Thursday, March 6, 2008

Views and Comments on the scrapping of EO 464

Below is the printed page take on the scrapping of EO 464:

Arroyo revokes EO 464, keeps privilege

MANILA -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Wednesday revoked Executive Order (EO) 464 prohibiting government officials from attending congressional inquiries.

At the same time, however, her chief legal counsel Sergio Apostol pointed out that President Arroyo retains the right of executive privilege, since that is guaranteed by the Constitution. The decision was reached after Arroyo and several Cabinet officials led by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita met with representatives of an "influential religious group" including some Catholic bishops at the Discovery Suites in Ortigas, Pasig City.

"I am revoking EO 464. Executive officials may no longer invoke EO 464 to excuse non-attendance from legislative inquiries. Executive officials are instructed to abide by the Constitution, existing laws, and jurisprudence when invited to legislative inquiries," Arroyo said.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) earlier urged the President to abolish EO 464 as they called for the continued search for truth in light of latest allegations of corruption. The bishops, who played key roles in "people power" revolts that ousted two presidents, have refused to join widespread calls for Arroyo's resignation. Instead, they have asked her to take steps to combat the problem, including removing restrictions that are hampering the congressional corruption probes.

EO 464 or "Ensuring observance of the principle of separation of powers, adherence to the rule on executive privilege and respect for the rights of public officials appearing in legislative inquiries in aid of legislation under the Constitution, and for other purposes" was issued by MalacaƱang on September 26, 2005.

The issuance stemmed from the appearance of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales in a Senate inquiry that ended in his being detained and held in contempt after refusing to answer some of the queries of the senators. Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the decision of the President was "welcomed warmly" by those who attended the meeting in Ortigas, Pasig City. Bunye, who is also the Presidential spokesman, said they are not free to disclose the identities of the "influential religious group" that attended the meeting, but hinted they included members of the CBCP.

He added that some sectors may still be unhappy with the revocation but they could not do anything about it. "The President, like anybody else, is after the truth. The President listens to the people," Bunye said. "She believes that it's in the best interest of everybody to heal our present conflict."

It was not clear if senior officials attending congressional inquiries would continue to invoke "executive privilege" to skirt questions that could malign Arroyo. The CBCP, meanwhile, is grateful that the President heeded their request. "We are happy and grateful that our appeal has been heard by the Chief Executive, that is already a first step in restoring integrity in the government," said CBCP president and Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo.

Aside from the abolition of EO 464, the bishops also asked Arroyo to allow her subordinates to reveal any corrupt acts, particularly about the national broadband network (NBN)-ZTE deal, without being obstructed in their testimony no matter who is involved.

According to Senate President Manuel "Manny" Villar Jr., MalacaƱang should do more than revoke EO 464 to show its sincerity in promoting transparency and accountability in government.

Villar said the President should also scrap Memorandum Circular (MC) 108 and the illegal use of the executive privilege, the tools used to prevent its officials from testifying before congressional hearings on issues affecting the administration.

"In the face of the abusive invocation of executive privilege, the cancellation of this EO (464) is immaterial and irrelevant. In the first place, the Supreme Court (SC) already rendered this order inutile in the case Senate v. Ermita," he said.

The senator said the public should be aware that this move from the Arroyo administration is only a face-saving tactics. (JMR/FP/CPB/Sunnex/With AP)


Ed's Note: Memorandum Circular 108 was issued after the Supreme Court declared portions of EO 464 unconstitutional. Below are some of the comments:

Administration critics say the circular, which says “all heads of departments of the Executive branch of government shall secure the consent of the President prior to appearing at a question hour before either House of Congress,” is a virtual clone of EO 464.

Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan downplayed the revocation of EO 464, saying the Supreme Court has long ruled on the unconstitutionality of the order.

“There is nothing to scrap. The question is the status of MC 108 because after the Supreme Court issued its ruling on EO 464, the administration issued MC 108,” he said.

Senator Manuel Roxas II said the order should have been lifted long ago because it has been used to “cover up” anomalies in government. He said the order should extend not only to officials but also documents needed for a better conduct of Senate inquiries.

“For example, in the NEDA [National Economic and Development Authority] documents, we ourselves went to the Supreme Court seeking the release of documents that were previously in the public domain as they were posted on the NEDA website,” he said in Filipino.