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BEYOND THE BEND: In aid of legislation, not prosecution

Column Titles mindaviews beyond the bend Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M.

(MindaNews / 20 May) – Let us be technical about this matter first and foremost. The legislative power to conduct investigations in aid of legislation is conferred by Article VI, Section 21 of the 1987 Constitution, to wit:

“SECTION 21. The 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 rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected.”

To help us understand this legislative power, we refer to two Supreme Court decisions for guidance. First, the case of Senate vs. Executive Secretary with this ruling:

“Inquiries in aid of legislation serve as tools to enable the legislative body to gather information and, thus, legislate wisely and effectively; and to determine whether there is a need to improve existing laws or enact new or remedial legislation, albeit the inquiry need not result in any potential legislation.”

Bear in mind that lawmaking is fundamentally a problem-solving exercise. We elect compatriots to Congress with the explicit task of addressing the many issues and challenges plaguing our society. Indeed, we have empowered this select group from our ranks to make sure that every Filipino enjoys a good life.

We all know as well that problem-solvers need data to come up with solutions. Our concerns are very real to us and therefore, we should only expect from lawmakers to do their due diligence in devising ways to address them. This is essentially what inquiry in aid of legislation entails.

Two points need to be raised about this crucial part of the lawmaking process. First, this is the opportunity for lawmakers to fully understand the problem they intend to solve. This is the time when resource persons are called to help lawmakers appreciate the nuances of a particular issue.

Second, this is also a forum where community views can be ventilated. Lawmakers cannot enact laws in a vacuum. They also need to understand the broader context of the problems they are aiming to solve. Having this background knowledge helps in ensuring statutes are responsive to the needs of the people.

Needless to say, an integral part of the lawmaking process is to also comprehend risks and unintended consequences. A mere desktop approach to the crafting of a bill will not suffice.  Lawmaking requires a combination of theoretical research and case study analysis.

The second case is Neri v. Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers, to wit:

“The determination of who is/are liable for a crime or illegal activity, the investigation of the role played by each official, the determination of who should be haled to court for prosecution and the task of coming up with conclusions and finding of facts regarding anomalies, especially the determination of criminal guilt, are not functions of the Senate. Congress is neither a law enforcement nor a trial agency.”

The phrase “in aid of legislation” should be a dead giveaway. Legislative inquiry is not a criminal or prosecutorial investigation. The finding of guilt or the assignment of liability are not the end goals of this process. The expected outcome is a law that endeavors to solve the problems of the nation.

Yet, we have become accustomed to legislators conducting all sorts of investigations where the legislative purpose is unclear. These days, lawmakers are more inclined to use the power of legislative inquiry to cosplay as police and prosecutors.

With social media, lawmakers have become even more mindful of the notoriety and the celebrity exposure such inquiries bring for their political ambitions. To offer solutions to our urgent problems through the enactment of pertinent laws has become a mere secondary consideration.  

Clearly, the “in aid of legislation” part needs to be further highlighted. By constitutional design, the power of legislative inquiry should only be used for lawmaking objectives. Again, this is primarily a tool to enable lawmakers to produce the laws which meet the demands of the community.

The abuse or misuse of the power of legislative inquiry leads to the passing of statutes that no one understands or even knows about. Bad laws in our books only means that our problems will remain unresolved. And our suffering will only worsen, if voters allow this travesty to persist.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M is a law lecturer, policy analyst and constitutionalist.)

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