H. Legislative inquiries and oversight functions

Atty. Jericho Del Puerto

Atty. Jericho Del Puerto

Lawyer, Author, Mentor

Frequency: ★★★★☆

1. Legislative inquiries

The Senate or the House of Representatives or any of its respective committees may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure. The rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected. (Section 21, Article VI, 1987 Constitution)

The heads of departments may upon their own initiative, with the consent of the President, or upon the request of either House, as the rules of each House shall provide, appear before and be heard by such House on any matter pertaining to their departments. Written questions shall be submitted to the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives at least three days before their scheduled appearance. (Section 22, Article VI, Ibid.)

Interpellations shall not be limited to written questions, but may cover matters related thereto. When the security of the State or the public interest so requires and the President so states in writing, the appearance shall be conducted in executive session. (Ibid.)

a. Via a Committee of either Chamber of a Conrgress

Once an inquiry is admitted or established to be within the jurisdiction of a legislative body to make, the investigating committee has the power to require a witness to answer any question pertinent to that inquiry, subject of course to his constitutional right against self-incrimination. (Arnault v. Nazareno, En Banc, G.R. No. L-3820, 18 July 1950)

If the subject of investigation before the committee is within the range of legitimate legislative inquiry and the proposed testimony of the witness called relates to that subject, obedience, to its process may be enforced by the committee by imprisonment. (Ibid.)

b. Legislative investigation v. Court proceedings

A legislative investigation in aid of legislation and court proceedings has different purposes. On one hand, courts conduct hearings or like adjudicative procedures to settle, through the application of a law, actual controversies arising between adverse litigants and involving demandable rights. (Romero v. Estrada, En Banc, G.R. No. 174105, 02 April 2009)

Inquiries in aid of legislation are, inter alia, undertaken as tools to enable the legislative body to gather information and, thus, legislate wisely and effectively; and to determine whether there is a need to improve existing laws or enact new or remedial legislation, albeit the inquiry need not result in any potential legislation. On-going judicial proceedings do not preclude congressional hearings in aid of legislation. (Ibid.)

c. Limitations

Despite the constitutional grant, the power of both the House of Representatives and the Senate to conduct investigations in aid of legislation is not absolute. (Calida v. Trillanes, En Banc, G.R. No. 240873, 03 September 2019)

An investigation in aid of legislation must comply with:

1) The rules of procedure of each House of Congress; and,

2) Not violate the individual rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. (Ibid.)

BAR EXAM QUESTION

(Question A.6, Political Law, 2019 Bar Exam)

A committee of the Senate invited Mr. X and Mr. Y, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Secretary of Energy, respectively, as resource speakers for an inquiry in aid legislation. Mr. X refused to attend, arguing that the Senate, not its committee, has the power to compel attendance. Meanwhile, Mr. Y attended the committee hearing but upon being asked about discussions made during a closed-door cabinet meeting, he refused to answer invoking executive privilege. The committee members insisted that Mr. Y answer the question pursuant to the right of Congress to information from the executive branch.

(a) Based on his argument, is Mr. X’s non-appearance permissible? Explain. (2.5%)

Suggested Answer:

No. Answer

Under jurisprudence, once an inquiry is admitted or established to be within the jurisdiction of a legislative body to make, the investigating committee has the power to compel attendance and require a witness to answer any question pertinent to that inquiry. Rule

In the case at bar, it appears that the Senate investigating committee was duly constituted pursuant to an inquiry in aid of legislation. Accordingly, it has the power to compel the attendance of Mr. and to answer questions that may be asked pertinent to the inquiry. Apply

Thus, the non-appearance of Mr. X is not permissible. Conclusion

2. Congressional oversight

Broadly defined, the power of oversight embraces all activities undertaken by Congress to enhance its understanding of and influence over the implementation of legislation it has enacted. (Macalintal v. Commission on Elections, En Banc, G.R. No. 157013, 10 July 2003)

Clearly, oversight concerns post-enactment measures undertaken by Congress:

1) To monitor bureaucratic compliance with program objectives;

2) To determine whether agencies are properly administered;

3) To eliminate executive waste and dishonesty;

4) To prevent executive usurpation of legislative authority; and

5) To assess executive conformity with the congressional perception of public interest. (Ibid.)

