Press Release
August 26, 2009

Transcript of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago's interview

On the advantages and disadvantages of former President Estrada being part of the top contenders in the presidency polls

As long as you are in the top 3, you will immediately get small tokens of support from the big campaign contributors to be increased as long as you stay in the top 3. Or since there seems to be 18 of them, then maybe in the top 5, so if you are not there, nobody will give you any money. That is the problem with people who are below the top 3, nobody's giving them any money. The second advantage is it creates a bandwagon. People start to think of him as the next president. And people always want to be with the winner.

Let's go to the disadvantages. All the others will now be united in the purpose to assassinate his character so that he can score lower in the survey. So it has advantages and disadvantages. In the case of Mr. Estrada, of course he has a right to decide to run, that is the right of suffrage-to vote and to be voted on. Plus, sometimes he is in a statistical tie; sometimes number two in the surveys. Once you are in the top 3, you are assured of at least preliminary contributions, or let us just call them down payments. You have to keep up that rating until the week before election day.

On the legal problems former President Estrada may face

You'll always have the provision in the election code that in case a candidate withdraws, or dies, or is disqualified - let's say Mr. Joseph Estrada is disqualified-then his party is entitled under the law to submit the name of another candidate even if the deadline for filing the certificate of candidacy has already expired. In that case, they can very well then substitute the name of Joseph Estrada with Jinggoy Estrada. But if the disqualification happens after Mr. Estrada has assumed office, assuming he wins, then it would be the lucky vice president, whoever is running with him, and who wins with him, will become president.

On whether the ethics complains against Sen. Villar has affected him adversely with regard to running for presidency

No. After more evidence has been presented, at the onset, it seems to have affected the public. But that was on the basis of small (amount of) evidence submitted at that time. Now that the evidence has mounted because of more and more hearings, it appears that the public can no longer follow what is the line of thought of his critics. Therefore, this is manifestation that the public either does not understand what is the point involved here, why he is alleged to have committed malversation of public funds, or have suffered from an illegal conflict of interest. It either appears that the public does not fully understand what the relationship is to the accusation or they do not care.

On the senatorial polls

I do not know about that. It's not like in the presidency; the senatorial is very very different. A presidentiable candidate is going one on one against everybody else. So people take a very long time to decide. Whereas, with senatorial candidates, people are allowed to choose 12. So they can change their minds anytime because they can put in someone else at a moment's whim. They can always say, "Well, anyway, she or he is only one of the twelve I am entitled to vote for." So I really do not put much trust in these senatorial surveys. I may be number one, but I might make a decision not to run anymore.

On whether the Department of Health should instead pay their debt to PhilHealth than launch infomercials

Absolutely. The Department of health should comply with its legal obligation of paying its contributions to PhilHealth instead of diverting illegally the public funds to such things as unnecessary infomercials or to put it another way, if they can shorten the infomercials if it concern communicable diseases because that then would be a duty of the Department of Health to propagate the news, but they can shorten it if they remove the appearance of the secretary of health, then they would have more money to pay their debts.

On Duque's statement that the ads have more credibility with their faces on it

No, that is not true. I am of the contrary opinion. If they remove their face from the ads, it would have more credibility and more effectiveness because the Filipino is very very smart with respect to politicians. In fact the Filipino is already jaded and cynical about politicians. The moment you put a politicians, people automatically assume a defensive attitude. They have to defend themselves against the lies or the hypocrisies of politicians-that is the common attitude.

On Devenadera's claim that they are helpless with regard to investigating these so-called "friends" who have donated to a politician's infomercials

I am sure she is referring to the fact that it is very difficult to trace who these so-called friends who are alleged to be paying for the infomercials of the cabinet member. For all we know, it is the cabinet members themselves who are paying money, but they think that by putting "paid by the friends of" they could somehow escape the prohibitions contained in the law. That is the main impression of these candidates. Besides, no one will admit that he or she is a contributor or so-called friend who paid for the infomercial because then all the other candidates for similar office will either ask for contributions themselves or will treat him or her as a political enemy. In that practical sense, it becomes very difficult for the justice secretary to find out who are these so-called friends. But clearly, there is a criminal liability on the part of the candidate, even assuming the impossible that the infomercial was aired by friends without his knowledge or his consent, but doesn't he see himself on television, then that is really out of the question.

On Chairman Bayani Fernando who admitted to receiving P1.6M as a gift within the past four years

It is a public confession of liability for a crime. In effect, that is an admission against interest of probative value if you were to be sued in court.

Under the code of Conduct, we public officials-and that is a very generic term because as long as you receive salary from government whether we are executive or appointive-are not allowed to receive any gifts at all whether in cash or anything of so-called monetary value, which the law interprets as anything that is manifestly excessive.

Liability is accepting a gift. We are not allowed to accept a gift unless of nominal or of insignificant value. Someone would first have to file a case. But if it is an anti-corruption case, the ombudsman would have jurisdiction. In the constitution, the ombudsman can act on its own. It does not have to wait for a private complainant.

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