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Nov 11, 2008

G.R. No. 169777, July 14, 2006

  • Requisites of Judicial Review
  • Legislative Inquiry vs. Executive Privilege
  • Executive Privilege, defined
  • Kinds of Executive Privilege
  • Executive Privilege as applied to an official
  • Constitutionality of EO 464


This case is regarding the railway project of the North Luzon Railways Corporation with the China National Machinery and Equipment Group as well as the Wiretapping activity of the ISAFP, and the Fertilizer scam.

The Senate Committees sent invitations to various officials of the Executive Department and AFP officials for them to appear before Senate on Sept. 29, 2005. Before said date arrived, Executive Sec. Ermita sent a letter to Senate President Drilon, requesting for a postponement of the hearing on Sept. 29 in order to “afford said officials ample time and opportunity to study and prepare for the various issues so that they may better enlighten the Senate Committee on its investigation.” Senate refused the request.

On Sept. 28, 2005, the President issued EO 464, effective immediately, which, among others, mandated that “all heads of departments of the Executive Branch of the government shall secure the consent of the President prior to appearing before either House of Congress.” Pursuant to this Order, Executive Sec. Ermita communicated to the Senate that the executive and AFP officials would not be able to attend the meeting since the President has not yet given her consent. Despite the lack of consent, Col. Balutan and Brig. Gen. Gudani, among all the AFP officials invited, attended the investigation. Both faced court marshal for such attendance.

Hence, these petitions.

  • Whether or not EO 464 contravenes the power of inquiry vested in Congress
  • Whether or not EO 464 violates the right of the people to information on matters of public concern
  • Whether or not respondents have committed grave abuse of discretion when they implemented EO 464 prior to its publication in a newspaper of general circulation

  1. there must be an actual case or controversy calling for the exercise of judicial power;
  2. the person challenging the act must have standing to challenge the validity of the subject act or issuance; otherwise stated, he must have a personal and substantial interest in the case such that he has sustained, or will sustain, direct injury as a result of its enforcement;
  3. the question of constitutionality must be raised as the earliest opportunity; and
  4. the issue of constitutionality must be the very lis mota of the case.


Standing of the Senate

That the Senate of the Philippines has a fundamental right essential not only for intelligent public decision-making in a democratic system, but more especially for sound legislation is not disputed. EO 464, however, allegedly stifles the ability of the members of Congress to access information that is crucial to law-making. Verily, the Senate, including its individual members, has a substantial and direct interest over the outcome of the controversy and is the proper party to assail the constitutionality of EO 464. Indeed, legislators have standing to maintain inviolate the prerogative, powers and privileges vested by the Constitution in their office and are allowed to sue to question the validity of any official action which they claim infringes their prerogatives as legislators.

Standing of an ordinary citizen

It is well-settled that when suing as a citizen, the interest of the petitioner in assailing the constitutionality of laws, presidential decrees, orders and other regulations must be direct and personal. In Francisco v. House of Representatives, this Court held that when the proceeding involves the assertion of a public right, the mere fact that he is a citizen satisfies the requirement of personal interest.

Requisites for transcendental importance: Establish (1) the character of the funds (that it is public) or other assets involved in the case, (2) the presence of a clear case of disregard of a constitutional or statutory prohibition by the public respondent agency or instrumentality of the government, and (3) the lack of any party with a more direct and specific interest in raising the questions being raised.


The Court finds respondents’ assertion that the President has not withheld her consent or prohibited the appearance of the officials concerned immaterial in determining the existence of an actual case or controversy insofar as EO 464 is concerned. For EO 464 does not require either a deliberative withholding of consent or an express prohibition issuing from the President in order to bar officials from appearing before Congress.

As the implementation of the challenged order has already resulted in the absence of officials invited to the hearings of petitioner Senate of the Philippines, it would make no sense to wait for any further event before considering the present case ripe for adjudication. Indeed, it would be sheer abandonment of duty if this Court would now refrain from passing on the constitutionality of EO 464.

The power of inquiry

The Congress power of inquiry is expressly recognized in Sec. 21, Art. VI. But as early as 1950 (the 1935 Constitution did not contain a similar provision) in Arnault v. Nazareno, the Court already recognized that the power of inquiry is inherent in the power to legislate. xxx

That this power of inquiry is broad enough to cover officials of the executive branch may be deduced from the same case. The power of co-extensive with the power to legislate. The matters which may be a proper subject of legislation and those which may be a proper subject of investigation are one. It follows that the operation of government, being a legitimate subject for legislation, is a proper subject for investigation.

xxx the power of inquiry, “with process to enforce it,” is grounded on the necessity of the information in the legislative process. If the information possessed by executive officials on the operation of their offices is necessary for wise legislation on that subject, by parity of reasoning, Congress has the right to that information and the power to compel the disclosure thereof.

The power of inquiry is subject to judicial review

xxx the right of Congress to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation is, in theory, no less susceptible to abuse than executive or judicial power. It may thus be subjected to judicial review pursuant to the Court’s certiorari powers under Sec. 1, Art. VIII.

