“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. - Oscar Wilde

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Virgilio O. Garcillano vs. The House of Representative Committees on Public Information et al.

 G.R. No. 170338     December 23, 2008
Nachura, J.     En Banc

G.R. No. 179275     December 23, 2008
Nachura, J.     En Banc


Tapes ostensibly containing a wiretapped conversation purportedly between the President of the Philippines and a high-ranking official of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) surfaced. The tapes, notoriously referred to as the "Hello Garci" tapes, allegedly contained the President’s instructions to COMELEC Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to manipulate in her favor results of the 2004 presidential elections. These recordings were to become the subject of heated legislative hearings conducted separately by committees of both Houses of Congress.

In one of the Senate’s plenary session, a lengthy debate ensued when Senator Richard Gordon aired his concern on the possible transgression of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 4200 if the body were to conduct a legislative inquiry on the matter. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago delivered a privilege speech, articulating her considered view that the Constitution absolutely bans the use, possession, replay or communication of the contents of the "Hello Garci" tapes. However, she recommended a legislative investigation into the role of the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP), the Philippine National Police or other government entities in the alleged illegal wiretapping of public officials.

Petitioners Santiago Ranada and Oswaldo Agcaoili, retired justices of the Court of Appeals, filed before this Court a Petition for Prohibition with Prayer for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction, docketed as G.R. No. 179275, seeking to bar the Senate from conducting its scheduled legislative inquiry. They argued in the main that the intended legislative inquiry violates R.A. No. 4200 and Section 3, Article III of the Constitution.


            Whether or not the publication of the Rules of Procedure in the website of the Senate, or in pamphlet form available at the Senate, is sufficient compliance of the publication requirement prior to the effectivity of laws and other issuances.


The Supreme Court (hereafter Court) dismissed the petition in G.R. No. 170338 but granted the petition in G.R. No. 179275. A writ of prohibition was issued enjoining the Senate of the Republic of the Philippines and/or any of its committees from conducting any inquiry in aid of legislation centered on the "Hello Garci" tapes.

The Court held that the Senate cannot be allowed to continue with the conduct of the questioned legislative inquiry without duly published rules of procedure, in clear derogation of the constitutional requirement.

Section 21, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution explicitly provides that "[t]he 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 respondents in G.R. No. 179275 admitted in their pleadings and even on oral argument that the Senate Rules of Procedure Governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation had been published in newspapers of general circulation only in 1995 and in 2006. With respect to the present Senate of the 14th Congress, however, of which the term of half of its members commenced on June 30, 2007, no effort was undertaken for the publication of these rules when they first opened their session.

The phrase "duly published rules of procedure" requires the Senate of every Congress to publish its rules of procedure governing inquiries in aid of legislation because every Senate is distinct from the one before it or after it.

Respondents justify their non-observance of the constitutionally mandated publication by arguing that the rules have never been amended since 1995 and, despite that, they are published in booklet form available to anyone for free, and accessible to the public at the Senate’s internet web page.

The Court did not agree. The absence of any amendment to the rules cannot justify the Senate’s defiance of the clear and unambiguous language of Section 21, Article VI of the Constitution.

Justice Carpio’s response to the same argument raised by the respondents is illuminating:

The publication of the Rules of Procedure in the website of the Senate, or in pamphlet form available at the Senate, is not sufficient under the Tañada v. Tuvera ruling which requires publication either in the Official Gazette or in a newspaper of general circulation. The Rules of Procedure even provide that the rules "shall take effect seven (7) days after publication in two (2) newspapers of general circulation," precluding any other form of publication. Publication in accordance with Tañada is mandatory to comply with the due process requirement because the Rules of Procedure put a person’s liberty at risk. A person who violates the Rules of Procedure could be arrested and detained by the Senate.

The invocation by the respondents of the provisions of R.A. No. 8792, otherwise known as the Electronic Commerce Act of 2000, to support their claim of valid publication through the internet is all the more incorrect. R.A. 8792 considers an electronic data message or an electronic document as the functional equivalent of a written document only for evidentiary purposes. In other words, the law merely recognizes the admissibility in evidence (for their being the original) of electronic data messages and/or electronic documents. It does not make the internet a medium for publishing laws, rules and regulations.

Given this discussion, the respondent Senate Committees, therefore, could not, in violation of the Constitution, use its unpublished rules in the legislative inquiry subject of these consolidated cases. The conduct of inquiries in aid of legislation by the Senate has to be deferred until it shall have caused the publication of the rules, because it can do so only "in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure."

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