Press Release
April 27, 2006

Transcript of Interview with Senate President Franklin M. Drilon over ANC
(April 26, 2006)

Q: Even if you are on recess, you can actually pursue committee hearings on the defense by Sen. Pong Biazon on the wiretapping controversy. Is that something that will happen in the near future?

SPFMD: It depends upon the chairs with the different committees but that is correct. This standing resolution which allows the committees to conduct hearings even while we are on recess. Because ordinarily when we are on recess, the committees are not functioning but we have a resolution which allows the committees to continue to make inquiries if the chair would find it rigid to do so.

Q: Do you think this is going to happen prior to May 15?

SPFMD: It really depends on the chairs of the different committees.

Q: You said you would be going around for some campaign on the anti-cha-cha initiative.

SPFMD: There were some senators who expressed preference, I'm not really aware of what they have done so far.

Q: But the Resign Gloria Movement, did that even progress?

SPFMD: There are sectors who continue to advocate for that particular Gloria Resign Movement which a number of us started in the Senate.

Q: How many Senate committees you think will be interested right now to pursue their investigations?

SPFMD: I don't really know. There are a number of things; there are a number of inquiries which are ongoing. Let me put things in the proper perspective. What the Supreme Court did was to reaffirm what is already in the Constitution. Under Art. 6 Section 21, we have the power to investigate in aid of legislation and for purposes of ferreting out information which are in the public interest. Under Sec. 22, we have the so-called question hour wherein the cabinet secretaries can be summoned before the Senate or the House either on their own volition or in accordance with our rules. The SC said that the authority of the Congress to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation and investigations cannot be curtailed by EO 464, and therefore, it struck down as unconstitutional those pertinent provisions of EO 464 which would encroach on the legislative authority of Congress to make inquiries in aid of legislation. However, insofar as the question hour is concerned, the SC correctly said that under the Constitution, the cabinet secretaries can be prevented by the President from appearing. The Supreme Court affirmed the authority of Congress to make inquiries in aid of legislation. You ask me how many inquires are there? There are a number of inquiries except that some inquiries are given prominence than others because of the nature of media.

Q: Let us refresh the memories of our viewers.

SPFMD: The fertilizer funds scamThe Committee on Agriculture and the Blue Ribbon Committee submitted a report to the Senate that made a very clear reservation on Jocjoc Bolante. By the way, Jocjoc Bolante is not covered by EO 464 even while it was implemented because he was no longer a government official. It was USec. Belinda Gonzales and the others who invoked EO 464, even some Vice President of GSIS invoked EO 464. Going back to that, the two committees submitted a report. This is without prejudice to compelling Jocjoc Bolante should we find him; there were news that he came back, I could not verify that. He can be brought to the Senate to testify. The Hello Garci investigationSenator Biazon said that he intends to continue as he has been continuing the hearings of the Hello Garci controversy. Insofar as the Northrail, we will await once the decision will be final. We will resume the hearings because we do not want the Northrail project to suffer the same fate as the NAIA III contract which because of questions raised, up to now it could not be operated. The government is facing a $900-million case in Singapore and Washington and we don't want a repeat of the same scenario. We want the budget to be executed in accordance with the Philippine laws. That is all that we are interested in.

Q: Do you see a problem with the cabinet officials or the President invoking executive privilege?

SPFMD: It has not been a problem because executive privilege has always been recognized. In fact, our rules provide where in matters where an executive session would be necessary, we would have an executive session to prevent the information from being banded around where it serves no purpose. We have very strict rules on that. In fact a senator who would reveal proceedings taken in the executive session could be subjected to discipline by the Chamber.

Q: During the Venable contract hearing, I don't remember the NSC Adviser really invoking executive privilege, but to my mind it can actually fan out the same way it did during the Venable contract inquiry.

SPFMD: First, we have rules which would determine when an executive privilege can be invoked, for example, in cases where national security is concerned, in cases where state secrets are concerned.

Q: That's exactly the problem with the incident with Norberto Gonzales

SPFMD: That's why it happened when it happened because we may not agree that national security was involved. Seeking funding from Washington in order that you can fund a charter change is something that nobody would believe involves national security.

Q: What happens if this becomes subjective, this invoking executive privilege because one thinks it is a state secret or for national security purposes and you think otherwise?

