Press Release
December 3, 2009

Transcript of Sen. Santiago's interview

On President Arroyo's charter change agenda for her planned congressional agenda as aspiring Pampanga 2nd district representative

As a former constitutional law professor in UP, I always thought for decades that the constitution should not be changed, because the definition of a constitution is a permanent document. Unless there are compelling state reasons for changing it, for example, we should think whether we need to change our provisions on national requirements for the exploitation of natural resources; we might be less competitive that way if we keep the present provision which always provided that at least fifty percent of a corporation should be owned by Filipinos. Another provision for example, for me, is we should raise the standards for the presidency and for senators because they are elected nationwide; they cannot be treated as if they are natural graduations from local office to national office. For that reason, if the person has not reached college, other applicants for the presidency will be required to attend school like the College of Public Administration in UP, if possible for free, so that they will have some notion what is it we are discussing when we are in the Senate, or even if we are discussing our national policies to other international heads of state..

So there seem to be many reasons for amending the constitution, but if the purpose of the amendment or the revision of the constitution is simply to accommodate certain individuals then I will certainly oppose that. I don't want to disturb the entire national legal system just to accommodate the ambitions of certain people. I have always taken that position.

On speculations that President Arroyo wants to be prime minister after charter change

It is not a crime in our country to be ambitious, but it is a sin in the Catholic Church to be proud. Remember, it is said that the archetypal sin against God was the pride of Satan. So we have to distinguish between the political and the religious. It is very difficult to divorce these two in very rigidly Catholic country. I think that President Arroyo is, in effect, demonized because she wants to do what her legal rights confer on her as a citizen of our country. In other words, what I am trying to say is, the law allows her to run; whether she should run as a matter of propriety or morality or ethics is a question of opinion, which is best presented to the people at large. The first threshold there will be since the people in Pampanga also know about the possible repercussions or speculations in the future for President Arroyo, we should allow them to make the first judgment. Then after that we shall see.

But in my view as a lawyer, there is no law that prohibits her from running. In fact, the Records of the Constitutional Commission clearly show that the delegates of the Constitutional Commission wanted to allow the president to run for any other office except the presidency. That is not binding, but authoritative if this case is brought to the Supreme Court. For me it is a no-brainer. She can run, but the only question is should she run?

Some are saying no, like this garrulous old man who is living in his isolated universe where there is no planets, all is dead. He is living in this political blackhole where everything is dead. There is this talkative old man who wants to say that President Arroyo should no longer run. What about him? He tried to run by amending the Constitution no less. I had to go to the Supreme Court--that was the case of Santiago v. Comelec where the Supreme Court had to put end to his political ambitions.

Who is he now? What is the morality of a person who is now seeking to prevent others what he tried to do before? What is his moral basis? Plus, last year, when I was chair of a Senate finance subcommittee discussing the budget, the Office of the President was assigned to me. I discovered that Fidel Ramos was in the payroll of Malacañang. He was assigned a minor position and he was receiving a salary. If that remains to be true--since the Office of the President is no longer under my jurisdiction during this year's budget deliberations, that should be verified--then he has violated the Civil Service Code because he is an employee of the government and should not engage in any partisan political activity. Zip up your mouth.

Sinubukan niya dati, hindi siya nagtagumpay. Ngayong sinusubukan ng iba ayaw niyang magbigay ng pahintulot? Whoever asked him for permission? And whoever asked him for advice? This is self-serving advice. Kung mayroon lang siyang pagkakataon gagawin din niya iyon.

The president should resign?

No. In fact, when they were discussing this in the Constitutional Commission there was no mention at all of a possible resignation of the president just because that president might be running for another position. Suffrage is one of the fundamentally protected rights in our Constitution. Suffrage is not only the right to vote, but the right to be voted for. The Supreme Court, in the 1997 Nicolas case, said that all presumptions must be indulged and all guarantees must be given in order for a citizen can exercise the right of suffrage or the right of choice. Meaning to say, if there is any doubt, the doubt should be resolved in the favor of the person running and the person voting.

I don't know why he has to make such a scenario for President Arroyo. She is making history. If she fails, she is going to be punished by an entire generation of Filipinos because of their mindset. But if she wins, she would have made history. I have always liked people who make history, that's why I prevented Fidel Ramos from attempting to make history.

