In The Face Of Adversity
(Excerpts of the speech of Senate President Franklin M. Drilon Adjournment Sine Die of the 1st Regular Session of the 16th Congress June 11, 2014)
Since we opened the 16th Congress in July last year, it has been a difficult and challenging journey for the Senate. I would like to thank the members of this august chamber for remaining composed and focused on our mandate despite the barrage of harsh and relentless criticisms directed at our beloved institution when the PDAF controversy surfaced last year.
The openness in which we have allowed media to report on this matter and the trust we have for our legal processes show how strong we have built our democratic foundations to withstand political turmoil.
However, we cannot deny that the PDAF controversy has cast a long, dark shadow over the institution. And we completely understand the people’s outrage. Thus, the members of this august chamber collectively sought ways to address the issue.
We abolished the PDAF even before the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. We conducted our own investigation on the alleged misuse of the pork barrel funds.
By undertaking these measures, we are telling our people that the Senate is listening to their pleas and clamors for reforms. We are sending a clear and strong message that their Senate is sensitive to their grievances and concerns.
Amid these spirit-breaking challenges, I am certain that each one of us only has the nation’s and institution’s best interest at heart. We might be going through turbulent times right now, but I am confident that, in time, we will be able to restore the people’s respect and trust in the Senate.
Glory and Honor
We must not lose sight of our ultimate goal, which is to provide a better life for each Filipino; a life that is not wanting in choices and opportunities.
Neither should we forget that the Senate, a bastion of democracy, has a glorious beginning and a history of honor in public service. And we shall endeavor to bring back that glory and honor.
Even if the PDAF scandal was constantly hogging the headlines and trending in the social media for months, and despite the severe public beating, the Senate continues to work around the clock, deliberating on bills and crafting measures that would significantly improve the life of our countrymen.
Despite the controversies and political intrigues that incessantly plague the institution, we have persevered and continue to discharge our duties to the Republic and to the people.
The First Regular Session of the 16th Congress has afforded us the opportunity to prove the stability of our institution in the face of adversity. This august chamber, which has traditionally reveled in the confidence of the electorate and consistently maintained its prominence, has been battered by, perhaps, the gravest crisis to have ever crossed its path. In my 16 years in the Senate, never before have I witnessed this kind of turmoil.
As we continue to brave through the unforgiving blizzard of scandals and controversies, our commitments and vows to the people serve as our guiding light on the road to recovery and redemption.
While we defend our institution against doubts to its integrity, our constituents are faced with a tougher fight – a fight for survival as natural disasters hitting the nation in recent years are evolving with terrifying intensity and frequency.
In 2013, one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded ripped through the Visayas and left a trail of devastation of epic proportions, from which residents of the region are still staggering to recover.
In this light, we worked for the timely enactment of measures to enable our people to quickly get back on their feet.
Among these measures is *RA 10633*, which was enacted in record time and established the national budget for 2014 at P2.265 trillion. Since calamity-stricken areas necessitate prompt delivery of basic services, social services received bulk of the allocation at P841.8 billion, representing 37.2% of the national budget.
This measure also introduced the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program, which apportioned P20 billion to empower the victims of the most tragic natural and man-made calamities in the past year, specifically, the typhoons Yolanda, Santi, Odette, Pablo, Sendong, Vinta, Labuyo, the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol, and the Zamboanga City siege.
Aside from measures capacitating our people to pull through in the face of successive mishaps, we enacted *RA 10635*, which established the MARINA as a single and central maritime administration to comply with international standards, and therefore averted the possible employment ban against 80,000 Filipino seafarers in the European Union.
Resilience to Calamities
Among these bills is *HB 353* which forms part of the government’s continuing mission to boost our country’s resilience to calamities by mandating telecommunications service providers to send free mobile alerts in the event of natural and man-made disasters.
Under the bill, the alerts shall consist of updated information from the relevant agencies, and shall be sent directly to the mobile phone subscribers located near and within the affected areas.
Also on the list is the proposed *Graphic Health Warning Law*, which seeks to increase the awareness of the public especially among the youth on the harmful and deadly effects of smoking.
Under the bill, graphic health warnings in full color shall be printed on at least 50% of the principal display surface of tobacco packages sold in the market.
We believe that the passage of this proposed measure will bring us closer to our goal of protecting the present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.
On the other hand, also awaiting the President’s approval is our *proposed amendments to the Act Liberalizing the Scope and Entry of Operations of Foreign Banks*. This bill aims to expand the participation of qualified foreign banks in our financial sector in preparation for the forthcoming ASEAN economic integration.
Under this measure, reputable and financially sound foreign banks shall be allowed to acquire up to 100% of the voting stocks of domestic banks. We are confident that, with greater foreign participation in our banking sector, we shall have access to a bigger pool of financial resources in order to support various infrastructure projects and other development initiatives.
Resolve to Fulfill Duty
Another priority measure that hurdled both houses of Congress is*the bill extending the corporate life of the Philippine National Railways* as its charter is set to expire this month.
Recognizing the importance of PNR’s uninterrupted service to the riding public, both houses worked intently to ensure this measure’s swift passage in their respective domains.
The Senate has shown a strong resolve to fulfill its duty to the nation, with fervor and determination. Never have we neglected our obligation to the people, despite our present difficulties. Even as we take a respite, we shall endeavor to recover the people’s faith in the Senate as a democratic institution.
