Press Release
September 21, 2020

Transcript of Interview with Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon
ANC's Headstart with Karen Davila

Q: On the power struggle in the HoR and its implications to the national budget?

SFMD: Certainly, a power struggle in the House of Representatives will affect our timelines and I hope not because we are still in the middle of a pandemic, we have about 10% unemployment and we expect to have a contraction of our economy. A delay in the budget will be very critical. We can only express hope that this power struggle, which is a business of the House, will not derail our budget preparations. We cannot delay the budget for 2021 because of the condition we are in today.

Q: This is not the first time that it happened. A change in leadership in 2018 affected the enactment of the 2019 budget. If we experience a similar delay, how will this affect the Filipino people?

SFMD: Firstly, as you pointed out we are not talking in theory. We have actually experienced in the HoR caused the delay in the budget. You asked me how this affects the budget. The budget provides the spending authority for the government. If there is no spending authority because of the delay in the budget, what would happen is, there will be a re-enacted budget and a re-enacted budget would mean that new programs will not be funded. The effects will be terrible. We expect our GDP to contract by anywhere between 6-9% by the end of the year. If we again delay the budget for 2021, you do not expect a recovery or the recovery will be derailed. More than any other time in the past, it is critical that the budget be enacted on time.

Q: You flagged several items in the 2021 budget. The bickering among congressmen is the P11-B budget for Taguig, P8-B for Camarines Sur... In the DPWH budget, how much would you want to realign?

SFMD: We have not yet come to analyze the DPWH budget in detail. What we know is that there are P469-billion in lump-sum funds. This was flagged by Sen. Lacson. This is something that we will watch out for. This P469-B must be disaggregated. Otherwise, this will become a lump-sum fund where the participation of Congress will become again after the enactment, which is prohibited under a Supreme Court decision. It is very critical therefore that P469-B should be identified.

Q: The battle in the HoR, do you see it as a battle for the pork?

SFMD: I will not want to respond to that. Inter-parliamentary courtesy prevents me from doing so. But we note that a statement of a certain congressman who said that they are frustrated about lack of transparency on discretionary items.

From the statement coming from the member of the HoR, it would appear that the basic cause of the disagreement would be the lack of transparency in the allocation of public works projects, especially the P469-B in public works department would have to be disaggregated.

Q: Do you still see this connected in 2022?

SFMD: I would like to attribute good faith. You cannot discount that this is part of the preparation for 2022. I have been in Congress long enough to know that if there is anything you should exercise extra vigilance, it is what is called the election year budget.

Q: It is the same reason that you flagged the anti-insurgency funds in the budget? Why are you particularly alarmed?

SFMD: It is precisely the lack of transparency. This is a lump-sum appropriation. This is for the so-called barangays cleared with insurgencies. What worries me is the description of the projects where each barangay will get P20 million. What is worrisome, first, it is a lump-sum fund. Number two, the description of the project would really raise a red flag because apart from infra-related projects, it also includes so-called "soft programs" which include livelihood training, assistance to indigents in the form of medical, educational, transportation assistance, etc. These are precisely the items which you recall in the past enabled the corruption. We recall the P728-M fertilizer scam. Isinabog yung fertilizer, hindi mo na talaga ma-account. You remember there were ghost scholars and ghost trainings at the TESDA.

This is the reason why we are opposing this. Even in a COA audit, it is almost impossible for COA to perform to audit this. To the extent that we can abolish it, we will do it. If we cannot because we are in the minority, we will make sure that there is transparency and do not have soft programs.

Q: If it is called an anti-insurgency fund, what should it be spent for? If it is a school building, won't that go under DepEd? What is so unique about it?

SFMD: There is none. That is why part of the reforms that I introduced in the budget several years back is that these funds should go to the budget of concerned agencies. Second, the barangays have no capacity to implement P20 million projects. The task force will be playing God here. Administratively, it is extremely difficult and prone to corruption especially in an election year. Who will implement this? Do they have the capacity? Who is the disbursing officer?

Q: So, you see the anti-insurgency funds just like that the DPWH fund as in a way preparing for 2022?

SFMD: That's our concern. We don't want to attribute malice. Certainly it is open to corruption and abuse for the 2022 elections.

Q: What should be sliced in the budget given that we are in the middle of a pandemic? Do you believe that we will be seeing a cut in the intelligence funds of the President?

SFMD: We will examine it. We will compare it to what it was in the previous years. Not only in the Office of the President, in other agencies such as the AFP. For example, the recent bombings in Jolo. To me, these are all failures of intelligence. So we would like to know how the intelligence funds are being utilized. We want to examine this closely.

