These are excerpts from Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago’s press conference after she presided over the public hearing of the the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Commission on Appointment. It was her first appearance in the Senate since taking a sick leave.
I was only testing myself for today so I can see how long I can stay in the Senate or whether I can work full time now. I have no announcement to make except that I prefer, as a senator, to be paid just one salary. Ang problema sa senado, marami kaming sources of income, all legitimate. Pati kami hindi nakakaintindi kasi ang dami nami’ng discretionary funds: ang isa ay ang Office of the Senator, ang isa naman ay Office of the Permanent Committee. Both are divided by Personal Services (which means salaries for the staff), and the notorious Maintenance, Operating, and Other Expenses. I consider them discretionary funds because you spend that money depending on how many staff members you want to have, or whether you want to people them with ghosts; and the MOOE if you want to use fake receipts, and so on. Kaya para wala nang gulo, isang sweldo na lang.
May sweldo kami under the Salary Standardization Law na P 90,000 a month, but our take-home pay is P60,000. For example, me, I don’t want to work for P 60,000 a month. Huwag naman P 90,000. I have worked myself sick. It’s not worth my time. Magpatuka na lang ako sa ahas.
Basta reasonable lang, let’s say P500,000 a month kasi may withholding tax, etc. Para ang mauuwi ng senador is around P200,000. Okay na sa akin na wala akong discretionary, wala na akong power to dispense public funds. Iyon lang iyon, lahat kami, from top to bottom. President, vice president, members of the cabinet, members of the Senate, and the House of Representatives, dapat iisa lang ang suweldo namin.
When I first assumed office, I thought that function shouldn’t be given to me because I ran to file bills and resolutions and to debate legislation. Instead, I was given the task of an accountant. We have to change the Charter in order to make the qualifications for a senator and congressman more stringent. I insist that candidates for senator or congressman should at least be college graduates.
Second suggestion: dapat ang salary ng highest official–which is the President of the Philippines–should be tied to the lowest employee in government who is paid minimum wage. So we cannot increase our salaries as senators, congressmen, or high public officials, unless we increase the salaries of the lowest paid.
Third recommendation: change the Charter so that only taxpayers will be allowed to vote. Kasi kung hindi siya nagbabayad ng tax, mahirap na mahirap siya. Maski sino na lang, basta bigyan siya ng pera, kahit bigyan mo ng konti, that is patronage politics. The taxpayers are being ruled by the choice of the nontaxpayers.
I am now ready to be cross-examined.
On the PDAF scandal
The government should at least file criminal charges against those public officials involved in the PDAF scam because the news reports were based on affidavits executed by eyewitnesses before the NBI. That constitutes evidence already. Their testimonies have strong weight in the law on evidence. If they have executed their affidavits, these affidavits would not take their place because they are still here. They will both testify and confirm their affidavits. If that is the case, that is prima facie evidence. Therefore, the government must file cases in court. If the government doesn’t do that, despite these affidavits, then, anger against the government would remain unappeased.
If there is enough evidence with the NBI and referred to the three-person committee (SOJ, Ombudsman, COA Chair), immediately the case should be referred for preliminary investigation to the DOJ, and once the preliminary investigation is finished, and the recommendation is to file the case in court, then the prosecutor must request the judge to issue a warrant and there would be no bail (plunder is a nonbailable offense). The moment the case is filed in court, the senators would have to be detained, since there is no bail and there is no immunity from arrest.
Kung mabawasan ng miyembro ang Senado, paano na ang functions nito?
Hindi naman kailangan twenty four kami. Why do we need to be twenty four? It’s a question I ask myself very often. Pwede naman kami na dose. It has to be an odd number para hindi even ang voting. That for me is an argument without any basis. We can work with twelve. We can work with six.
But you will not be able to ratify treaties because you need 16 senators.
Then we can jail eight.
I abolish na natin ang pork barrel. The pork barrel was upheld by the Supreme Court years ago–that is not to say it can never be reversed anymore. As one famous jurist said, the life of the law has never been logic–it has been experience. The logic of the 1980’s when they upheld the pork barrel is no longer the logic of 2013 because of our experience. It did not work. It was abused. Therefore, the only solution to that is to abolish the pork barrel. I am really pissed off whenever a congressman goes on TV and says, “Alam mo 100 na tao ang pumupunta sa opisina ko. Ano na ngayon ang ipamimigay naming gamot, pagkain, pamburol, basketball?” Tumakbo ba sila para mamigay ng ganoon? Kung ganoon pala, dapat tumakbo sila ng mayor, dahil function ng local government iyan. Kung ganoon, sa tingin nila they are discharging their legislative functions, they have to read again. They are being illiterate. They did not run to give away things. That is patronage politics, pure and simple.