Thank you very much.
The Senate Hearings
By Ramon Orosa
I HAVE often wondered what the objectives of the Senate were when it chose to hold hearings regarding the PDAF scam. I was questioning the wisdom if not the utility of that move. Well, the results of the hearing, which was focused on Napoles, are clear indicators that the Senate once again lost out in the process.
In the first place, while Senate hearings in aid of legislation are routinely held, in this instance, the matter is now before the Ombudsman who are presumably perusing the COA reports and the evidence that they have been able to obtain to determine if and what charges are to be filed against those involved. The truckload of evidence accumulated by COA has been provided to the Ombudsman for evaluation and suggests that a lot of time has to pass before the charges are eventually filed.
In some respects, the clamor for charging all of those involved and to file those charges as quickly as possible may not be very realistic. The appreciation of evidence for prosecutorial purposes calls for much judicial wisdom and courage considering the personalities involved. This is not to say that the work involved should not be pursued with much studied haste because an improperly considered legal move may mean the dismissal of charges even against the guilty parties or the indictment and eventual conviction of the “innocent”.
My second concern is that even if Napoles did reveal all, was this simply an attempt to provide her with immunity so that she may escape imprisonment? Thirdly, I do wonder whether the Senate would ever come to a conclusion that the involved members of the Senate are indeed guilty which would be a clear pre-emption of the judicial process now in the works.
Third, it would seem there is a clear conflict of interest involved and even if the head of the committee and its members that held the hearing were not ever involved in the past in any PDAF scam, wisdom should have directed them to refrain from holding such a hearing. It would have been preferred if a hearing on whether amendments to the Constitution might be required to protect the PDAF process from being manipulated or becoming just the milking cow of greedy legislators who are ever so quick on blaming others and unwilling to accept any responsibility.
Most people in the know are aware of what has been happening for such a long time; except that it is only now that a courageous COA is acting with integrity and not being part of the problem. Now there seems to be the “smoking gun” evidence to reveal the truth and prosecute those involved without fear or favor. So, to amend the laws so that accountability of those involved in the process is clearly established in plain ordinary English is a most laudable legislative objective. All the senate needs to do is examine the paper trail and to follow the money trail for purposes of revising the governing rules in the process of identifying, allocating, reviewing and disbursing the monies involved.
That is more appropriate for the senate’s concern. To investigate leading to a determination by their convoluted minds and reasoning whether the individual senators are guilty or not, or to create a bogus spectacle of indignation during the hearing as they either bamboozle the witness or grandstand before the public is more likely to have been the objective; a sign of desperation to try and redeem their tarnished names is quite pathetic. Sorry, but Napoles did not accept the role.
Fourth, is that there is a constitutional provision against self incrimination as it is a judicial principle that one cannot be compelled to testify against one’s self. So, any offer of immunity on the part of the Senate becomes counterproductive to the ongoing judicial process. Considering that several senators are involved, it seemed rather unfortunate that the other senators now position themselves as judges over their peers and even provide an opportunity for those involved in the scam to question the person seen as the leading private sector mastermind of the scam.
The PDAF scam in fact is just criminal activity for which no Senator is immune. Could a finding by a Senate Committee be construed as a form of obstruction of justice, even if they are co-equal to the judicial part of government?
The inability of the senators to rise above their own interests is rather saddening as it is indicative of such clubby, self centered behavior. Unfortunately, I suspect most of them still see the people’s anger against the rampant corruption in the highest reaches of government as a storm that will pass soon and then it is back to the same old ways with maybe a little deodorant applied here and there. Cosmetic changes intended to do some damage control but with no real desire to change the system or seek the higher good of the nation, if not punish the guilty and purge that body of misfits unworthy of their office.
In fact, that anger is directed at the reality of the PDAF being disbursed according to the individual discretion of the lawmakers. We all know that the issue is not just kickbacks but also outright estafa as the NGOs and the recipients are said to be fake, though kickbacks are a corrupt practice. That the whole system is syndicated, meaning needing the involvement of at least three persons, seems rather clear and obvious. So finger pointing is going on in the midst of so much hand washing. The essential element, of course, to estafa being the fact of conversion, meaning funds intended for some purpose in whole or in part going elsewhere to one or more persons benefit. Syndicated estafa, of course, makes the offense non-bailable. The deodorizing by calling these shenanigans simply malversation of funds, just does not stick. It is calculated to let those involved remain free due to the offense being bailable.
I hope the Senate just crawls back into the dungeon they come from and keep quiet about these developments. If an involved senator wishes to defend himself, let him deliver his privilege speech like Jinggoy did, though most people admit that was not a real defense because he never denied the charges. All he really did was say in effect that many others are as guilty as he is.
The one question no one is asking is, if the senators have only 200 million pork, how come some of them spent so much more? Where did it come from? Is this part of the DAP program of the Administration? Is that being disbursed willy nilly? Like ok, l give you so much and to the others, so much, etc., bahala na kayo; just support whatever law I am pushing ,etc.? What is the complicity of the President, the Sec. of the Budget, and other parts of the Executive. Are those funds that are surreptitiously “allocated” to get departmental budgets approved? Nothing new, but this is also the point of the people against Presidential discretion! Subject to so much abuse even if personally the President does not gain money and only political muscle! Hey man, the game rules are indeed changing!
Time to call a time out and rethink so many issues.