraan natin ang Senado,” said Gordon, referring to Duterte.

[Translation: If you are mad at one person, do not use government funds to relentlessly attack and badmouth the Commission on Audit and the Senate.]