ACCEDING to the appeal of the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo finally revoked Executive Order 464, an order already deemed “toothless” after the Supreme Court invalidated its constitutionally infirm provisions almost two years ago.
With the withdrawal of EO 464, Malacañang also announced yesterday it would no longer invoke Memorandum Circular 108, which the Arroyo administration issued in July 2006 after the High Court struck down the executive order. Virtually an offspring of EO 464, the memorandum circular mandated that department heads and other officials of the executive branch invited to congressional investigations must first know the “possible needed statute” which prompted the need for the inquiry, the subject matter, and the questions to be asked.
In her statement, Arroyo said EO 464, issued at the height of the “Hello, Garci” controversy in July 2005 requiring all executive officials to secure consent from her office before appearing in congressional hearings, may no longer be invoked. Arroyo also instructed officials “to abide by the Constitution, existing laws, and jurisprudence when invited to legislative inquiries.”
The scrapping of EO 464 was one of the calls issued by the CBCP in a pastoral letter last week that also stopped short of asking for Arroyo’s resignation. Sans the questionable order, the Catholic bishops expressed hope that whistleblowers or anyone who has knowledge of corruption in government would be able to freely testify before any appropriate investigating body.
Malacañang’s decision to withdraw EO 464, and later MC 108, was preceded by an unannounced meeting of Arroyo, Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chairman Romulo Neri, and other Cabinet officials with at least seven bishops in Pasig City.
But Archbishop Oscar Cruz, a staunch critic of Arroyo and one of a handful of Church leaders who have supported calls for her to resign, said he was not aware of such a meeting. “I guess you by now already know what took place. I would not know more than you do,” Cruz told the PCIJ.
The Dagupan archbishop was also less than pleased with Malacañang’s move. Interviewed on ANC, Cruz said that instead of going into the legality of EO 464, the people should look into the behavioral pattern of the administration. “This is an administration that will not give up its power,” he said.
“Even without EO 464, even if officials involved in the (national broadband network) deal were to talk to the Senate, I’m still withholding my trust in the present administration,” explained Cruz. “Because credibility is not one of its assets.”
News of EO 464′s revocation has generated similar adverse reactions. University of the Philippines law professor Harry Roque Jr. called the administration’s move superfluous. “Walang nangyari (Nothing happened),” he said.
“Revoking EO 464 is a political ploy to show that Arroyo is cooperating,” Roque stressed, arguing that executive privilege is independent of the repealed order; which means that (former socioeconomic and planning secretary Romulo) Neri, or any executive official, may still exhaust such privilege, with or without EO 464.
Former UP law dean Raul Pangalangan said Arroyo is engaging in “presidential double-talk” because even if she cancelled the wholesale gag order on her cabinet secretaries, they can still invoke executive privilege that would “allow them to stonewall on damning questions” asked of them during legislative inquiries.
Lawyer Nepomuceno Malaluan, co-convenor of the Access to Information Network (ATIN) that is lobbying for the passage of the freedom of information law, added that the administration is “engaged in trickery” when it is the executive privilege that must also be waived.
Since EO 464 was essentially declared unconstitutional, the National Union of Progressive Lawyers (NUPL) argued that there is nothing for Arroyo to revoke, and statements by executive officials about negotiating the order’s revocation with the CBCP were meant to mislead the bishops.
“We believe the essence of the CBCP statement is not the revocation of EO 464, but rather a demand against the abuse of executive privilege and the need for President Arroyo to allow her subordinates to testify in congressional investigation,” said Neri Javier Colmenares, NUPL secretary-general.
Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan concurred, saying that unless Arroyo orders Neri to testify in the Senate, the revocation of Executive Order 464 is just another attempt to make it appear that she heeded the people’s clamor for truth and public accountability.”
Malacañang should publicly order Neri to withdraw the Supreme Court petition and face the Senate hearings. That’s the order that matters. If it fails to do so, then the scrapping of EO 464 is an empty gesture that is all for show. It will be another attempt at deceiving our people.” he said.