SPFMD: It's theoretical. I'm just making a theoretical basis. We determine and we have bigger judgment as to the nature of the testimony. The president can invoke executive privilege if it really involves national security etc. We, the senators, are reasonable people. We are responsible. We are not gungho and just making inquiries for the sake of making inquiries as Malacañang would want to project. But at the end of the day, assuming that there is an honest difference in opinion, ultimately the courts will have to decide.

Q: You will eventually have to leave it to the courts?

SPFMD: That's correct, yes. That is how the system should work.

Q: Some cabinet secretaries said that we hope the Senate would not abuse its power in using in aid of legislation?

SPFMD: Good media spin, but let me assure our people that your senators are responsible enough. I've been serving in government for the past 20 years. We know the bounds of decency. We are responsible to the people who elected us into office. We are not responsible to Malacañang .

Q: On CPR, some of the petitioners were not quite happy. What they really want is to strike down BP 880.

SPFMD: Batas Pambansa 880 provides and regulates the exercise the freedom of assembly, freedom of speech. In fact, it seeks to regulate it for the public good and that is what the Supreme Court said. You have two extremes here: those who say we should have untrammeled liberty to exercise our freedom of assembly and those in Malacañang who says you cannot exercise. The first indication of inconvenience to the public, we will stop you. The Supreme Court correctly laid down the rules which would put order in rallies but, very clearly, allowing people to express their sentiments. BP 880 laid down the rules. What would become crucial here is on May 1. As I was watching your program, there are five rally sites as indicated. What is important here is that the police and the authorities should allow the rallies to the site. Do not stop them on the streets as what they are doing now.

Q: That could be the problem, making their way to Liwasang Bonifacio

SPFMD: That is correct. The maximum tolerance is we should allow them to march towards these rally sights. You cannot stop them and say you have no permit to march in this street. That cannot be done. You cannot stop the rallies from walking on the street as long as they do not obstruct the traffic to allow reasonable passage. On the way to Liwasang Bonifacio, Plaza Moriones and the other places with no permit is necessary while they march along.

Q: That might pose a problem...?

SPFMD: It should be no problem; there is no gray area there. That is very clear. They are marching toward the rally site, as long as they don't block passage of transportation, they should be allowed. They should not be stopped in front of UST and say you cannot go to the plaza because you don't have permit to walk on the streets. That is the most idiotic and stupid incident. This one of Dinky Soliman, can you imagine in Roxas Blvd., and suddenly they say you have no permit to walk to cross the street?

Q: But that was done Senate President

SPFMD: It was done because of the stupidity of the way the CPR was being interpreted by the police. The Supreme Court says there is no such thing, it just beclouds, it just creates a power which should not be there. That's what the police did; they arrested Dinky Soliman for crossing Roxas Blvd.

Q: Can they actually press charges against these police officials plus Ermita and even the President?

SPFMD: There is jurisprudence which makes the public official liable for abuse of authority. They are not given any protection when you abuse the authority delegated to you by the state and public officials can be liable for damages. That is an established doctrine.

Q: How do we reconcile the fact that the police implemented this because the executive said we are implementing CPR?

SPFMD: The police is part of the executive and therefore if police officials abuse, they can be liable. That's why I'm emphasizing, the deciding cases would support the proposition that an abuse of authority would expose the public official to damages and that's settled in a number of cases.

Q: We see what happens on May 1

SPFMD: Let see what happens on May 1.

Q: On the student who possessed Resign Arroyo slogans

SPFMD: I've said that in July last year.

Q: They should order a probe on you

SPFMD: They should order a probe on me. Secretary Gonzalez likewise directed the NBI to start investigating Probe for the interview with that Oakwood mutineer. It's quite sad that these things happen. The intimidation continues. The chilling effect of the statements of the Secretary of Justice -- who has this arsenal the investigative arm, the NBI and the prosecutorial arm of government in his direction, and control 2,000 prosecutors all over the country, hundreds of NBI agents,-- ordering an investigation on a placard-raising in a graduation ceremony in Cavite State university and ordering the investigation of Probe. The president is not the state. There's nothing seditious in what the student did nor can Che-Che Lazaro of Probe be charged with plotting to bring down government. It is quite unfortunate that these investigations are being ordered. It has certainly a chilling effect on people. People have the right to information insofar as Probe is concerned. The people have the right to know. The Justice Secretary ordering an investigation of Probe does not augur well for our freedoms in this country.

