Petitioners in G.R. No. 179275 seek to disallow the Senate to continue with the conduct of the questioned legislative inquiry on the issue of “Hello Garci” tapes containing the wiretapped communication of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and COMELEC Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, without duly published rules of procedure, in clear derogation of the constitutional requirement.
The respondents in G.R. No. 179275 admit in their pleadings and even on oral argument that the Senate Rules of Procedure Governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation had been published in newspapers of general circulation only in 1995 and in 2006. With respect to the present Senate of the 14th Congress, however, of which the term of half of its members commenced on June 30, 2007, no effort was undertaken for the publication of these rules when they first opened their session. Respondents justify their non-observance of the constitutionally mandated publication by arguing that the rules have never been amended since 1995 and, despite that, they are published in booklet form available to anyone for free, and accessible to the public at the Senates internet web page, invoking R.A. No. 8792.
Whether or not the invocation by the respondents of the provisions of R.A. No. 8792, otherwise known as the Electronic Commerce Act of 2000, to support their claim of valid publication through the internet is a substantial compliance of the constitutional requirement of publication.
Section 21, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution explicitly provides that [t]he 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 requisite of publication of the rules is intended to satisfy the basic requirements of due process.
R.A. 8792 considers an electronic data message or an electronic document as the functional equivalent of a written document only for evidentiary purposes. In other words, the law merely recognizes the admissibility in evidence (for their being the original) of electronic data messages and/or electronic documents. It does not make the internet a medium for publishing laws, rules and regulations.
Given this discussion, the respondent Senate Committees, therefore, could not, in violation of the Constitution, use its unpublished rules in the legislative inquiry subject of these consolidated cases. The conduct of inquiries in aid of legislation by the Senate has to be deferred until it shall have caused the publication of the rules, because it can do so only in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure.