Press Release
January 21, 2009

Transcript of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago's interview

On the government's economic stimulus package

Sen. Angara said that the increase in the economic stimulus package is by P30 billion. It (the package) was already P300 billion, so it is P330 billion. What this means is that government is going to spend P330 billion creating jobs so that more money would go to the people and will circulate in the economy, and in that way we can offset the expected adverse consequences of the recession in America .

Most governments in the world are making these stimulus packages, so there is nothing unusual, much less anomalous, about it. However, the devil is in the details. We have 330 billion to spend. That should be spent in improving agricultural productivity. If we are going to spend money anyway, let's make sure we'll have economic security, that is to say that we will not be at the mercy of rice exporters or fish exporters when the crunch comes.

As chair of the committee on economic affairs, I prefer that the 330 billion economic stimulus money should be spent on agricultural productivity, namely on such infrastructure projects such as the building of small-scale irrigation systems or of farm-to-market roads--more or less permanent improvements that can be availed of by the people.

I am definitely against spending any part of the 330 billion to create artificial jobs, for example sweeping streets or buying overpriced uniforms or brooms. This is a very fertile source of graft. There is already a red light flashing on and off. I read that the Metro Manila Development Authority chair has already started hiring more street sweepers. That is the worst kind of economic stimulus you can think of. He is going to use that for electioneering. And I warn that person that if these uniforms are going to be pink and blue, I am going to send him to jail personally.

It may not be enough. Of course it is never enough. You see, what happens is because the United States has less money than it used to have, it is no longer importing as much as it used to be from the Philippines . Of course our exporters are hurting; some are gone outright, some of them have made massive layoffs. So more Filipinos will be losing jobs. If that is the case, there will be money circulating in the economy, and with that everything will rise, oil prices will rise. That is why it becomes necessary for an economist like President Arroyo to adopt a stimulus package to stimulate the economy. First of all you have to release more money.

On US President Obama inaugural speech

We have all seen this spectacle. It is always spectacular. The Americans want to impress people all over the world that they are the source of the rule of law and of democracy. I doubt it very much, but that is their self-propaganda which they fervently believe.

We simply have to wait and see. I hope that President Obama will not be as hostile to international law as President Bush was. President Bush was a swaggering cowboy. I do not know if he had any academic qualifications for the post because he can't seem to understand international law. The United States cannot act unilaterally unless it has the support of a Security Council resolution. It cannot be the policeman of the world.

By contrast, President Obama has already announced that he has a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq . That is a good sign because Iraq is the Vietnam of our days. That is going to be a deep hole that the Americans has dug for themselves, and unless President Obama seizes the initiative, they might stay in that hole for a long time.

On the composition of the ethics committee

You can't evade the issue of the 2010 elections. The Filipino people is very fond of self-flagellation because they celebrate presidential elections as if they have anything to look forward to, and then after only six months they begin to make a death wish for the elected president. That is so Filipino.

If those presidentiables (in the ethics committee) were more sensitive to the normal issue that would arise, that is to say the conflict of interest issue, they would have declined membership. But as it is, they have accepted it; that is their responsibility. However, it will become slightly difficult to justify an adverse opinion against Sen. Villar considering that they would be contesting the same seat in 2010. In that situation, you will never be able to evade public accusations on the partiality of the judgment.

Can the ethics committee continue with the hearings without the minority?

There is no rule in our Senate Rules that compels the minority to attend, and therefore we simply considered, and since they did it out of their own volition spontaneously, they have therefore waived any right. In the voting, they would be considered at the very least to have abstained. So we will go by the rule of the majority, at least those who participated.

Cabinet reshuffling

My response here is 'Why am I not thrilled?". It is unusual because she is at the end of her term and now she wants a new team. That means that the old team is not working--that is logic. So why is it not working? She should have done that for the earlier part of her term. It speaks of troubled waters. They can't get along with each other there; that is always the case in Malacañang. Because it is the nerve center they can't get along with each other, they are always fighting little turf wars. And this is how she decides it. The poor president of our country who is already besieged with the massive effort to lift our economy from an impending morass because of the economic recession in America can't be bothered with these details. This is the way she calms the waters.

On FVR's letter praying for Sen. Santiago's health

Don't you know that God is very conscious about the source of the prayer? If it comes from a polluted source, God would be very upset. So he should stop praying for me.

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