Our common experience proves that whatever pork barrel funds are called, they do not work. They do not give the money to the public. They give it to the legislators and to their contractors. The root of all evil is the fact that the legislator is allowed to name the contractor. Kausapin niya ang DPWH na he wants to name his own contractor. Kung DPWH secretary ka, at nilapitan ka ng senador who says “I will give your department this and that much money, but I want it to be constructed by my contractor”, mahihirapan ka, papayag ka.
Will you be attending the Blue Ribbon committee hearings on the PDAF scam?
I want to be present in the Blue Ribbon committee hearing if Janet Napoles is allowed by court to be present and if the whistleblowers who executed their affidavits are present, because then I would try and cross-examine to verify whether their account is true or not. In the case of the COA chair, what is the point of cross-examining an official of the government appointed precisely to act as watchdog over the use of government funds? There is no point.
What will be the first question you will ask Janet Napoles if she attends the hearing?
Ano ang pinakamahal na handbag? Alam niya e. That is a technique in cross-examination: put the witness at ease. Kung takutin mo agad, eh di nerbiyusin iyon. Kung magtataas ng blood pressure iyon, uuwi iyon. Make her feel at home.
Sino ang gusto mo na unang ipatawag?
The whistleblowers. Because there’s enough evidence there. I don’t need Janet Napoles. We don’t need Napoles to convict the senators or the congressmen. If she testifies against them (legislators), all the better.
People misunderstand this whole thing. I said Janet Napoles cannot be the state witness because the state witness is automatically acquitted the moment she turns into one. Wala na siyang pananagutan kung ano man ang ginawa niya, basta sabihin niya lang ang lahat. Akala ng mga tao, basta hindi siya state witness hindi niya sasabihin ang lahat. Sasabihin pa rin niya dahil she will become one of the accused. Kung hindi niya sasabihin ang lahat, paano niya mae-extricate ang sarili niya sa mga eyewitness testimonies ng nagtetestigo laban sa kanya? She will still be compelled even only in self-defense to name everyone she is colluding with.
Another aspect is this: we normally believe now that Napoles is the mastermind. Pero sa karanasan natin, ang taong walang puwesto sa gobyerno hindi ganoon kalakas ang loob niya kung wala siyang protector na alam niya na napakalakas na tao. Maski anong mangyari sa kanya, kaya siyang ipagtanggol. Kaya lumakas ang loob niya e. You don’t find that lakas ng loob every day. Many people want to be a Napoles, but they don’t have the guts, and they don’t have the protector. Whether she identifies that person or not, she still has to defend herself because she is not willing to go to jail for the rest of her life.
If Napoles points out her protector, does that mean she no longer is the most guilty, and allow her to be state witness?
Kung iyon ang gawin niya, I will agree that she no longer is the most guilty. But so far, in the hands of the DOJ, particularly the NBI, we have no such evidence.
Does the COA have evidence enough to charge legislators, negligence, malversation?
We want to catch them at plunder, because that’s what they really committed. There are other escape routes and loopholes if we are using the Penal Code which provides for malversation. Let’s use the special law on plunder. The rule is when there is a conflict between general and special law, the special law prevails.
Hindi po kayo kuntento sa mere malversation?
Hindi, dahil hanggang 20 years lang. Gusto ko life imprisonment. And beyond that, if possible.
Will the PDAF scandal destabilize the Aquino administration?
It will. If the senators and the congressmen are not charged anything, it will show that we, the senators, are a special breed. Magiging ganoon ang mensahe.
There are always saboteurs and provocateurs. They are always there lying in wait for us we are such a poor country and we have major natural resources. That is the biggest danger
Ano ang payo mo sa mga senador na nadadawit sa eskandalo?
Die. Eat blank and die.
Ano naman ang payo mo sa mga hindi dawit sa eskandalo?
Abolish the Congress. Commit mass harakiri. You owe it to the Filipino people. We should all wear our Filipino robes, bow in front of TV, and harakiri ourselves.
Hindi niyo dadalawin ang mga kapwa niyo senador kapag nakulong sila?
Hindi. Pero papadalhan ko sila ng CDs ng speeches ko.
The whole system is just so bad. That’s why people get sick. I think this is the country with the most sick population in the whole world. We continue to go to work as if nothing happens. We are really really sick. We are morally sick. We are mentally sick. The higher the position, the higher the mental sickness.
Persons 70 years old and above are excluded from criminal liability. Is that a special law or under the Penal Code?
That is under the Penal Code.
Lusot na ba yung senator na yan?
Yung si Ninety? You can say that, but still, he will go down in history after all his boasting and his preening. Ayan, his old age will be his own punishment. Hindi pa siya lusot. His name would be ruined if he is convicted. You no longer have the time to erase that blot in your record.
Who are you referring to?
My best best friend.
I don’t think I will get a standing ovation on Monday if I decide that I can attend the session. I think all their backs will be turned, and they will all be looking at other directions.#