MANILA - Amid its seeming standoff with the judiciary, the House of Representatives is standing pat on the detention of six Ilocos Norte officers for allegedly refusing to cooperate in a legislative inquiry.
The House Committee on Good Government and Accountability is keen to maintain custody of the provincial officials until the end of the current Congress in June 2019 if they continued to refuse answering lawmakers' questions on their capitol's alleged misuse of tobacco excise tax to acquire vehicles more than five years ago.
"That will be the direction we pursue. At any time, I made it clear, if they are willing to answer those questions, we will convene the committee and they will be set free...If you answer truthfully we will let you go," Committee Chair Johnny Pimentel told ANC's Headstart.
Pimentel's statement backs the House leadership's decision to continue holding the six officials despite a a release order from the Court of Appeals.
This even as Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has called on the House to recall the show cause order it had issued against the Court of Appeals to explain why it should not be cited in contempt for ordering the detained officials' release.
Upon the committee's order, the House has held since May 29 Pedro Agcaoili, chair of the provincial bids and awards committee and provincial planning and development officer; Evangeline Tabulog, provincial budget officer; Josephine Calajate, provincial treasurer; Eden Battulayan, provincial accountant; and provincial treasurer’s office staff Genedine Jambaro and Encarnacion Gaor.
The employees had appeared before the committee’s inquiry into the alleged misuse of tobacco excise tax amounting to P66.45-million in the purchase of mini trucks, mini cabs, and second-hand buses in 2011.
In the hearing, the officials repeatedly said they could not remember the transactions.
Committee members were irked at their “refusal to answer questions." They decided to hold the officials in contempt, detaining them at the House.
Responding to a petition for habeas corpus, the Court of Appeals then ordered that the detained employees be presented at its hearings. The House did not comply with the order.
The appellate court later granted the employees' petition for bail and subsequently issued an order for their release. The House has defied this court order, with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez even threatening to dissolve the CA.
"Congress is not recognizing the decision of the Court of Appeals because the power of contempt is not subject to judicial review," Pimentel explained in the interview.
Pimentel's committee ruled to issue a show cause order against the three justices who had ordered the officials' release order, a move Sereno and CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes, Jr. urged the House to take back.
"I don't know if we can file administrative charges, but we are already issuing a subpoena. I already signed the subpoena, it has to be signed by the Speaker, and this has to be served hopefully by next week to the Court of Appeals justices," he said.
On the judiciary's plea, Pimentel urged Sereno and Reyes to put into writing their request to recall the show-cause order "because the decision of the committee is not my decision; it is a collegial body."
"We will have to issue to show-cause order and, if they want to contest it or if they want to request for reconsideration, then they should file a letter," he said.