MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Friday said that it was convinced that the Senate inquiry into the P728-million fertilizer fund scam is over.This came from Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita who added that the Supreme Court decision regarding the petition against the Senate arrest warrant issued against Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante would serve as the guide for future actions of Congress and the Cabinet.
As basis, Ermita cited the Supreme Court ruling on the Senate versus Romulo Neri case which upheld executive privilege against Senate investigations.
He also cited statements made by Sen. Edgardo Angara who was quoted saying that the Senate finished its probe during the 13th Congress because it has already passed its findings and recommendations to the Office of the Ombudsman.
“From my layman’s point of view I agree with (Angara’s) position especially now because a few minutes ago I was told by Sen. Angara. And remember, Sen. Angara is a good lawyer. So my belief after reading the excerpt of the SC decision (Neri versus the Senate) is bolstered by the statement given by Sen. Angara,” he said.
Ermita also reminded mediamen that he passed around the excerpt of the SC decision on Neri versus the Senate which stated, among others, that in the 1935 Constitution, 2/3 of the Senate remains, only 1/3 goes for elections which means that the Senate as a body maintains a majority.
“But in the 1987 Constitution, 12 of them have to be elected and therefore the remaining 12 do not constitute a majority, which means that after elections when they have completed the 24 they again have to adopt the new rules of procedure that will guide their hearings,” Ermita added.
Senate arrest warrant
His remarks were made amid the ongoing debate in the Senate regarding the arrest warrant it issued against Bolante.
Senate President Manuel Villar had justified the warrant, saying that the citation for contempt or arrest order did not lapse with the adjournment sine die of the 13th Congress.
He said if they will adopt the position that it had lapsed, a person held in contempt would just ignore and evade the Senate order until the adjournment.
This was contradicted by Angara who said that there is no principle of “continuing investigation,”
He said the Senate is a continuing body in the sense that in any single time there are senators but it doesn’t mean that investigations in the Senate are continuing.
Angara reiterated this in a chance interview in Malacañang Friday.
He said that he believes that the Senate has already concluded its investigation and endorsed its findings that Bolante committed some irregularities in relation to the disbursement of the fertilizer fund to the Ombudsman for proper action.
“So ngayon, tapos na kami e bakit babalik pa siya sa amin? Kailangan sa court of justice na, sa Ombudsman…Sa aking palagay between the Senate na tapos na trabaho, natupad na namin aming tungkulin, and the Ombudsman that’s just about to start it, that’s how the division of labor in our country is. Lawmaking is another separate prosecution and trial,” Angara said.
No executive privilege
Regarding executive privilege, Ermita on Friday again cited the SC ruling on Neri, saying that it will stand as the guide for Cabinet members who may be summoned to speak on the controversy.
“We just have to go by jurisprudence. That’s the guide right now,” he said.
However, he added that Bolante – since he is already private individual – is no longer covered by executive privilege.
Ermita added that the Palace is looking forward to the Supreme Court decision on the petition filed by Bolante questioning the validity of the arrest warrant issued against him in December 2005.
“It’s not just the Palace, everybody is looking forward to that because this will become jurisprudence that will guide future actions of everyone in Congress and those in the Cabinet,” Ermita said.
The Supreme Court, however, is currently on a break and will only resume session on November 7.
Until then, Bolante’s petition will remain pending in the High Court.
In the meantime, Bolante remains under hospital arrest at the St. Luke’s Medical Center, where he is set to undergo further medical examinations.
Bolante’s attending physician, Romeo Saavedra, said Thursday that among the tests Bolante would have to undergo is a CT coronary angiogram Friday and a colonoscopy on Monday.
Saavedra did not say when the examinations will be finished, but stressed that the former Agriculture official is not likely to be transferred to the Senate until it is ensured that he is in good physical shape.
Saavedra said Bolante, though in stable condition, suffers from “atheromatous aorta and coronary arteries,” or the hardening of blood vessels and the heart, as shown by the tests already conducted on him.
He also said Bolante’s blood pressure was “fluctuating,” adding that Bolante has a history of peptic ulcer disease for which he has been taking maintenance medication.
Saavedra was part of the medical team that performed a heart surgery on First Gentleman Mike Arroyo in April 2007.
Bolante, who returned to the country Tuesday, allegedly diverted funds allocated for the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani program to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s campaign kitty in 2004.
Johanna Camille Sisante, Mark Merueñas