Q: On PhilHealth

SFMD: We need some structural changes in PhilHealth. PhilHealth is an insurance organization. It ensures our people against unfunded health expenses. It is basically an insurance issue. In the recent past, we amended the SSS Charter because it is an insurance activity. We made the DOF Secretary as ex-officio chair. We support the proposition of Senate President Sotto that the chairman should be the secretary of finance and if I may add, the insurance commissioner should be part of the Board. This needs a legislation. But insofar as the reorganization is concerned, I authored the GOCC Governance Act in 2011, wherein the GCG council is fully authorized to reorganize, merge or streamline any GOCC such as PhilHealth.

Q: And even privatize...

SFMD: It can even privatize with the authority of the President. But even without the authority of the President, if the GCG will exercise its functions, you do not even need the President to act. You can act unless the President says otherwise.

There is sufficient authority under the law. We do not need legislation. They can do it today. You do not have to go back to Congress.

Q: What is interesting is this is not the first time. It already happened to the SSS Charter and you have designated the secretary of finance as chair. Was there are dramatic change in the SSS? Did it become more profitable? Given that the President is very close to Sec. Duque... the bigger challenge is how do you now convince the President that it would be better managed if the chair is the secretary of finance?

SFMD: In fairness to the SSS, it is not beset with problems as PhilHealth is beset with problems today. The difficulty that they had is in fixing the actuarial life and the premium, but not the difficulty as PhilHealth has today. There is no guarantee. The role of the legislative branch is to debate with policies and come out with the best policies. The matter of implementing the policies is left with the executive branch. There is a structural defect at PhilHealth that can be repaired through law and that is the chairmanship should be with the secretary of finance and the member of the Board should include the Insurance Commission so that nature of the fund as an insurance fund could be effectively pursued.

Q: You need to amend the PhilHealth charter?

SFMD: That's correct. But insofar as reorganizing the structure of PhilHealth, it can be done by the GCG. I repeat, the law today is sufficient and equips the executive branch with the power to reorganize PhilHealth to achieve the policy and purpose to provide our people with health insurance under the Universal Health Care Act.

Q: Technically, these talks of providing the President with emergency power for PhilHealth are, frankly, unnecessary...

SFMD: It is totally unnecessary, because under the law that I wrote, the President is sufficiently equipped with all the powers and the GCG is sufficiently equipped to reorganize, even privatize or abolish, PhilHealth. It is only that we want to change the chair the PhilHealth that we need to amend the law.

Q: The budget of the DOH is ranked number 5 in terms which is getting the biggest allocation. Is it enough?

SFMD: This is a good debate. This is an ongoing debate. We'll look at the budget as a whole, because we are in a pandemic. This is a very peculiar budget. This is the first time we are confronted by this situation. The Congress must decide which one to support more: the so-called demand side, meaning those who are needing the funds such as the social services. It's a debate as to what should be given more emphasis: social services of infrastructure. The view of the DBM and the DOF is that, as it would appear to me, that emphasis should be given more to the infrastructure projects, that is why we have issues on the insufficiency of budgets particularly for the DOH, DSWD and the other social agencies versus allocation for DPWH and other infrastructure agencies. In other words, where do we put our money at least for next year? Which should be given more support: the infra projects or social service? When the decision is made, then you carry out that policy. Alin ba ang mas nangangailangan: ang mga kababayan natin na walang trabaho at walang makain na dapat nating bigyan ng social amelioration program at 4Ps? Remember that there is no SAP in the 2021 budget. This is a debate that we will have to resolve. This is a very crucial debate.

Q: On the European parliament's call. Is this something that we should worry about?

SFMD: You will see 6,000 or so items or products exported to the EU subject to higher tariff. Right now we enjoy a preferential tariff rate under the GSP. Just to give you an example, the most prominent is the tuna in Mindanao. A removal of our GSP privileges will result in higher tariffs on our products, 6,000 products. We should look at this carefully because the labor union is saying that 200,000 jobs will be affected. I strongly advise the administration that instead of just setting this aside and saying this is an empty threat, they should take a closer look, because the European Commission will heed the advice of the EU parliament to end our GSP, we would have problems. No question about it. We should take this seriously rather than that bravado attitude of saying "go ahead". I dread to see that day that they will go ahead and carry out their threat. That is 200,000 jobs on the line. We have a very high unemployment. You already have 10 million who lost the jobs, you add another incident which can be prevented, that is unforgivable.

Q: You served as executive secretary for President Cory Aquino. As a matter of remembrance, is there anything you'd like to say on the anniversary of martial law?

SFMD: I was in the Cory administration and I saw how difficult it was to strengthen and put back our democratic institutions because of martial law. We were witness to nine coup d'etat during that time because of the instability of our political system and our democratic institutions principally caused by the 20 years of martial law rule. We should not forget that. That is what we suffered and had difficulties recovering from after martial law ended. I repeat, the extreme difficulty of then President Aquino in strengthening our democratic institutions to where we are today. We can talk this way today because of the freedoms restored after the martial law was ended and the efforts of all the past presidents to protect the freedom of expression. This is what we should not forget and we should not take for granted.

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