MANILA – Malacañang on Tuesday released a copy of the memorandum directing all officials and employees of the Executive Department to stop attending the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings chaired by Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon.

This, after President Rodrigo Duterte signed the memorandum during his Talk to the People on Monday night, a week after he asked Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to draft it.

Under the memo, Medialdea underscored how the Executive Department has been showing “due respect” to the Senate panel through “faithful attendance” and “participation” of its officials and employees in the hearings.

The memo, however, noted that there are “clear indications” that the hearings are meant to go on indefinitely and are conducted “not in aid of legislation, but to identify persons to hold accountable for alleged irregularities already punishable under existing laws.”

The memo said the Senate panel has “stepped in the mandate of other branches of government and has deprived itself of the only basis to compel attendance to its hearings.”

“On the premise that the principle of separation of powers requires mutual respect among the different branches of government, and in view of Article II, Section 15 of the 1987 Constitution on the protection and promotion by the State of right to health of the people, the President has directed all officials and employees of the Executive Department to no longer appear before or attend the abovementioned Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings, effective immediately,” the memo read.

The memo also directed Executive Department officials and employees to focus all their time and effort on the measures to address the current state of calamity on account of Covid-19, and in carrying out their other functions.

“All officials and employees of the Executive Department are reminded to perform their functions in accordance with the Constitution and laws, and observe utmost responsibility, integrity, and efficiency. This Administration shall continue and shall not hesitate to investigate and file charges against corrupt officials and employees in the proper forum,” it added.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed the release of the memorandum.

“The Palace confirms that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte directed all officials and employees of the Executive Department to no longer appear before or attend the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings on the 2020 Commission on Audit Report effective immediately,” he said.

He said the Presidential directive is based on the premise that the principle of separation of powers requires mutual respect among the different branches of government and in view of Article II, Section 15 of the 1987 Constitution on the protection and promotion by the State of the right to health of the people.

“The Philippines is currently in the state of calamity in the account of Covid-19. Having said this, officials and employees should focus all their time and effort in addressing the challenges of the pandemic by performing their functions with utmost responsibility, integrity and efficiency,” Roque said.

‘Logical move’

In a statement, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo echoed Medialdea’s memo noting that the Senate panel hearings have been practically preventing invited government officials from performing their functions and duties.

He said it was only “logical” for the government to call all hands on deck to adequately respond to the prevailing health crisis.

“It is for this very purpose that the response to Covid-19 has taken an interdisciplinary and whole of government approach, with public health and general welfare as its core pillars,” Panelo said.

He acknowledged the power of the Senate to investigate but noted that this is not “absolute” since the law requires that such investigation must be conducted in aid of legislation or with a view of enacting, amending, or repealing a law.

“If the inquiry of the Senate is truly in aid of legislation, then it is imperative upon them to inform the people of the specific laws which it seeks to create, amend, or repeal. It has not done so,” he added.

He urged the Senate panel to “shed some light” on the purpose of its inquiry and the law/s which it seeks to create after nearly two months of grueling hearings.

“While the Executive Department is genuinely willing to oblige the Senate in due deference and respect, it cannot continue to do so at the expense of the lives and safety of the Filipino people,” he said.

Panelo said if government officials/employees and private individuals/institutions are involved in corruption or anomalous or illegal transactions, they will be “correspondingly prosecuted, tried and penalized to the fullest extent of the law.”

Members of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, including Gordon, are currently investigating the government’s acquisition of medical supplies at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

Duterte earlier asked the Commission on Audit to audit the finances of the Philippine Red Cross, which Gordon allegedly used to raise funds for his election campaigns. (PNA)