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There are three branches of the government legislative, executive

and judicial. Each department of the government has exclusive


cognizance of the matters within its jurisdiction, and is supreme within
its own sphere. But it does not follow from the fact that the three
powers

are

to

be

kept

separate

and

distinct

that

the Constitution intended them to be absolutely unrestrained and


independent of each other. The Constitution has provided for an
elaborate system of checks and balances to secure coordination in the
workings of the various departments of the government.
What is congressional oversight?
Broadly defined, the power of oversight embraces all activities
undertaken by Congress to enhance its understanding of and influence
over the implementation of legislation it has enacted. Clearly, oversight
concerns post-enactment measures undertaken by Congress: (a) to
monitor bureaucratic compliance with program objectives, (b) to
determine

whether

agencies

are

properly

administered,

(c)

to

eliminate executive waste and dishonesty, (d) to prevent executive


usurpation of legislative authority, and (e) to assess executive
conformity with the congressional perception of public interest. The
power of oversight has been held to be intrinsic in the grant of
legislative power itself and integral to the checks and balances
inherent in a democratic system of government.
What are the categories of congressional oversight functions?
The acts done by Congress purportedly in the exercise of its oversight
powers

may

(1) supervision,

be

divided

which

into

connotes

three
a

categories,

continuing

and

namely:
informed

awareness on the part of a congressional committee regarding


executive operations in a given administrative area; (2)scrutiny,
primarily intended to determine economy and efficiency of the
operation of government activities, exercised through budget hearings,
the

question

hour

and

the

power

of

confirmation;

and

(2) investigation, which is also known as the inquiry in aid of


legislation.
What

is

the

basis

the

power

of

inquiry

in

aid

of

legislation?
The Congressional power of inquiry is expressly recognized in Section
21 of Article VI of the Constitution:
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.
Even without this express Constitutional provision, the power of
inquiry is inherent in the power to legislate. The power of inquiry, with
process to enforce it, is grounded on the necessity of 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.
Why is inquiry in aid of legislation important under the
separation of powers?

Under the separation of powers, Congress has the right to obtain


information from any source even from officials of departments
and agencies in the executive branch. It is this very separation that
makes the congressional right to obtain information from the executive
so essential, if the functions of the Congress as the elected
representatives of the people are adequately to be carried out.
Is the Supreme Court covered by the Congressional power of
inquiry?
No. Members of the Supreme Court are exempt from this power of
inquiry on the basis not only of separation of powers but also on the
fiscal autonomy and the constitutional independence of the judiciary.
Is the power of inquiry subject to judicial review?
Yes. It may be subjected to judicial review pursuant to the Supreme
Courts

certiorari

powers

under

Section

1, Article

VIII of

the Constitution. Since the right of Congress to conduct an inquiry in


aid of legislation is, in theory, no less susceptible to abuse than
executive or judicial power.
Is the President covered by the power of inquiry?
No. The President, on whom executive power is vested, is beyond the
reach of Congress, except through the power of impeachment. It is
based on the Presidents position as 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.

Does the power to inquire extend to officials in the executive


branch?
Yes. The power of inquiry is broad enough to cover officials of the
executive branch. The power of inquiry is 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. Since Congress has
authority to inquire into the operations of the executive branch, it
would be incongruous to hold that the power of inquiry does not
extend to executive officials who are the most familiar with and
informed on executive operations.
Are there limitations to this power? If yes, what are these
limitations?
Yes. As now contained in the 1987 Constitution (Section 21, Article
VI), the power of Congress to investigate is circumscribed by three
limitations, namely: (a) it must be in aid of its legislative functions, (b)
it must be conducted in accordance with duly published rules of
procedure, and (c) the persons appearing therein are afforded their
constitutional rights, including the right to be represented by counsel
and the right against self-incrimination.
In addition, even where the inquiry is in aid of legislation, there are
still recognized exemptions to the power of inquiry, which exemptions
fall under the rubric of executive privilege.
What is executive privilege?

