Saturday, March 12, 2005

The power of legislative investigation

The power of legislative investigation

Posted 00:36am (Mla time) Mar 12, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the March 12, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

REP. Roilo Golez, chair of the committee on national defense of the House of Representatives, sent a letter to the editor recently defending the investigation by his committee of Gen. Jacinto Ligot for unexplained wealth.

I had written an earlier column that the probe was essentially for grandstanding rather than in aid of legislation, but he said it was in the discharge of their legislative power of information.

He invoked President Woodrow Wilson's view that the power of information was more important than the power of lawmaking. He also cited University of the Philippines Law Dean Raul Pangalangan who disagreed with critics of legislative investigations in his column last October. Contrary to any insinuation, it was no refutation of my article that appeared in this column only last month.

The fact that Wilson made that statement does not make it Gospel truth. Everyone should know that the real function of Congress is to make laws, with the power of investigation as only incidental to it. Art. VI. Sec. 21 of the Constitution allows both houses of Congress to conduct investigations but only "in aid of legislation."

The meaning of that provision is quite clear. Congress cannot conduct a legislative investigation for the purpose only of informing the public. In republican regimes, the duty to disseminate news on current events and public issues belongs to the privately owned mass media, not the government.

Legislators should concentrate on their responsibility to enact the needed laws to improve the country and solve its problems instead of competing with the private information media.

Entrusting the principal power of information to Congress would threaten and impair the freedom of expression. Competition between legislators and private opinion-makers can only weaken the democratic ethos. The likely victor in this uneven contest would be the legislature with its powerful influence and the public funds subject to its appropriation and disposition.

It is easy to observe the evils of government control of the media in totalitarian countries. The authorities dictate what should be reported and what should be suppressed. The news purveyors of many dictatorial governments should warn us of what would happen if the principal task of Congress were to release, or withhold, information affecting the public welfare.

The punitive action taken against this paper during the Estrada administration should alert us to what could happen to our free publications if they should displease those in authority. The Inquirer lost plenty of advertisements for its refusal to kowtow to that discredited leadership. Some papers profited from the "punishment" of this paper, but it survived and even prospered because of its integrity.

If that outrage we suffered could happen even in an apparently free society, how much worse would it be if Congress were to be vested with the principal power of information?

Congress has been unable to pass many important pieces of legislation in the exercise of its primary responsibility to pass laws. The VAT bill has not yet been approved as of this writing, and the national ID card will probably die a-borning. And all this because, according to Golez, the task of lawmaking must yield to the power of legislative investigation.

Many formal inquiries have been conducted in the past by Congress but we have not been informed if they resulted in the enactment of the needed legislation. Some years ago, the House of Representatives attracted a lot of attention when it inquired into the alleged payment of ransom to some military commanders in Mindanao for the release of certain hostages. There are vague reports about its findings and what statutes, if any, were passed because of the probe.

What was certain was the free publicity and “pasiklab” [showing off] on TV enjoyed by the legislators. The information they received at much public expense did not, as far as I know, improve, correct, modify, supplement, or repeal our existing laws, many of which are dead letters in our statute books anyway.

The Golez committee investigation of General Ligot did not succeed in extracting useful information from the respondent who claimed the right against self-incrimination. Not only was the inquiry ineffectual but it was also unnecessary. The reason is that the Ombudsman and the Armed Forces were already conducting their own investigation in the exercise of their own respective powers. Golez and his committee did not have to get into the act unless their real purpose was to share in the public limelight.

I respectfully suggest that Golez address himself to the principal task of lawmaking instead of acting like a glorified prosecutor. If he really wants to be useful, he can strop the intrusive airplanes flying over Merville Subdivision and oppressing us with their abusive but uncontrolled noise pollution. He has done nothing about it during his past three terms in Congress and up to the present despite the complaints of his constituents. He can do better about this problem than investigating Ligot.


Post a Comment

<< Home