Press Release
December 9, 2013


Q: On Senators Enrile and Santiago

SPFMD: The speech of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago was referred to the Committee on Rules which will now recommend to plenary which committee will hear and investigate the allegations in the privilege speech. The Committee on Rules Chair is the Majority Leader Alan Cayetano, the Committee on Rules to whom the speech was referred will now hear and decide which committee will investigate if an investigation is warranted on the speech of Senator Miriam. Note that Miriam herself did not ask that the speech be delivered to the committee. In fact, she asked that the NBI to investigate the allegations that she made in her speech.

Q: On whether Miriam's request for an investigation will affect the DOJ investigation

SPFMD: Whether or not there will be an investigation is a matter that each committee is empowered to determine under our Rules of the Senate. In other words, the preliminary decision must be made should we investigate these allegations. Certainly, the request of Miriam that the NBI would investigate, would be given due consideration by the committee to whom the speech will be referred to.

The Ethics Committee is based on behavior or actions which the member of the chamber may commit to warrant disciplinary action. I must admit that the issue of the Ethics Committee chairmanship is so sensitive that the Senators are really reluctant to accept this. If you remember, the Ethics Committee is a discipline court, so that is how difficult this issue is, but we will not shirk away from our obligation to prosecute. Right now we are just concentrating on the budget. The budget is coming up, and so we want to finish the budget before the year is over. I read in the papers today that Senator Sotto has expressed his willingness to take the chairmanship of the Ethics Committee. He is certainly qualified, but the perception of public is that he may not be impartial due to his association with Senator Enrile. That is the reality. I am not saying that he is not qualified, I am saying that he is qualified, but perception of persons is very important today and questions may be raised as to his ability to be impartial. At this point we will come to that; we will come to the organization of the Ethics Committee Chair, who will be elected by the majority. The next two weeks however, will be devoted to finishing the budget.

Q: On the budget

SPFMD: Tomorrow, the bicameral conference committee will have its final meeting and therefore will present to us the bicameral conference committee report I assume, early next week so that we can have the bicam report approved by the chambers and present the 2014 budget for the signature of the President before Christmas. We are certain that before Christmas we should have the budget for 2014. Now, what are the principal features of the budget? The funds that will be allocated for the rehabilitation. Firstly, we have a supplemental budget of P14.6 billion. This comes from the PDAF funds which was made unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. We also extended the effectivity of the calamity funds to the tune of about P12 billion. The authorization to spend the calamity fund will expire on December 31, 2013. By joint resolution, we have extended this in order that it can be utilized in 2014. In the 2014 budget we have also included a P20 billion rehabilitation fund and we have an unprogrammed standby authorization of another P80 billion. Of course the calamity fund in 2014 is P13 billion, and the quick response fund is another P3.5 billion.

The total authorizations therefore for 2014 for calamity, quick response funds, and other items, will approximately be P143 billion. This is the main feature of the 2014General Appropriations Act, which we hope to present to the president for his signature before Christmas time. Of course we also have realigned P2.5 billion for scholarships to the state universities and colleges, and another P400.38 million for UP. Apart from this you will find line items in the budget for transparency, so that we avoid to the extent lump sum appropriation because of the decision of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court recognized the validity of lump sum appropriations as long as it is for a single purpose so that calamity fund is a lump sum appropriation, the Supreme Court recognized its validity, the intelligence fund is for a single purpose, and similar funds, which although not lump sum, are for a single purpose, were considered as valid. Those for which they are for multi-purpose funds we have to the extent, the direction is to itemize all of them.

Q: On the President's pork barrel

SPFMD: I do not know that P104 billion. Are you referring to the calamity fund? What is the breakdown? For example, for calamity fund, is that a pork barrel for the President? What do we want to do, do we itemize? How can you itemize how many typhoons will come next year? For intelligence funds, it is extremely difficult and budget it. No government in this world would itemize intelligence funds. These are the lump sum amounts which the Supreme Court said as long as it is for a single purpose, even if it is lump sum, is valid, because in effect there is only one purpose for that.

Q: On whether Senators have itemized projects in the budget

SPFMD: Wala ako. I have none. I deleted, together with fifteen other Senators, our allocation of the pork barrel and therefore the budget was reduced to the extent of savings.

Q: The House has. Does it mean it will be taken out of the budget?

