Virgilio Garcillano vs The House of Representatives’ Committees on Public Information et al

G.R. No. 170338 – G.R. No. 179275 – 575 SCRA 170 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Legislative Branch – Powers of Congress – Inquiry in Aid of Legislation – Senate Rules of┬áProcedure Must Be Published

In 2005, tapes which allegedly contained a conversation between Gloria Arroyo and COMELEC Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano surfaced. The said conversation contained a plan to rig the elections to favor Arroyo. The recordings then became subject of legislative hearings conducted separately by each House. In his privilege speech, Sen. Chiz Escudero moved for a congressional investigation jointly conducted by the Committees on Public Information, Public Order and Safety, National Defense and Security, Information and Communications Technology, and Suffrage and Electoral Reforms (respondent House Committees). During the inquiry, several versions of the wiretapped conversation emerged. Sen. Ping Lacson’s motion for a senate inquiry was referred to the Committee on National Defense and Security headed by Sen. Rodolfo Biazon. Garcillano (referred to as “Garci” by Arroyo in the leaked tapes) subsequently filed two petitions. One to prevent the playing of the tapes in each house for they are alleged to be inadmissible and the other to prohibit and stop the conduct of the Senate inquiry on the wiretapped conversation.

ISSUE: Whether or not to grant the petitions of Garci.

HELD: Garci’s petition to strike the tapes off the record cannot be granted. The tapes were already played in Congress and those tapes were already highly publicized. The issue is already overtaken by these incidents hence it has become moot and academic. The second petition must be granted however. The Senate cannot be allowed to continue with the conduct of the questioned legislative inquiry without duly published rules of procedure, in clear derogation of the constitutional requirement.

Section 21, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution explicitly provides that “[t]he 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 requisite of publication of the rules is intended to satisfy the basic requirements of due process. Publication is indeed imperative, for it will be the height of injustice to punish or otherwise burden a citizen for the transgression of a law or rule of which he had no notice whatsoever, not even a constructive one. What constitutes publication is set forth in Article 2 of the Civil Code, which provides that “[l]aws shall take effect after 15 days following the completion of their publication either in the Official Gazette, or in a newspaper of general circulation in the Philippines.”

The Senate admits in their pleadings and even on oral argument that the Senate Rules of Procedure Governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation had been published in newspapers of general circulation only in 1995 and in 2006. With respect to the present Senate of the 14th Congress, however, of which the term of half of its members commenced on 30 June 2007, no effort was undertaken for the publication of these rules when they first opened their session.

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