Q: Is it not his responsibility as Justice Secretary to probe the student and Probe?

SPFMD: It is within his authority, no question about it. Precisely, the exercise of ordering an investigation of this nature, which we know is nothing more but a design to intimidate. I am certain that at the end of the day, no charges will be filed because there is no case. I recall on May 1, when I was Secretary of Labor, remember it was during those turbulent years when labor groups wanted to exercise their newly acquired freedom. 1987 was the second Labor day. We just allowed them to march and make their demands on government. There were no arrests made. The government continued to function. It was the series of coup d'etats that put the duly-constituted government is in danger but not the rallies. Probe did not commit any act of sedition nor did that student who raised a placard. They should learn to tolerate dissent in a democracy. That's the essence of democracy.

Q: What would you say if you were the president and a student shouted that to you?

SPFMD: It comes with the turf. You are a political leader. You cannot make everybody agree no matter how good intentioned you are. We have an open society. This is the kind of society we want to be. It may be irritating, but that's part of the game.

Q: What will the Senate do once sessions resume?

SPFMD: We will pass the budget in the Senate. How it will turn out in the bicameral conference committee is beyond my control.

Q: You are confident you will pass it before June 9 or 10?

SPFMD: We will pass it before June 9 or 10. I am confident about that insofar as the Senate is concerned.

Q: When did the House submit the budget?

SPFMD: It was transmitted to us on April 5, 24 hours before we adjourned.

Q: You were holding simultaneous hearings on the budget

SPFMD: We have practically heard all of the budgets of the different departments. We are prepared to Senate the budget on the floor. I know which portions to question.

Q: What are the portions you are going to question?

SPFMD: The lump sum pork barrel, like what they call the Kilos Asenso and the Kalayaan Fund, that's P8 billion. Other senators have their own areas to examine. We more or less know how the budget will be shaped insofar as the Senate is concerned.

Q: Did you take into account the possibility of lowering tariff on imported fuel?

SPFMD: Under the Constitution, the authority to reduce tariffs is with the President when Congress is not in session. There is news that they are going to reduce the tariff. Once the tariff is reduced, when the President exercised that authority, we will look how the reduction in revenue will affect the expenditure program of the government. But until we know for certainty the presidential directive, we will assume that the full impact of the VAT is the premise of the 2006 budget.

Q: What would you recommend, lowering the tariff, suspending the RVAT.

SPFMD: The tariff is a matter which is within the President's prerogative Malacañang , I understand, is looking into the tariff insofar as oil products are concerned in order to cushion the impact of the oil price increases. At the same time, however, this will have an effect on revenue collection. And the revenue collection will have an effect on the expenditure program. We will wait what the President will do and we will act accordingly insofar as the budget is concerned.

Q: There is no inclination on which proposal to support?

SPFMD: Insofar as the EVAT is concerned, I was one of those who had reservations about imposing an EVAT on power. Because first, it was not certain what the revenues will be realized out of imposing a VAT on power. But the effect on the consumer is very clear and the inflationary tendency is clear insofar as the additional burden is concerned. It is for this reason that there were nine senators who voted against EVAT on power.

Q: Is there a recommendation now for the suspension of VAT on power rates?

SPFMD: There is none in the Senate.

Q: On cha-cha

SPFMD: I was just watching TV Patrol. Comelec said it will take us quite a number of months to be able to verify. In fact, they have to resort to X, Y, Z kind of process. They have their own process because there were no guidelines from the Comelec. They said they are doing this for the first time and that only is a problem that they have to face and it will take time, apart from the fact that there is no enabling law, apart from the fact that even if there is an enabling law, the constitution is clear that a people's initiative cannot be used for purposes of a revision of the Constitution. Simple amendments, yes, but revision, no. Chief Justice Panganiban in his dissent in the case of Defensor Santiago vs. Comelec asked the question, for whose benefit is the people's initiative be legally taken then? That same question should be validly asked when the case comes before the court.

Q: How many votes does a senator need to make it to the Top 5?

SPFMD: About 11 million.

Q: One of the columnists said it is quite absurd that the people's initiative had began on a Saturday and by Monday, the Sigaw ng Bayan had already counted 2 million votes, is that possible?

SPFMD: Obviously, this is just sigaw, nothing else. All noise. Let's leave it at that. (end)

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