Press Release
March 12, 2014

Transcript of Sen. Grace Poe's ANC Headstart interview
Hosted by Ms. Karen Davila

Karen Davila: You're not satisfied with Dennis Cunanan's statement clearly?

Sen. Grace Poe: No, I wasn't, first of all, there were inconsistencies in his statements when you compare it with Benhur's, and then it seems to me that if you are really telling the truth, there should be no hesitations with certain questions, so that's where my doubts rely. Basically, I just thought that it is our responsibility to be able to check if our witnesses are indeed telling the truth because the last thing as I said we would want for them is to poke holes in the testimonies of other whistleblowers.

Davila: Now Senator Chiz has said there is no such thing as a provisional state witness or an immune witness, only a witness that's accepted fully in the WPP.

Poe: Well, Senator Chiz is a lawyer but one thing is clear to me. When you appear in a Senate hearing, you take an oath, you tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so I think that's the basis of everything, so if they are going to take him in the Witness Protection Program, I think that the qualifications and one of those is that you are indeed transparent, and then if it's found out later on that you are not, then I think that's enough ground for them to take you out of the witness protection or the state witness program.

Davilla: Now, in relation to this, the FOI bill has already passed on third reading in the Senate. How would this help everybody that something like the pork barrel scam would not happen again?

Poe: Exactly iyan nga ang sinasabi ko sa mga kababayan natin. Ano ba itong FOI? Sinasabi nila malayo daw ito sa bituka, hindi naman ito mararamdaman, intellectual debate. Simple lang, if we had the FOI at that time, the general public, with the help of the media perhaps, would be able to get copies of any transaction the government entered into, even with the private entity, an NGO, so as of then we could have been more vigilant because we could have been provided with the information to make the proper assessment. Even right now with the hearings, if I request for example for the SALN of a particular government official, it is not easily released even to us senators, there has to be a reason why, we have to state it, and they are a bit guarded and cautious about it, with our FOI for a certain pay grade-- pay grade 27 and higher and this is upon the suggestion of Senator Miriam, our SALNs are automatically uploaded on a website, so you can easily determine that, now every government official is required to have a SALN submitted, but not all of them will be required to upload it immediately, but you can ask for it, if you have a certain question you just have to state the reason behind it.

Davila: Now the problem is it is not being certified as urgent by the President, are you disappointed with that?

Poe: I advocate for the FOI, they say it's my baby, of course. I'd rather that it is certified. I'd rather that the President would see it as urgent. On the other hand, we were able to push this in the Senate, without the certification, and I think there are other ways to compel legislators to act faster, that is also social participation by the public, and there is also the media, and I think now we're making progress even in the Lower House because even the Speaker already said it will be passed in the 16th Congress, that's certainly a huge leap from the past when they weren't able to pass it and in the Senate I think we have to remember, we've not been there for a year although it feels like decades, and we were able to pass it, so I think that is progress.

Davila: Because Malacañan has said that, instead of the president I think it was Sec. Coloma who had said "instead of the President certifying it as urgent is that they should convince members of the Lower House to actually pass it." So that's the problem you have now.

Poe: Yes I think everybody wants to be presented in a good light especially when you talk to the chairman of the committee, he would want to be able to report to you what's going on, and of course he wants to show that he is doing his job, just like me, so I think that we should keep the pressure on, we should have again participative democracy just like what the FOI is trying to advocate.

Davila: In the FOI bill, if it becomes into law, for example, other than the SALN being automatically uploaded, is it possible then for ordinary citizens, NGOs, watchdogs, to already get documents of the alleged properties of let's say a senator, a congressman, even it is not under their name, but suspected to be theirs? The Cunanan issue is one, and he lives in a house that he claim is his brother's, but people believe it to be his.

Poe: That's the problem also with the law. You have your laws in place but there are people who are trying to subvert it. So if it is a private individual's name, you still can't request it.

Davila: You can't?

Poe: You can't. Unless you have a court order. Because if you are dealing with a private individual, his rights under the FOI are protected.

Davila: I see.

Poe: That's privacy. So you'll need a court order anyway. This is my interpretation of the law. You need a court order. Or if it is subject to an investigation, then the proper authorities will have to access that. But remember, even government officials have their ITRs protected. That is still private information unless there is reason to believe that it is for the public interest to check that. Then the BIR cannot divulge that information without the proper reason behind it.