He is not even a lawyer. What is that soldier talking about? This is a soldier that hasn't even seen a gun, as far as I was told.. He never went to fight a battle. He was always an armchair general. Why is a general attempting to direct Philippine politics? He should go to Maguindanao.

On the Supreme Court decision stating that cabinet members no need to resign their posts after filing COCs

I respectfully disagree with that majority vote. When there is a small difference in voting, it will not become a precedent, or a predecessor that would be followed by all subsequent decisions of the Supreme Court. In fact, the chances are very good for a motion for reconsideration. It waters down or lessens the authoritative effect of the decision. Number two, I did not realize that it involves a constitutional issue, the issue of equal protection. This is the basic fault of the decision. It still considers equal protection by means of the so-called "rational relationship test"--as long as there is a reasonable relation to the object of the law, and the means that were employed to attain that object, then the court will sustain the classification of citizens. Equal protection always involves classification because you make the classifications of people who are entitled to something and people who do not get entitled to the same privileges.. The basic test before was the rational relationship. But in this case, the Supreme Court did not uphold the law. In fact, it went far beyond that; it went so far as to declare the present law unconstitutional. That is very strange because whenever a constitutional question is raised in the Supreme Court, the threshold issue is always a presumption in favour of constitutionality. First of all, the Supreme Court should have considered that the law is constitutional, and then raised reasons on why the constitutional law should be overturned. In other words, the burden of proof is on the person who is questioning the existing law.

Plus, until now the Supreme Court has not yet adopted the example of the American Supreme Court. The American Supreme Court left the rational relationship test decades ago. Until now we have not caught up with it. What is now applied in America is the so-called "strict scrutiny test." You can overturn a law passed by Congress only if there is compelling state interest that compels people to be classified. In this case, what is the compelling state interest? It is the interest in the maintenance and continuation of basic public services while the campaign period is going on. As far as I could see there is no discussion even of a compelling state interest. If you choose a test for equal protection, it will determine immediately what will be the result. If you choose the rational relationship, immediately the law will be upheld. If you choose strict scrutiny, the law will not be upheld. In this case, the majority voted not to uphold the law, which is surprising because they did not even discuss any compelling state interest. What is the compelling state interest in making the state officials exempt from the law that allows elective officials to run for public office without resigning their seats. The answer simply is we need a continuous bureaucracy to take care of the day-to-day task of the civil service. In the case of the elective officials, people already have in mind that they will be campaigning generally during the campaign period, either for election or some other term allowed by law. So we already presumed that the Congress, for example, will take care that its legislative concern will not be neglected, that's why we are in a hurry in the Senate so that we can pass the budget and ratify certain urgent treaties. Otherwise, you cannot apply that law equally to everybody because it will in effect cause a standstill in the bureaucratic functions of the government in the mere function of administration. I strongly recommend a motion for reconsideration if it still timely, and I humbly recommend to the Supreme Court that it should read American jurisprudence. We've had a so-called new equal protection since the 1980's.. It is now 2009 and our Supreme Court has never brought itself up to date on the shift from the rational relationship standard to the strict scrutiny standard which requires the compelling state interest.

On Sec. Puno supervising the ARMM

As we have said in the Senate session last Tuesday, the president only has the power of supervision, not the power of control over local government. So she cannot grant to her subordinate more power than she has been granted by the Constitution. Therefore, no power of control can be given to any person over ARMM or over the Maguindanao because of the massacre, only the power of supervision. And that power of supervision is very limited, but it is not even proper for her to delegate even the power of supervision to the incumbent secretary of interior and local government because in the first place he did not do his job. So why reward him by giving him additional power? He should have been made to answer what is wrong with the local government system in Mindanao. Instead, he is rewarded with an additional title, which is completely unnecessary. I respectfully recommend that the president reconsider her decision and we shall say so in a sense of the Senate resolution because my colleagues signified this week that they are in favour of such a resolution. Kasi kung i-appoint mo ang incumbent secretary of interior and local government, lalo na kung nabahiran na ng tinatawag na Operation Dagdag-Bawas sa election for which his expertise is apparently renowned throughout our archipelago. Ang kinakatakutan ng mga politiko ay dahil ang boto sa Mindanao ay laging nabibili. Kung siya ang may hawak ng ARMM, maski anong probinsya doon bibilhin mo ang boto mo sa pamamagitan ng taong ito. Mahirap yata iyon.

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