The power of oversight has been held to be intrinsic in the grant of legislative power itself and integral to the checks and balances inherent in a democratic system of government. (Ibid.)

a. Categories of congressional oversight functions

The acts done by Congress purportedly in the exercise of its oversight powers may be divided into three categories, namely:

1) Scrutiny;

2) Investigation; and,

3) Supervision. (Ibid.)

1) Scrutiny

Congressional scrutiny implies a lesser intensity and continuity of attention to administrative operations. Its primary purpose is to determine economy and efficiency of the operation of government activities. In the exercise of legislative scrutiny, Congress may request information and report from the other branches of government. It can give recommendations or pass resolutions for consideration of the agency involved. (Ibid.)

2) Congressional Investigation

While congressional scrutiny is regarded as a passive process of looking at the facts that are readily available, congressional investigation involves a more intense digging of facts. The power of Congress to conduct investigation is recognized by the 1987 Constitution under section 21, Article VI. (Ibid.)

3) Legislative supervision

The third and most encompassing form by which Congress exercises its oversight power is thru legislative supervision. “Supervision” connotes a continuing and informed awareness on the part of a congressional committee regarding executive operations in a given administrative area. While both congressional scrutiny and investigation involve inquiry into past executive branch actions in order to influence future executive branch performance, congressional supervision allows Congress to scrutinize the exercise of delegated law-making authority, and permits Congress to retain part of that delegated authority. (Ibid.)

a) Legislative veto

Congress exercises supervision over the executive agencies through its veto power. It typically utilizes veto provisions when granting the President or an executive agency the power to promulgate regulations with the force of law. These provisions require the President or an agency to present the proposed regulations to Congress, which retains a “right” to approve or disapprove any regulation before it takes effect. Such legislative veto provisions usually provide that a proposed regulation will become a law after the expiration of a certain period of time, only if Congress does not affirmatively disapprove of the regulation in the meantime. Less frequently, the statute provides that a proposed regulation will become law if Congress affirmatively approves it. (Ibid.)

Legislative veto is a statutory provision requiring the President or an administrative agency to present the proposed implementing rules and regulations of a law to Congress which, by itself or through a committee formed by it, retains a “right” or “power” to approve or disapprove such regulations before they take effect. As such, a legislative veto in the form of a congressional oversight committee is in the form of an inward-turning delegation designed to attach a congressional leash (other than through scrutiny and investigation) to an agency to which Congress has by law initially delegated broad powers. It radically changes the design or structure of the Constitution’s diagram of power as it entrusts to Congress a direct role in enforcing, applying or implementing its own laws. (ABAKADA Guro Party List Officers/Members v. Purisima, En Banc, G.R. No. 166715, 14 August 2008)

b) No authority to approve implementing rules and regulations

From the moment the law becomes effective, any provision of law that empowers Congress or any of its members to play any role in the implementation or enforcement of the law violates the principle of separation of powers and is thus unconstitutional. Under this principle, a provision that requires Congress or its members to approve the implementing rules of a law after it has already taken effect shall be unconstitutional, as is a provision that allows Congress or its members to overturn any directive or ruling made by the members of the executive branch charged with the implementation of the law. (ABAKADA Guro Party List Officers/Members v. Purisima, En Banc, supra.)

Administrative regulations enacted by administrative agencies to implement and interpret the law which they are entrusted to enforce have the force of law and are entitled to respect. Such rules and regulations partake of the nature of a statute and are just as binding as if they have been written in the statute itself. As such, they have the force and effect of law and enjoy the presumption of constitutionality and legality until they are set aside with finality in an appropriate case by a competent court. Congress, in the guise of assuming the role of an overseer, may not pass upon their legality by subjecting them to its stamp of approval without disturbing the calculated balance of powers established by the Constitution. (Ibid.)

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