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Arnault v. Nazareno, G.R. No.

L-3820, July 18, 1950
I. THE FACTS The Senate investigated the purchase by the government of two parcels of land, known as Buenavista and Tambobong estates. An intriguing question that the Senate sought to resolve was the apparent irregularity of the government’s payment to one Ernest Burt, a non -resident American citizen, of the total sum of Php1.5 million for his alleged interest in the two estates that only amounted to Php20,000.00, which he seemed to have forfeited anyway long before. The Senate sought to determine who were responsible for and who benefited from the transaction at the expense of the government. Petitioner Jean Arnault, who acted as agent of Ernest Burt in the subject transactions, was one of the witnesses summoned by the Senate to its hearings. In the course of the investigation, the petitioner repeatedly refused to divulge the name of the person to whom he gave the amount of Php440,000.00, which he withdrew from the Php1.5 million proceeds pertaining to Ernest Burt. Arnault was therefore cited in contempt by the Senate and was committed to the custody of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms for imprisonment until he answers the questions. He thereafter filed a petition for habeas corpus directly with the Supreme Court questioning the validity of his detention. II. THE ISSUE 1. Did the Senate have the power to punish the petitioner for contempt for refusing to reveal the name of the person to whom he gave the Php440,000.00? 2. Did the Senate have the authority to commit petitioner for contempt for a term beyond its period of legislative session? 3. May the petitioner rightfully invoke his right against self-incrimination? III. THE RULING [The Court DENIED the petition for habeas corpus filed by Arnault.] 1. Yes, the Senate had the power to punish the petitioner for contempt for refusing to reveal the name of the person to whom he gave the Php440,000.00. Although there is no provision in the [1935] Constitution expressly investing either House of Congress with power to make investigations and exact testimony to the end that it may exercise its legislative functions as to be implied. In other words, the power of inquiry – with process to enforce it – is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function. A legislative body cannot legislate wisely or effectively in the absence of information respecting the conditions which the legislation is intended to effect or change; and where the legislative body does not itself possess the requisite information – which is not infrequently true – recourse must be had to others who do possess it. Experience has shown that mere requests for such information are often unavailing, and also that information which is volunteered is not always accurate or complete; so some means of compulsion is essential to obtain what is needed.

and it is obvious that the name of the person to whom the witness gave the P440. from all the circumstances. obedience. and that he gave the [P440. it is not enough for the witness to say that the answer will incriminate him as he is not the sole judge of his liability. the validity of which is not challenged by the petitioner. we find no basis upon which to sustain his claim that to reveal the name of that person might incriminate him. this is not and cannot be disputed. the question whether testimony is privileged is for the determination of the Court. The contention is not that the question is impertinent to the subject of the inquiry but that it has no relation or materiality to any proposed legislation. to wit: Generally. it is the province of the court to determine whether a direct . YES. We find no sound reason to limit the power of the legislative body to punish for contempt to the end of every session and not to the end of the last session terminating the existence of that body. But the resolution of commitment here in question was adopted by the Senate. Since according to the witness himself the transaction was legal. In fact. the Senate had the authority to commit petitioner for contempt for a term beyond its period of legislative session. and from the whole case. what is required is that is that it be pertinent to the matter under inquiry. NO. There is no limit as to time to the Senate’s power to punish for contempt in cases where that power may constitutionally be exerted as in the present case. It is but logical to say that the power of self-preservation is coexistent with the life to be preserved. 3.000 involved in said deal is pertinent to that determination — it is in fact the very thing sought to be determined. to its process may be enforced by the committee by imprisonment. At least.xxx xxx xxx [W]e find that the question for the refusal to answer which the petitioner was held in contempt by the Senate is pertinent to the matter under inquiry. as well as from his general conception of the relations of the witness. 8. . The very reason for the exercise of the power to punish for contempt is to enable the legislative body to perform its constitutional function without impediment or obstruction. Upon the facts thus developed. To deny to such committees the power of inquiry with process to enforce it would be to defeat the very purpose for which that the power is recognized in the legislative body as an essential and appropriate auxiliary to is legislative function. The danger of self-incrimination must appear reasonable and real to the court. Legislative functions may be and in practice are performed during recess by duly constituted committees charged with the duty of performing investigations or conducting hearing relative to any proposed legislation. requires the Special Committee. xxx xxx xxx If the subject of investigation before the committee is within the range of legitimate legislative inquiry and the proposed testimony of the witness called relates to that subject. 2.000. . which is a continuing body and which does not cease exist upon the periodical dissolution of the Congress . We have already indicated that it is not necessary for the legislative body to show that every question propounded to a witness is material to any proposed or possible legislation. among other things. to determine the parties responsible for the Buenavista and Tambobong estates deal. There is no conflict of authorities on the applicable rule.00] to a representative of Burt in compliance with the latter’s verbal instruction. Senate Resolution No. the petitioner may NOT rightfully invoke his right against self-incrimination.

.answer to a question may criminate or not. The witness cannot assert his privilege by reason of some fanciful excuse. . It is the province of the trial judge to determine from all the facts and circumstances of the case whether the witness is justified in refusing to answer. unless he is at the same time liable to prosecution and punishment for such violation. for protection against an imaginary danger. or to secure immunity to a third person. The fact that the testimony of a witness may tend to show that he has violated the law is not sufficient to entitle him to claim the protection of the constitutional provision against self-incrimination. A witness is not relieved from answering merely on his own declaration that an answer might incriminate him. but rather it is for the trial .