Political Law

Romulo Neri vs Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers

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G.R. No. 180643 – 549 SCRA 77 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – The Legislative Department – Inquiry in aid of legislation – Executive Privilege

Legislative (Sec 21) & Oversight (Sec 22) Powers

In April 2007, DOTC entered into a contract with Zhong Xing Telecommunications Equipment (ZTE) for the supply of equipment and services for the National Broadband Network (NBN) Project in the amount of $329,481,290.00 (approximately P16 Billion Pesos). The Project was to be financed by the People’s Republic of China. The Senate passed various resolutions relative to the NBN deal. On the other hand, Joe De Venecia issued a statement that several high executive officials and power brokers were using their influence to push the approval of the NBN Project by the NEDA.

Neri, the head of NEDA, was then invited to testify before the Senate Blue Ribbon. He appeared in one hearing wherein he was interrogated for 11 hrs. and during which he admitted that Benjamin Abalos of COMELEC tried to bribe him with P200M in exchange for his approval of the NBN project. He further narrated that he informed President Arroyo about the bribery attempt and that she instructed him not to accept the bribe. However, when probed further on what they discussed about the NBN Project, Neri refused to answer, invoking “executive privilege“. In particular, he refused to answer the questions on (a) whether or not President Arroyo followed up the NBN Project, (b) whether or not she directed him to prioritize it, and (c) whether or not she directed him to approve it. He later refused to attend the other hearings and Exec. Sec. Ermita sent a letter to the SBRC averring that the communications between GMA and Neri is privileged and that the jurisprudence laid down in Senate vs Ermita be applied. The SBRC cited Neri for contempt.

ISSUE: Whether or not the three questions sought by the SBRC to be answered falls under executive privilege.

HELD: YES. The oversight function of Congress may be facilitated by compulsory process only to the extent that it is performed in pursuit of legislation.

The communications elicited by the three (3) questions are covered by the presidential communications privilege.

1st, the communications relate to a “quintessential and non-delegable power” of the President, i.e. the power to enter into an executive agreement with other countries. This authority of the President to enter into executive agreements without the concurrence of the Legislature has traditionally been recognized in Philippine jurisprudence.

2nd, the communications are “received” by a close advisor of the President. Under the “operational proximity” test, Neri can be considered a close advisor, being a member of President Arroyo’s cabinet. And

3rd, there is no adequate showing of a compelling need that would justify the limitation of the privilege and of the unavailability of the information elsewhere by an appropriate investigating authority.

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