For one...the inquiry itself might not properly be in aid of legislation, and thus beyond the constitutional power of Congress. Such inquiry could not usurp judicial functions. Parenthetically, one possible way for Congress to avoid such a to indicate in its invitations to the public officials concerned, or to any person for that matter, the possible needed statute which prompted the need for the inquiry. Given such statement in its investigations, along with the usual indication of the subject of inquiry and the questions relative to and in furtherance thereof, there would be less room for speculation on the part of the person invited on whether the inquiry is in aid of legislation.

Sec. 21, Art. VI likewise establishes crucial safeguards that proscribe the legislative power of inquiry. The provision requires that the inquiry be done in accordance with the Senate or House’s duly published rules of procedure, necessarily implying the constitutional infirmity of an inquiry conducted without duly published rules of procedure. Sec. 21 also mandates that the rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries be respected, an imposition that obligates Congress to adhere to the guarantees in the Bill of Rights.

Exemption to power of inquiry

Even where the inquiry is in aid of legislation, there are still recognized exemptions to the power of inquiry, which exemptions falls under the rubric of “executive privilege.”

Executive privilege, defined

Schwartz defines executive privilege as “the power of the Government to withhold information from the public, the courts, and the Congress.” Similarly, Rozell defines it as “the right of the President and high-level executive branch officers to withhold information from Congress, the courts, and ultimately the public.”

Kinds of executive privilege

One variety of the the state secrets privilege...on the ground that the information is of such nature that its disclosure would subvert crucial military or diplomatic objectives. Another variety is the informer’s privilege, or the privilege of the Government not to disclose the identity of persons who furnish information of violations of law to officers charged with the enforcement of that law. Finally, a generic privilege for internal deliberations has been said to attach to intragovernmental documents reflecting advisory opinions, recommendations and deliberations comprising part of a process by which governmental decisions and policies are formulated.

That a type of information is recognized as privileged does not, however, necessarily mean that it would be considered privileged in all instances. For in determining the validity of a claim of privilege, the question that must be asked is not only whether the requested information falls within one of the traditional privileges, but also whether that privilege should be honored in a given procedural setting.

The principle of executive privilege

Executive privilege, whether asserted against Congress, the courts, or the public, is recognized only in relation to certain types of information of a sensitive character. While executive privilege is a constitutional concept, a claim thereof may be valid or not depending on the ground invoked to justify it and the context in which it is made. Noticeably absent is any recognition that executive officials are exempt from the duty to disclose information by the mere fact of being executive officials. Indeed, the extraordinary character of the exemptions indicates that the presumption inclines heavily against executive secrecy and in favor of disclosure.


When Congress exercises its power of inquiry, the only way for department heads to exempt themselves therefrom is by a valid claim of privilege. They are not exempt by the mere fact that they are department heads. Only one executive official may be exempted from this power – the President on whom executive power is vested, hence, beyond the reach of Congress except through the power of impeachment. It is based on her being the highest official of the executive branch, and the due respect accorded to a co-equal branch of government which is sanctioned by a long-standing custom.

By the same token, members of the Supreme Court are also exempt from this power of inquiry. Unlike the Presidency, judicial power is vested in a collegial body; hence, each member thereof is exempt on the basis not only of separation of powers but also on the fiscal autonomy and the constitutional independence of the judiciary.

Constitutionality of Sec. 1, EO 464

Section 1, in view of its specific reference to Sec. 22 of Art. VI and the absence of any reference to inquiries in aid of legislation, must be construed as limited in its application to appearances of department heads in the question hour contemplated in the provision of said Sec. 22, Art. VI xxx

The requirement then to secure presidential consent under Section 1, limited as it is only to appearances in the question hour, is valid on its face. For under Sec. 22, Art. VI, the appearance of department heads in the question hour is discretionary on their part.

Section 1 cannot, however, be applied to appearances of department heads in inquiries in aid of legislation. Congress is not bound in such instances to respect the refusal of the department head to appear in such inquiry, unless a valid claim of privilege is subsequently made, either by the President herself or by the Executive Secretary.

Validity of Sec. 2 and 3, EO 464

En passant, the Court notes that Section 2(b) of EO 464 virtually states that executive privilege actually covers persons. Such is a misuse of the doctrine. Executive properly invoked in relation to specific categories of information and not to categories of persons.

The claim of executive privilege must be accompanied by specific allegation of basis thereof

Certainly, Congress has the right to know why the executive considers the requested information privileged. It does not suffice to merely declare that the President, or an authorized head of office, has determined that it is so, and that the President has not overturned that determination. Such declaration leaves Congress in the dark on how the requested information could be classified as privileged. That the message is couched in terms that, on first impression, do not seem like a claim of privilege only makes it more pernicious. It threatens to make Congress doubly blind to the question of why the executive branch is not providing it with the information that it has requested.