Executive privilege is not a clear or unitary concept, although it has


been defined as the power of the Government to withhold
information from the public, the courts, and the Congress or
the right of the President and high-level executive branch officers
to withhold information from Congress, the courts, and ultimately the
public.
Does executive privilege refer to persons?
No. Executive privilege is properly invoked in relation to specific
categories of information and not to categories of persons. 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.
What matters are covered by executive privilege?
The matters covered under executive privilege include: (1)
Information

between

inter-government

agencies

prior

to

the

conclusion of treaties and executive agreements; (2) Presidential


conversations,

correspondences,

and

discussions

in

closed-door

Cabinet meetings; and (3) Matters affecting national security and


public order.
How is this invoked?
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, after 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.
Is an implied claim of executive privilege valid?
No. A claim of privilege, being a claim of exemption from an obligation
to disclose information, must be clearly asserted. An implied claim of
privilege is invalid per se. The validity of claims of privilege must be
assessed on a case to case basis, examining the ground invoked
therefore, and the particular circumstances surrounding it.
What is the Question Hour?
In the context of a parliamentary system of government, the question
hour is a period of confrontation initiated by Parliament to hold the
Prime Minister and the other ministers accountable for their acts and
the operation of the government, corresponding to what is known in
Britain

as

the

question

period.

The

framers

of

the 1987

Constitution removed the mandatory nature of such appearance during


the question hour in the present Constitution so as to conform more
fully to a system of separation of powers. This is provided in Article VI,
Section 22 of the Constitution:
SECTION 22. The heads of departments may upon their own initiative,
with the consent of the President, or upon the request of either House,

as the rules of each House shall provide, appear before and be heard
by such House on any matter pertaining to their departments. Written
questions shall be submitted to the President of the Senate or the
Speaker of the House of Representatives at least three days before
their scheduled appearance. Interpellations shall not be limited to
written questions, but may cover matters related thereto. When the
security of the State or the public interest so requires and the
President so states in writing, the appearance shall be conducted in
executive session.
Is the power of inquiry in aid of legislation the same as the
Question Hour?
No. Section 21 (inquiry in aid of legislation) and Section 22 (question
hour)

of

Article

VI

of

the Constitution are

closely

related

and

complementary to each other, but they do not pertain to the same


power of Congress. One specifically relates to the power to conduct
inquiries in aid of legislation, the aim of which is to elicit information
that may be used for legislation, while the other pertains to the power
to conduct a question hour, the objective of which is to obtain
information in pursuit of Congress oversight function. While
attendance was meant to be discretionary in the question hour, it was
compulsory in inquiries in aid of legislation.
If a person is cited in contempt and imprisoned in relation to
the Congressional exercise of inquiry in aid of legislation, how
long will the imprisonment last?
This is tackled by the Supreme Court in Arnault vs. Nazareno, where
the petitioner argued that the Senate lacks authority to commit him

for contempt for a term beyond its period of legislative session.


According to the Supreme Court:
That investigation has not been completed because of the refusal of
the petitioner as a witness to answer certain questions pertinent to the
subject of the inquiry. The Senate has empowered the committee to
continue the investigation during the recess. By refusing to answer the
questions, the witness has obstructed the performance by the Senate
of its legislative function, and the Senate has the power to remove the
obstruction by compelling the witness to answer the questions thru
restraint of his liberty until he shall have answered them. That power
subsists as long as the Senate, which is a continuing body, persists in
performing the particular legislative function involved. To hold that it
may punish the witness for contempt only during the session in which
investigation was begun, would be to recognize the right of the Senate
to perform its function but at the same time to deny to it an essential
and appropriate means for its performance. Aside from this, if we
should hold that the power to punish for contempt terminates upon the
adjournment of the session, the Senate would have to resume the
investigation at the next and succeeding sessions and repeat the
contempt proceedings against the witness until the investigation is
completed-an absurd, unnecessary, and vexatious procedure, which
should be avoided.
As against the foregoing conclusion it is argued for the petitioner that
the power may be abusively and oppressively exerted by the Senate
which might keep the witness in prison for life. But we must assume
that the Senate will not be disposed to exert the power beyond its

proper bounds. And if, contrary to this assumption, proper limitations


are disregarded, the portals of this Court are always open to those
whose rights might thus be transgressed.