MANILA (UPDATE) - The Integrated Bar of the Philippines on Tuesday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider his decision to bar Cabinet members from attending the Senate investigation on the alleged misuse of pandemic funds.
"In view of the brewing conflict between the Executive and the Legislative branches of government, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines calls for calm, sobriety, and unity among the said two (2) branches of government and its agencies, and for the same to cooperate and work together to combat corruption and abuse," the group said in a statement.
The IBP also called on Duterte to heed a Supreme Court decision which said that although the Executive and the Legislative are co-equal branches of government, the former "cannot frustrate the power of Congress to legislate by refusing to comply with its demands for information."
"We thus urge the President to reconsider his decision to bar his Cabinet from attending the Senate investigation on the alleged irregularities in the Department of Health (DOH) spending related to the COVID-19 pandemic program. It is only by granting our Congress free access to information that we can empower them to formulate policies that fully reflect the will of our people," it added.
Duterte on Monday said he has issued a memorandum to prohibit the members of his Cabinet from attending the Senate investigation as resource persons, adding that they do not have the time for it.
The Philippine Bar Association has also criticized Duterte's decision.
CIVIL SERVANTS ALSO AFFECTED
Duterte's order will also affect the resolve of civil servants, which is why there could be a Constitutional crisis, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said on Tuesday night.
Duterte last week ordered the country's police and military to "stay out" of the Senate probe into Pharmally.
Duterte made the directive as the Senate sergeant-at-arms could be ordered to arrest persons who do not show up at the Senate hearing
"Maiipit nga dito pati 'yung mga civil servants natin (our civil servants are affected also)... it will [test] the resolve of our civil servants, if they follow the law. They would also invoke, there's a chain of command so magkakaroon ng crisis (so there would really be a crisis)," IBP National President Burt Estrada said in an interview over TeleRadyo.
"Especially that we're in the pandemic, it's the last thing we need."
Law enforcement authorities who refuse to follow the Senate's order could be liable to the law, he pointed out.
"I would assume na mayroong ganon na mangyayari (that could happen). It would be a lawful order, they're following a constitutional mandate and power so failure to obey that might lead them to face certain cases. Kawawa rin po sila, maiipit nga po (it's a pity since they are also affected)," Estrada added.
He, however, clarified that the Senate could still cite an executive official in contempt and arrest them should they continue to snub the hearings.
"I believe so because that is the power of Congress. That is the import of the decision of the Supreme Court na hindi mapipigilan ang (they cannot stop the) exercise ng Congress... of this power to conduct legislative inquiries," Estrada explained.
"And they can only effectively do so, if they can get information from resource persons," he added.
Duterte's latest directive is part of an ongoing conflict with Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chair Richard Gordon, who launched an investigation into Pharmally's transactions with government, Gordon said he does not know why Duterte still defends former economic adviser Michael Yang and former budget undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, a fraternity brother.
Duterte has denied allegations of corruption, even saying he doesn't care what happens to Pharmally, as long as his men do not get involved in it.