SPFMD: If it is itemized, that is an amendment which in our system of government is a valid exercise of power over the purse. Now, since it is itemized, the President can veto it. Line item veto he can exercise that. It was difficult to exercise the line item veto on the PDAF because it is a whole P24.5 billion. Now, to the extent that it is itemized, the President can exercise the line item veto.

Q: On increasing the budget of the DOH

SPFMD: Insofar as indigent assistance is concerned, PhilHealth is supposed to provide coverage, 100% universal coverage. I am a patient, I am an indigent, I go to the hospital for treatment, what PhilHealth said in the budget hearing, is that there will be a registration on the spot. So if you are not covered by PhilHealth, pagdating po sa government hospital, kayo po ay ieenroll agad sa PhilHealth so that you are covered for one year at least. That is P2,600 as coverage. Therefore, all the indigents should be able to avail without cost, within the package of PhilHealth, the medical and hospital needs because they are enrolled in PhilHealth on the spot. The P2,600 is the annual premium, so when you are enrolled, the premium is paid by the government, and this is for a period of one year. This P2,600 is in the budget, sourced from our revenues generated out of the sin tax. Sa susunod na taon, kung nagkasakit sila ulit, pag expired na yung kanilang enrollment, they will be enrolled again. There is a system of automatic enrollment.

Q: On the pending bills

SPFMD: Once we are finished with the budget, the only thing in the agenda is the Freedom of Information Bill. That is already in the advanced stage of legislative work and we have already finished the committee report. The committee report has been sponsored and now we just have to suspend debates because of the budget, but it is now ready for interpellation, and we expect that if we have time, we will try to do it before we end our session next week, but reality is next January, when we come back.

SPFMD: We are also promoting legislation on the committee of Koko Pimentel, Committee on Justice, on how to hasten the trial in the Sandiganbayan. Right now, there are about 2,600 cases pending in the Sandigan. We have only, in effect, three fourths who are trying because there are only five divisions. So, we are talking about 600 cases pending per division. And the division, by law right now, cannot hear these cases, cannot decide these cases, except in the concurrence of other judges. If one is absent, walang nangyayari. We are trying to amend the law so there can be one trial judge , while the decision must be rendered with the three as a collegial body. That, in effect, will create additional 10 divisions that will hasten the trial of these cases.

Q: That is for the Sandiganbayan. What about the other courts like the Maguindanao Massacre, how can it be hastened?

SPFMD: As a former Secretary of Justice, you are handling over 100 accused. You cannot devote such a lengthy trial but because each accused will be entitled to present his own evidence, cross-examine every witness, so, ganoon po ang every case.

Q: Hindi ba pwedeng paharapin lang ang certain group, iyong mga principal...

SPFMD: The problem Neal in that proposition is this is a non-bailable offense. You cannot postpone the trial of others to concentrate on the trial of the principals because if I was one of the minor players charged with conspiracy to commit the offense, I am also under detention and I have the right to say give me a speedy trial. That is my constitutional right. So, this is the situation that the court faces today.

Q: How about appointing several bodies?

SPFMD: There is only one court that is trying them. Now, let's say Regional Trial Court 123 has the jurisdiction, there is one judge. I am not aware of any rule which will allow you to have multiple judges in one case at the same time. There is only one judge.

Q: How about distributing it to several bodies?

SPFMD: I don't think that's feasible because there is only one crime. Again, Neal, you must excuse me, I have been out of practice for quite a number of years.

Q: Can Congress do anything?

SPFMD: Congress can't do anything because the matter of procedural rules is supposedly in the Judiciary. One cannot interfere with that. Number two, I think one of the amendments to the Constitution if we would have one is the very broad power of the Supreme Court which will allow them to be subject to judicial review or grave abuse of discretion. This will fill up the court with so many cases. And because it is a constitutional issue and we go up to the Supreme Court for every issue. Therefore, the court is strong. When we redefine the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, we cross this very broad ground under the Constitution.

Q: How about the increase in the number of the justices?

SPFMD: The number is set in the Constitution. The Supreme Court should have 1 Chief Justice and 14 Associate Justices.

Q: How about increasing the number of courts?

SPFMD: Right now, there is an authority to organize hundreds of courts. It is funded. Mayroong fund, mayroong authority. We have hundreds of courts which are authorized under the law. Puro bakante po iyan.

Q: Bakit? Sa dami ng abogadong nag-graduate every year?

SPFMD: Dahil iyong bagong pasa sa Bar, hindi pa pwede.

