Judicial Power vs. Legislative Investigation

It is true that in Bengzon, the Court declared that the issue to be investigated was one over which jurisdiction had already been acquired by the Sandiganbayan, and to allow the [Senate Blue Ribbon] Committee to investigate the matter would create the possibility of conflicting judgments; and that the inquiry into the same justiciable controversy would be an encroachment on the exclusive domain of judicial jurisdiction that had set in much earlier.

To the extent that, in the case at bench, there are a number of cases already pending in various courts and administrative bodies involving the petitioners, relative to the alleged sale of unregistered foreign securities, there is a resemblance between this case and Bengzon. However, the similarity ends there.

Central to the Courts ruling in Bengzon -- that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee was without any constitutional mooring to conduct the legislative investigation -- was the Courts determination that the intended inquiry was not in aid of legislation. The Court found that the speech of Senator Enrile, which sought such investigation contained no suggestion of any contemplated legislation; it merely called upon the Senate to look into possible violations of Section 5, Republic Act No. 3019. Thus, the Court held that the requested probe failed to comply with a fundamental requirement of Section 21, Article VI of the Constitution, which states:

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.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court stopped the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee from proceeding with the legislative investigation in that case.

Unfortunately for the petitioners, this distinguishing factual milieu in Bengzon does not obtain in the instant case. P.S. Resolution No. 166 is explicit on the subject and nature of the inquiry to be (and already being) conducted by the respondent Committee, as found in the last three Whereas clauses thereof, viz.: WHEREAS, existing laws including the Securities Regulation Code seem to be inadequate in preventing the sale of unregistered securities and in effectively enforcing the registration rules intended to protect the investing public from fraudulent practices; WHEREAS, the regulatory intervention by the SEC and BSP likewise appears inadequate in preventing the conduct of proscribed activities in a manner that would protect the investing public; WHEREAS, there is a need for remedial legislation to address the situation, having in mind the imposition of proportionate penalties to offending entities and their directors, officers and representatives among other additional regulatory measures.

The unmistakable objective of the investigation, as set forth in the said resolution, exposes the error in petitioners allegation that the inquiry, as initiated in a privilege speech by the very same Senator Enrile, was simply to denounce the illegal practice committed by a foreign bank in selling unregistered foreign securities x x x. This fallacy is made more glaring when the Supreme Court considers that, at the conclusion of his privilege speech, Senator Enrile urged the Senate to immediately conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, so as to prevent the occurrence of a similar fraudulent activity in the future.

Indeed, the mere filing of a criminal or an administrative complaint before a court or a quasi-judicial body should not automatically bar the conduct of legislative investigation. Otherwise, it would be extremely easy to subvert any intended inquiry by Congress through the convenient ploy of instituting a criminal or an administrative complaint. Surely, the exercise of sovereign legislative authority, of which the power of legislative inquiry is an essential component, cannot be made subordinate to a criminal or an administrative investigation.

As succinctly stated in the landmark case Arnault v. Nazareno: [T]he 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 affect 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 possess it. (G.R. No. 167173; December 27, 2007)

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