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G.R. No. 257401 / G.R. No. 257916 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – The Legislative Department – Inquiry in Aid of Legislation – Senate’s Contempt Power Must be Exercised with Due Process
**This case was consolidated with Michael Yang vs Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations (G.R. No. 257916).
In 2021, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee also known as the Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations conducted a legislative inquiry in aid of legislation on how the government spent the DOH’s budget in response to the COVID 19 pandemic.
One of the responses by the government was to purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and one of the suppliers which obtained a total of Php8.8B worth of contracts from the DBM was Pharmally. Upon inquiry, it turned out that Pharmally was just a small company and its incorporators had ties with Michael Yang Hong Ming (Michael Yang) who was then a presidential economic adviser. To clarify on the contracts awarded, the SRBC subpoenaed Michael Yang and Linconn Ong, a director of Pharmally.
Eventually, Ong and Yang appeared before a committee hearing conducted on 10 September 2021. However, the committee deemed their responses to the committee’s questions to be false and evasive. As a result, they were cited in contempt by the SRBC Chair (Sen. Dick Gordon). The citation was approved by Senate President Tito Sotto. Yang and Ong were placed under the custody of the Senate after their arrest.
Yang and Ong filed their respective petitions for certiorari and prohibition questioning the contempt and arrest orders against them.
ISSUE: Whether or not the contempt orders and the subsequent arrests were valid.
HELD: No. Under Sec. 21, Article VI of the Constitution, the Legislature and its committees have the power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with duly published rules of procedure. To effectively use this power, both houses, including their committees, may employ available mechanisms, such as the power to cite individuals in contempt and arrest those cited in contempt, in order that they may effectively perform their legislative functions. Although the contempt power and the arrest power of the Legislature are not written in the Constitution, these powers are inherent in Congress by virtue of its power to conduct inquiry in aid of legislation.
However, before the contempt power and the arrest power may be validly employed, the following must be observed:
(a) the inquiry must be in “aid of legislation”;
(b) the inquiry must be conducted in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure; and
(c) the rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected.
Further, where there is factual basis for contempt, the resource person’s detention should only last until the termination of the legislative inquiry.
In these cases, Ong’s and Yang’s right to due process were not respected. Before they were cited in contempt and subsequently arrested, they should have been given the opportunity to be heard. They should have been made to explain and show cause that their testimonies are not evasive nor false. Without such due process, the arrests made upon Yang and Ong were unlawful deprivation of liberty.