Q: Iyong mga practicing lawyers?

SPFMD: Before you can fill it up, you must nominate three. Each municipality might not have three lawyers who want to be nominated for other reasons. There are a lot of vacancies.

Q: No applicant?

SP: No applicant or insufficient number of applicants. If there are only two applicants in a vacancy, you cannot send that to the President. You need at least three.

Q: What about the prosecutors? Sinisisi diyan mga prosecutors...

SPFMD: There are sufficient prosecutors in the Department of Justice and the Prosecutors' Office. It's a question of being able to recruit qualified prosecutors.

Q: What is your opinion on Manny Pacquiao tax exemption?

SPFMD: Alam mo sa aking buhay, dalawa lang ang hindi pwedeng maiwasan, kamatayan at buwis. Ngayon, having said that, I do not think Manny Pacquiao being a role model, would want to be perceived as being given a special treatment. I don't think that's the nature of Manny. Having said that, itong mga tax assessment, lahat ng mga negosyante, pwede mo naman maipaliwanag sa BIR kung may talagang pagkukulang. Hindi naman masama kung mag-usap kayo kung ano ba talaga iyong tama. Mahirap lang kapag hindi nag-usap.

The fact is, if you noticed, they are looking for ways and means by which this can be settled in terms of an equitable solution both for the interest of the government and the tax payer. That is within the power of the BIR, alisin ang interest, alisin ang penalty.

Q: What do you think of the Leviste case?

SPFMD: I assume regularity in the performance of functions. I was Secretary of Justice once. There are rules on parole. You have to serve at least one half of the minimum sentence.

Q: Sir, sa dami po ng kinakaharap ng Senate, nagkaroon ng pork barrel, tapos ngayon po nag-aaway iyong dalawang senior senators, bakit hindi pa po naco-convene ang Ethics Committee?

SPFMD: Sa dami ng aming ginagawa. When we come back in January. It is not an easy chairmanship. It's human nature that no one wants to sit in judgment of your peers. It's not easy. It's the reality. The Majority will have to decide who the chairman will be. I said that Sotto is qualified but the perception is that he might be partial because of his closeness to Senator Enrile.

Q: On the press Statement from Atty. Romeo Macalintal questioning the increases in the budget of the Senate Electoral Tribunal

SPFMD: I think Atty. Romy Macalintal can attest to what happened there. Romy can fully respond to the questions.

Atty Macalintal: My premise is that in 2013, even without a case in the tribunal, their budget is P124 million. Ngayong 2014, inincrease-an pa ang budget ng Senate Electoral Tribunal to P127 million. Siguradong wala naming election protest sa 2014, dahil wala naming election.

SPFMD: The Senate Electoral Tribunal is administratively and financially managed by the Chairman, who is a Supreme Court justice. I referred this letter of yours to the Supreme Court Justice - whose name I forget now- for them to take immediate action, because that is not within the jurisdiction and the power of the Senate President. Incidentally, the tribunal is an independent body, not under the Senate. It is under the Supreme Court's supervision. And as far as I know, the Chairman of the Senate Electoral Tribunal in the Supreme Court responded to you, saying that indeed, "there are no cases, but there are still expenses to be incurred." So we have explained that to you in writing, and I can definitely produce that letter.

I am not in a position to respond to all of this, because I have no control of the budget of the Senate Electoral Tribunal, which is a constitutional body under the supervision of the Chairman, who is a justice from the Supreme Court. The Secretary responded in behalf of the Chairman, and by the way, that Secretary is under the supervision of a Supreme Court justice. So that is the reality.

Atty Macalintal: I just want to make it clear that under the General Appropriations Act, the budget of the Senate Electoral Tribunal is under the budget of the Senate, and not of the Supreme Court.

SPFMD: Well, you know that is correct. But the only reason it is placed under the Senate in the budget is because it is named the Senate Electoral Tribunal. But remember, it's a constitutional body, and I hope that you do understand as Senate President I have no control on that. It has never been proposed to me.

Q: Do you agree with the increases made in the Senate Electoral Tribunal budget for 2014?

SPFMD: Well, that is for the Committee on Finance, and we will debate on that on when this is presented. I will definitely read this question to the committee.

Atty Macalintal: Natutuwa naman ako sa sagot ng ating Senate President. Kinausap ko naman na si Senate President before, and he has said that "I have no say on the budget of the Senate Electoral Tribunal."

News Latest News Feed