Davila: So under the FOI bill, let's say it is passed into law, inimbestigahan ang ganitong Senador, kukunin ang income tax return niya, at ang misis niya na may negosyo, pwede ba yun?

Poe: Income tax returns, I don't think so, unless there's an order for that. But certainly, in his SALN, it will have to be stated properly. You can get that information.

Davila: So the SALN will be easier to get?

Poe: The SALN will be easier. And then, another thing, all transactions, all government contracts entered into with a private entity, you can also have access to it. P50 million and above is fully uploaded. Everything else, although not fully uploaded, you can request for that information. So again, it's solving a whole puzzle. You have to piece it together. It's not handed out to you on a silver platter simply because we have other rights to protect which we are also trying to balance here.

Davila: So for example, it will be about, hypothetically, a deal with NLEX or SCTEX. It's a government deal or PPP or BOT, whatever it is, it has to be fully uploaded and then you piece it together. Or kahit kalye, may ginamit, ni-realign na budget...

Poe: Well, it will be fully uploaded. And if you have further questions, you can always go the government agency and say "It says here that they won the bid. Who are the other companies that joined the bid?" And it will be there. But if you feel that it's not there, you can request for that information and look for them.

Davila: So why do you think that our local officials are scared of the FOI bill? I mean you clearly have safeguards here that protect them. You're not afraid of it clearly. So why are people afraid of it?

Poe: Well nobody has told me point-blank that they're afraid of it. They're just saying that they want to make sure that it's not abused. Why would it be? Because an ordinary citizen, an ordinary Filipino citizen, can go to a barangay now and ask for information. And you can't be dribbled around. Yun yung sinasabing "I-dribble mo na lang yan". Because there are actually penalties in place now. There's a time-frame with which your request should be addressed.

Davila: Ano yung time frame? That's good.

Poe: Okay, so from the time you go to an agency, which we suggest to have an FOI desk, it's fifteen working days from the time you request. So people from the media will say, "Fifteen days, ang tagal naman," but the truth is, a lot of things are already uploaded, will be required to be uploaded, like summary of income and expenditures of every agency, Internal Revenue Allotment...

Davila: Pati yun?

Poe: Pati yun. Salary grades, those in plantilla positions, items to bid, and contracts entered into, all of these are already automatically uploaded. So fifteen days for the more obscure information, they will merely exhaust the fifteen days.

Davila: That's a lot.

Poe: They are also mandated to have a clean archiving system, so the archiving system will have to adhere to the requirements of classifying documents as historical, evidentiary, legal documents. And certain documents-- you know, the National Archives will tell you, they can destroy certain documents in five years. Now it's clearly stated that any document that has to do with contracts entered into the government, SALN of every official, evidence that it being used in a graft case, can never be destroyed.

Davila: So this also protects information for life?

Poe: For life. Diba, that's our problem? We're not really good with archiving.

Davila: We're not.

Poe: Our historical information is very limited.

Davila: Sen. Grace Poe, very quickly, what will be the penalty if agencies do not comply with the FOI if it's signed into law?

Poe: First of all, we're trying to make sure that this FOI has teeth compared to the 1935 Revised Penal Code. Under the FOI, penalty is from one to six months imprisonment and/or fine ranging from P10,000 to P100,000 (simultaneous with administrative case). Now you say, "but it is still not harsh enough," but we have to consider that there are other cases that could be filed which is an administrative case, that is tantamount to dismissal in a position, or perpetual disqualification to hold public office. Another is a criminal case, if they feel that if you are covering up for a particular wrong doing, or if you are involved in graft and corruption. So there are other cases that can be filed if a government employee will not comply with the FOI.

Davila: What is the penalty of an agency or an officer upload a wrong information?

Poe: Again, if they act maliciously, ok, that's always the term, we have to make sure, because a denial in good faith is not a violation. For example, if you have a lowly government employee assigned to the desk and they tried and it can be documented that they tried, and a few people collaborate and say that "yes we look for that information and we couldn't find it," that is not ground for that government employee to be punished under FOI. But they should endeavor to be able to correct their mistake. The court could say you could find that information because there is an appeal process, again, there are measures in place and if I can just name it quickly, you can appeal to the next person higher in office. There's five days to comply. You can file a case to the appropriate courts, if not, you can go to the Ombudsman for an administrative case and there is always a legal presumption in favor to the right of information. So if you are a judge and you are conflicted, right to information wins. Another thing, there is a period of declassification, the president maintains his presidential communications privilege which means that to be able to encourage frank expressions during their meetings, he can invoke presidential privilege but he has to be able to state when that period of declassification will be. Like after the military operations in Lanao is done, we will be able to reveal the information.