A claim of privilege, being a claim of exemption from an obligation to disclose information, must, therefore, be clearly asserted xxx

Absent then a statement of the specific basis of a claim of executive privilege, there is no way of determining whether it falls under one of the traditional privileges, or whether, given the circumstances in which it is made, it should be respected xxx

Upon the other hand, Congress must not require the executive to state the reasons for the claim with such particularity as to compel disclosure of the information which the privilege is meant to protect. A useful analogy in determining the requisite degree of particularity would be the privilege against self-incrimination xxx

The claim of privilege under Sec. 3, EO 464 in relation to Sec. 2(b) is thus invalid per se. It is not asserted. It is merely implied. Instead of providing precise and certain reasons for the claim, it merely invokes EO 464, coupled with an announcement that the President has not given her consent. It is woefully insufficient for Congress to determine whether the withholding of information is justified under the circumstances of each case. It severely frustrates the power of inquiry of Congress.

In fine, Section 3 and Section 2(b) of EO 464 must be invalidated.

EO 464 unlawfully delegated authority to the heads of offices in Sec. 2(b) to determine certain information as privileged

Section 2(b) in relation to Section 3 virtually provides that, once the head of office determines that a certain information is privileged, such determination is presumed to bear the President’s authority and has the effect of prohibiting the official from appearing before Congress, subject only to the express pronouncement of the President that it is allowing the appearance of such official. These provisions thus allow the President to authorize claims of privilege by mere silence.

Such presumptive authorization, however, is contrary to the exception nature of the privilege. Executive recognized with respect to information the confidential nature of which is crucial to the fulfillment of the unique role and responsibilities of the executive branch, or in those instances where exemption from disclosure is necessary to the discharge of highly important executive responsibilities. The doctrine of executive privilege is thus premised on the fact that certain informations (sic) must, as a matter of necessity, be kept confidential in pursuit of the public interest. The privilege being, by definition, an exemption from the obligation to disclose information, in this case to Congress, the necessity must be of such high degree as to outweigh the public interest in enforcing that obligation in a particular case.

In light of this highly exceptional nature of the privilege, the Court finds it essential to limit to the President the power to invoke the privilege. She may of course authorize the Executive Secretary to invoke the privilege on her behalf, in which case the Executive Secretary must state that the authority is “By order of the President,” which means that he personally consulted with her. The privilege being an extraordinary power, it must be wielded only by the highest official in the executive hierarchy. In other words, the President may not authorize her subordinates to exercise such power.

How executive privilege should be applied in the case of an official

xxx when an official is being summoned by Congress on a matter which, in his own judgment, might be covered by executive privilege, he must be afforded reasonable time to inform the President or the Executive Secretary of the possible need for invoking the privilege. This is necessary in order to provide the President or the Executive Secretary with fair opportunity to consider whether the matter indeed calls for a claim of executive privilege. If, afer the lapse of that reasonable time, neither the President nor the Executive Secretary invokes the privilege, Congress is no longer bound to respect the failure of the official to appear before Congress and may then opt to avail of the necessary legal means to compel his appearance.

Right to Information

There are, it bears noting, clear distinctions between the right of Congress to information which underlies the power of inquiry and the right of the people to information on matters of public concern. For one, the demand of a citizen for the production of documents pursuant to his right to information does not have the same obligatory force as a subpoena duces tecum issued by Congress. Neither does the right to information grant a citizen the power to exact testimony from government officials. These powers belong only to Congress and not to an individual citizen.

Thus, while Congress is composed of representatives elected by the people, it does not follow, except in a highly qualified sense, that in every exercise of its power of inquiry, the people are exercising their right to information.

To the extent that investigations in aid of legislation are generally conducted in public, however, any executive assistance tending to unduly limit disclosures of information in such investigations necessarily deprives the people of information which, being presumed to be in aid of legislation, is presumed to be a matter of public concern. The citizens are thereby denied access to information which they can use in formulating their own opinions on the matter before Congress – opinions which they can then communicate to their representatives and other governmental officials through various legal means allowed by their freedom of expression xxx

The impairment of the right of the people to information as a consequence of EO 464 is, therefore, in the sense explained above, just as direct as its violation of the legislature’s power of inquiry.

Implementation of EO 464 prior to its publication

While EO 464 applies only to officials of the executive branch, it does not follow that the same is exempt from the need for publication. On the need for publishing even those statutes that do not directly apply to people in genera, Tanada v. Tuvera states: “The term ‘laws’ should refer to all laws and not only to those of general application, for strictly speaking all laws relate to the people in general albeit there are some that do not apply to them directly. An example is a law granting citizenship to a particular individual, like a relative of President Marcos who was decreed instant naturalization. It surely cannot be said that such a law does not affect the public although it unquestionably does not apply directly to all the people. The subject of the law is a matter of public interest which any member of the body politic may question in the political forums or, if he is a proper party, even in courts of justice.

Although the above statement was made in reference to statutes, logic dictates that the challenged order must be covered by the publication requirement. As explained above, EO 464 has a direct effect on the right of the people to information on matters of public concern. It is, therefore, a matter of public interest which members of the body politic may question before this Court. Due process thus requires that the people should have been apprised of this issuance before it was implemented.


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