Two senators on Monday assured the public that the law granting Philippine National Police (PNP) officials the authority to issue subpoenas has sufficient safeguards to prevent it from being abused and be used as a tool to infringe on the Constitutional rights of the people.
Republic Act 10973 — which amends R.A. 6975 or the “Department of the Interior and Local Government Act of 1990” — grants the PNP Chief, along with the Director and the Deputy Director for Administration of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), the authority to issue subpoenas and subpoenas duces tecum.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed the law on March 1, but a copy of the law was only distributed to media on March 9.
“The subpoena shall state the nature and purpose of the investigation, shall be directed to the person whose attendance is required, and in the case of a subpoena duces tecum, it shall also contain a reasonable description of the books, documents, or things demanded which must be relevant to the investigation,” the law said.
In a television interview, Senator Panfilo Lacson said that among the safeguards instituted in the law is the limiting of authority to issue subpoenas to only three persons.
“One of the safeguards that we instituted is that we limited the authority to only three persons, the Chief PNP, the Director of CIDG, and his Deputy Director for Administration. The reason being, what if the CPNP and the CIDG director are both out-of-town or out of the country? Then most probably, or on all occasions, the DDA of the CIDG would be present because he will be the one attending to the office,” he said.
Lacson said these PNP officials can issue a subpoena to compel possible witnesses, or even suspects, to appear in the conduct of a criminal investigation.
“But not to anyone but to a particular person they need to be present during an investigation,” said Lacson, the principal author and sponsor of the law.
He likewise pointed out that a subpoena is just a writ summoning a person “to appear” before an investigator.
“There’s no coercive power in an invitation. Precisely, we give the PNP the power to subpoena to enable them to compel the person being the subject of an investigation whether as a witness or possible respondent to appear… just to appear,” the former PNP chief-turned senator said.
The person subpoenaed may even refuse to give a statement, he added.
“The Bill of Rights is still enforced and in effect, let’s not forget that. And the person has the right not to give his statement in an investigation. He (or she) has to appear with a lawyer,” the senator said.
“A statement taken by an investigator without the presence of counsel is invalid. It cannot be used as evidence against anybody for that matter so a lawyer must be present during the conduct of the investigation,” Lacson explained.
The courts can also be asked to intervene, both in the issuance of the subpoena or if a person disregards the subpoena, he said.
In the case of a person disregarding a subpoena, he said the PNP or either of the top two officials of the CIDG may file for indirect contempt before the Regional Trial Courts.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that the law prohibits delegating the power to issue subpoena to other police officials other that the three officials expressly provided in RA 10973.
He said that while there may be some reservations on the possible effects of the law, the law itself would “lead to better investigation,” noting that other government bodies have the power to issue subpoenas long ago.
The two Chambers of Congress and the National Bureau of Investigation are among the investigating bodies that use subpoenas to gather information, while judges have long used subpoenas in court proceedings.
Drilon said that as in all other laws, what is important is for the public to always remain vigilant so that the law would not be abused by those tasked to implement it. (PNA)
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