, October 5, 2005
(STAR) By Aurea Calica - Malacañang is also open to a dialogue with the Senate on the controversial Executive Order No. 464 but President Arroyo is cool to meeting with Senate President Franklin Drilon and wants the Supreme Court to rule on the validity of her directive.

Presidential Political Adviser Gabriel Claudio said the Palace has received a copy of the senators’ resolution appealing for an end to the current row through a dialogue approved last Monday night.

"We recognize their good intentions. We appreciate the initiative and we are always open and ready to study their proposed dialogue," he said.

Talks between the Senate and House majority floor leaders with Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita could start to resolve the row without the need to involve Mrs. Arroyo, Drilon and Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., Claudio said.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye was more direct yesterday. "Yes, we are open to dialogue but we demand proof of sincerity before we sit down and talk," he said.

Bunye reiterated the Palace’s request for the release of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, who had remained in Senate custody since Sept. 21 for refusing to answer legislators’ questions on the government’s contract with American lobby firm Venable LLP.

While the Palace welcomed a dialogue with the Senate, Claudio said Mrs. Arroyo is standing firm on her position on EO 464 — which bars public officials, military and police officers from appearing in congressional inquiries without prior Malacañang permission — explaining that questions on its legality would have to be decided by the Supreme Court.

"I am not saying that this can block any talks with the Senate but there is already a petition filed before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of EO 464. If there will be talks between the Executive and the Legislative, then we cannot avoid talking about the validity of the order, so maybe it would be better if we just wait for the decision of the Supreme Court," Claudio said.

"Anyway, the interaction between the Palace and the Senate continues so the situation is not that gloomy, we will cooperate with regard to legislative hearings on important bills," he said.

Claudio added it would be difficult for Mrs. Arroyo to sit down and talk with Drilon due to the controversies involving him.

Bunye had earlier accused Drilon of "setting up" Mrs. Arroyo by persuading her to apologize for her "lapse in judgment" in calling an election official during the presidential vote count last year and then using her apology and alleged loss of credibility as a reason to call for her ouster.

He also alleged that Drilon was plotting her removal through a series of legislative investigations purportedly to unmask corruption.

In a privilege speech last Monday, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago accused Drilon and former President Corazon Aquino of plotting to oust Mrs. Arroyo by unconstitutional means, including assassination.

Claudio added that work on urgent pieces of legislation such as the administration’s 2006 budget and the anti-terrorism bill could still continue despite the impasse over EO 464.

The Senate vowed to fast-track the passage of such bills while Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Cabinet officials were instructed to attend hearings on important measures.

Officials attended Senate hearings last Friday and yesterday on various bills.

Claudio said this disproved accusations that the Palace was trying to restrict Congress’ oversight powers. "So, in spite of EO 464, the President has given the consent to Cabinet members and other officials of the government to attend committee hearings for the purpose of legislation."

Bunye said the "perceived rift would not have come this far if some of our legislators simply drew the line between responsible legislation and irresponsible politicking."

"We are open and ready to consider democratic rules of engagement that will uphold the dignity of officials and public servants, establish mutually-agreed standards of media coverage, delimit issues only to those necessary in aid of legislation, protect information vital to national security, and most of all, serve the paramount public interest," he said.

Bunye said the Senate could prove its sincere desire for dialogue by releasing Gonzales and making a commitment that future Senate inquiries would not be abused to undermine the administration.

Malacañang has complained that Gonzales was treated shabbily when senators grilled him on the Venable contract, which lawmakers said was inimical to the country’s interest because it could allow a foreign power to meddle in the Philippines’ internal affairs.

That prompted Mrs. Arroyo to issue EO 464, restricting officials from attending Senate inquiries.

Bunye had earlier accused Drilon of conducting legislative inquiries "to weaken the President and eventually to oust her." The Senate investigations are meant to help legislators craft laws, but Bunye said they were "in aid of destabilization."

Allies of the President in the House called on Drilon to resign or go on leave to give way to an investigation of his alleged involvement in moves to oust Mrs. Arroyo.

Davao del Sur Rep. Douglas Cagas said a resignation "would show his sensitivity or delicadeza (sense of propriety) to the issue confronting him."

"We believe Drilon would not want himself to be accused of trying to influence the outcome of the probe. It would be the height of statesmanship if he resigns from his post to give way to an impartial probe," said Antique Rep. Exequiel Javier.

"Since he will be on leave as Senate president, he will have enough time to defend himself from the allegations leveled against him," said Bacolod City Rep. Monico Puentevella. — With Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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