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Supreme Court upholds Senate probe on Dela Paz

Posted in Congress, PNP, Senate, Supreme Court Decisions by Erineus on February 18, 2009

The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee has the authority to conduct an inquiry into the Oct. 11, 2008 Moscow airport incident where former Police Director Eliseo D. dela Paz was held for failure to declare some R9.8- million worth of euros found in his luggage and in his possession.

Dela Paz, who retired from the service on Oct. 9, 2008 or two days before his arrest in Moscow where he and several police officers attended an assembly of the International Criminal Police Organization, and his wife, Maria Fe C. dela Paz, challenged the authority of the Senate to inquire into the incident and to stop his arrest by the Senate’s Sergeant-at-Arms on orders of Committee Chairperson Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago.

In a unanimous full court resolution written by Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura, the SC said the Constitution grants full discretionary authority to the Houses of Congress to formulate, adopt, and promulgate their own rules. The exercise of this power is generally exempt from judicial supervision, except on a clear showing of such arbitrary and improvident use of the power as will constitute denial of due process.

The SC said the challenge to the jurisdiction of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee to inquire into the issue involving the arrest of Dela Paz and the confiscation of the undeclared euros “partakes of the nature of a political question which, under the Constitution, is to be decided by the people in their sovereign capacity, or in regard to which full discretionary authority has been delegated to the legislative or executive branch of government.”

The Committee on Foreign Relations has jurisdiction over “all matters relating to the relations of the Philippines with other nations…” and “a reading of the provision unmistakably shows that the investigation of the Moscow incident involving petitioners (spouses Dela Paz) is well within the respondent Committee’s jurisdiction,” the SC said.

It noted that the Senate has decided that the inquiry will be jointly conducted by the Foreign Relations Committee and the Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations and the latter committee “may conduct investigations on all matters pertaining to malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance in office by officers and employees of the government…” and “it is beyond cavil that the Blue Ribbon Committee can investigate Gen. Dela Paz…”

At the same time, the SC said that Senator Santiago’s order for the arrest of Dela Paz was signed by 10 senators with the Senate President approving it. It pointed out that when Dela Paz appeared during the Nov. 15, 2008 Senate investigations, the arrest order became ineffectual.

Dela Paz was released by Moscow authorities but the Russian government confiscated the euros found in his possession.

Two days after Dela Paz’s arrival in Manila, the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee held its first hearing.

Dela Paz challenged the jurisdiction of the committee to investigate. When Dela Paz failed to attend, Senator Santiago ordered his arrest.

Dela Paz and his wife challenged the arrest order and the Senate’s inquiry in a petition filed with the SC. He claimed that the Moscow incident does not involve state to state relations to warrant an investigation.

But the SC said: “The Moscow incident could create ripples in the relations between the Philippines and Russia. Gen. Dela Paz went to Moscow in an official capacity, as member of the Philippine delegation… carrying a huge amount of ‘public’ money ostensibly to cover the expenses to be incurred by the delegation.”

“The matter affects Philippine international obligations. We take judicial notice of the fact that the Philippines is a state party to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. The two conventions contain provisions dealing with the movement of considerable foreign currency across borders,” it said.

“The Moscow incident would reflect on our country’s compliance with the obligations required of state parties under these conventions. Thus, the respondent committee can properly inquire into this matter, particularly as to the source and purpose of the funds discovered in Moscow as this would involve the Philippines’ commitments under these conventions,” it added.

PNP officials ready to face Senate probe anew

By Aris R. Ilagan

Philippine National Police officials are ready to appear before any congressional investigation into the case of a former police director held by airport authorities in Moscow for carrying more than the allowed limit of foreign currency last October after the Supreme Court ruled the Senate has authority to investigate the incident, a PNP spokesman said yesterday.

In an interview, PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Nicanor Bartolome said police officials are ready to face a Senate investigation on the seizure by Russian customs authorities of some 105,000 euros from the group of then retiring police officer Eliseo de la Paz, while about to leave Moscow.

“We will appear as we have appeared before,” Bartolome said. “We were there in full force and we will appear again if required by Senate authorities.”

Bartolome was reacting to the Supreme Court ruling dismissing the petition of Dela Paz and his wife, Marie Fe, questioning the Senate’s authority to investigate the incident and to order their arrest after they refused to show up during the first days of the hearing last October.

De la Paz was temporarily held by Russian authorities after he failed to the declare the 105,000 euros he brought into Russia while attending the 77th International Police Assembly in St. Petersburg in Russia.

The controversy triggered an investigation on the source of the huge amount of money which was confiscated by Russian authorities from De la Paz, former PNP comptroller who retired from the police service last October 9.

Among the many official explanations of where the money came from, PNP authorities claimed the money was part of the PNP intelligence fund for the purchase of surveillance equipment in Russia.

PNP chief Director General Jesus Verzosa led a group of police officers, some of whom were among those who attended the Interpol conference, that appeared twice before the Senate Foreign Relations committee chaired by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago .

Santiago questioned the legality in the disbursement process and the source of the huge amount brought by De la Paz’s group to Russia.

The PNP has yet to receive from Russian customs authorities the 105,000 euros confiscated from Dela Paz in Moscow.

By Rey G. Panaligan