Davila: Ok. Now, Supreme Court justices, following of course the Corona impeachment trial, where it was such an experience that it was difficult to get his SALN and it was found out that Supreme Court justices don't surrender their SALN, but now they do. Eto dito, will it be uploaded?

Poe: It will be uploaded because specifically-- the president, the vice president, members of the Supreme Court, generals with flag ranks, cabinet officials, senators and congressmen.

Davila: What about the mayors?

Poe: With the version that was submitted by Sen. Miriam, which all heads of offices and those with salary grade 27 and higher, which will include them (mayors), which will include barangay captains. Because remember, barangay captains don't have a pay grade, they are not part of the pay grade system but their heads of office.

Davila: So theirs will be uploaded too? Or no?

Poe: Yes, will be uploaded.

Davila: Ok so there will be a site? How do you look for that information?

Poe: Ok, the Department of Science and Technology will be tasked to oversee this. They have an iGov project which aims to standardize all government websites. Now, together with the National Computer Center, they will have a capacity-building measure that by two years, all government offices should be compliant. Now somebody asks me, papaano ang mga barangay? Aware ba sila? Meron ba sila? But there is an organization of all barangays.

Davila: Yeah there is.

Poe: But they should have a website to be compliant.

Davila: Question from our staff, what costs will agencies incur in complying with the requirements of the FOI bill?

Poe: Every year, agencies come over and request budget from Congress. They will have to be able to include what they predict would be their costs for FOI to be able to comply. Because we will not specifically state how much the program will be, because it will depend on each agency. It will be up to us to determine also if it's a reasonable request on their part, to be able to sustain an FOI desk.

Davila: Alright, very quickly, we don't have much time anymore, are you optimistic that this will be passed into law within the year at least?

Poe: Well, I'm not sure.

Davila: Really?

Poe: In the Lower House, well, because you see there are only 24 senators, and there are hundreds of them. I'm hoping and praying that it will be (passed). But again, Karen, nobody thought that the PDAF system would be abolished, nobody ever thought that it's such an institution in the wrong way. So, we don't know, I mean, perhaps because of social media now, the pressures and participative governance, the people, our members of the Lower House will feel the need to pass it immediately.

Davila: Ok, how long have you been a senator so far? Are we talking about how many months?

Poe: 7-8 months? Since July.

Davila: So are you disappointed on what are you seeing in the Senate? I'm curious.

Poe: It's always exciting. I think it's a difficult time to be in there because our responsibility is doubled, we want to be able to lift the image of the institution, especially the new ones. Because sabi nga nila, tatlo man daw, lima, sampu, o isa, sa mga kasamahan mo ang na-iimplika sa kaguLuhan, lahat may duda sa inyo. Lahat kami, sali diyan. Kaya as much as possible, I want to be able to resolve these issues already, that justice will be done quickly. Kasi nga, sabi nila, in a fruit basket, kung may isang bulok na prutas, lahat apektado. So it's difficult.

Davila: Hindi lang isa, parang ang na-iimplicate, three or four?

Poe: Allegedly.

Davila: Yes, allegedly. Alright, 2016, being the number one senator, you are the front runner they say for many things. Even the possibility, people have been throwing your name, as a possible opponent to Binay this early on, "what about Grace Poe?" Ang tanong ko, 2016, do you have plans?

Poe: No plans Karen, and here is the thing, it is always an honor to be able to serve in a higher capacity, in a higher position, but honestly whenever people mention that to me, I feel very awkward and embarrassed. You also have to know your limitations. At this point, I really don't have the machinery, the experience is not also there and more importantly, what my father has gone through. Diba, he was such a front runner also at that time, "you can do it, you can do it," pero paglingon mo towards the middle of the campaign, wala na yung mga sumusoporta. Sabi nga nila may saksak sa likod niya, so that's quite a learning experience for me even if I wasn't directly the candidate at that time.

Davila: Thank you, Senator Grace Poe, but I have a question. Will you support Pnoy's candidate whoever he may be?

Poe: I trust the President, however, it is also my right as a Filipino citizen to be able to be confident about my candidate, but I know the President will always have the best intentions for our countrymen, so I'm hoping that it will be a candidate he can also be very proud of.

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