Photo Courtesy of Rappler

The House Committee on Legislative Franchises today ordered the release of SMNI anchors Jeffrey Celis and Lorraine Badoy-Partosa from detention based on humanitarian grounds and in the spirit of the Yuletide season.

Committee Chair Rep. Gustavo Tambunting said the release order was unanimously agreed upon by committee members in meeting held to discuss the appeal of Celis for liberty in time for the celebration of Christmas.

Tambunting pointed out, however, that the release order has nothing to do with the petition of writ of habeas corpus filed by the spouses of Celis and Badoy before the Supreme Court.

“The committee decided to release Celis and Badoy purely on humanitarian grounds. Tomorrow is the last day of session and we do not want Mr. Celis and Ms. Badoy to spend their Christmas and New Year in detention,” Tambunting explained.

“The habeas corpus filed before the Supreme Court was never discussed during the meeting, and has no bearing in our decision,” he added.

In defending their move to cite the SMNI anchors in contempt, Tambunting maintained that the Supreme Court  has held that Committees of Congress have the power to conduct investigations or inquiries in aid of legislation, and to exercise its power of oversight.

“Article VI, Section 21 grants the power of inquiry not only to the Senate and the House of Representatives, but also to any of their respective committees. Clearly, there is a direct conferral of power to the committees,” he explained.

Tambunting cited the Supreme Court decision in the case of Sabio vs. Gordon (G.R. No. 174177, 17 October 2006), which stated that “The conferral of the legislative power of inquiry upon any committee of Congress must carry with it all powers necessary and proper for its effective discharge. Otherwise, Article VI, Section 21 will be meaningless. The indispensability and usefulness of the power of contempt in a legislative inquiry is underscored in a catena of cases, foreign and local.”

Tambunting said that corollary to the power to conduct inquiries and exact testimony from witnesses to carry out its legislative functions, the House of Representatives has the inherent power to punish a witness for contempt.

“When, without valid reason, a person refuses to appear before an inquiry, or a witness refuses to answer a question propounded, the Congress has the power to compel such person to appear before it, to direct the witness to disclose information related to the subject of the inquiry, and to punish any person for any unjustifiable refusal in doing so,” he pointed out.

In Arnault v. Nazareno (G.R. No. L-3820, 18 July 1950), Tambunting said the Supreme Court stated that the 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.

“By refusing to appear or to answer questions, the person obstructs the performance by Congress of its legislative function. Thus, Congress has the power to remove the obstruction by compelling the person to appear before it or the witness to answer the questions through restraint of liberty until the witness shall have answered such questions,” the House chair explained.

“Clearly, our order detaining Mr. Celis and Ms. Badoy-Partosa was done within the bounds of the Constitution and existing Rules of the House of Representatives,” he added.

Tambunting  said a motion to release the two anchors was entertained during the committee hearing today after it was noted that Celis also complied with the demand to name his source of fake news.

The committee also took note of Celis’ letter to the committee, wherein he offered  his profuse apology and appealed from clemency to be released from detention.

“All in all, we have taken in cognizance Mr. Celis’ apology, his admission that what he mentioned was fake news, and his earnest appeal to be released to attend to his ailing mother,” Tambunting said.

“We are ordering the release of Mr. Celis and Ms. Badoy-Partosa on humanitarian grounds and in the spirit of the Yuletide season. No more, no less,” he added.