Interview transcript: Online libel, Cybercrime Law, MCPIF, PDAF Scandal, DAP – 20 February 2014

21 Feb

On the recent decision of the Supreme Court on the Cybercrime Law

Long before the Cybercrime Law was presented to the Supreme Court, I already predicted that some of its provisions would be declared unconstitutional and particularly the provision on libel on the internet. In my view therefore, although the decision is a half-victory for some and a half-victory for others because it just picks out certain provisions as unconstitutional; nonetheless, we still have remedies available. Number one, there can still be a motion for reconsideration of the libel provision and number two the Senate can still rapidly on this new Cybercrime Law that I have filed. I am going to redouble my efforts in view of this decision by the Supreme Court, which I think is unfortunate in some respects. Let me explain.

Under our Constitution, freedom of speech occupies the highest ranking in the hierarchy of values of the bill of rights. So that must stand for something. It’s the very first provision. It says, no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, the freedom of press, and the cognate rights of individuals and groups within our society. This means, therefore, that number one, ordinarily, a law enjoys the presumption of constitutionality. When you question a law before the courts, the courts must start with the presumption that the law is constitutional. But, because of the priority given by the bill of rights to the freedom of speech, plus the language of the law itself inside the Constitution, which states, no law shall be passed abridging freedom of speech although the courts have allowed libel laws under those provisions. Nonetheless, for me, the meaning of the way that provision is worded and is position as first in the hierarchy of civil and political rights of the citizen is that contrary to the common presumption in favor of laws in general, any law against freedom of speech should be presumed unconstitutional, otherwise, there’s no meaning to that constitutional provision, isn’t that so?

Now, in more technical terms, online libel, as it is presently worded, where the court says, well, if you put it online, it is just like libel in any of the traditional forms of media, makes a gross mistake in the identity of the traditional media against that of the social media. These are two completely different universes. They are not operating within the same universe as traditional media: radio, TV, and print. In TV, radio, and print, once you are maligned, it is extremely difficult to get your side aired. Because, for example, if your enemy is political in nature, the political enemy that you have made could be a crook and he would have much more money than you do, because, precisely, he is a crook. He steals money from the government. So, if he publicizes a libelous article against you, it is very difficult for you to receive equal space and equal time for your time, because the illicit fortune of your enemy makes him so rich that he is virtually outside the rich of our judicial system. But that doesn’t apply on the internet. On the internet, if someone posts a blog [entry] or a tweet, or some comment against you, you have the full right to answer him in kind and you don’t have to pay anything. That is the main difference between [the] internet and traditional media with respect to the crime of libel. It is a wide-open universe unlike the restricted universes of traditional media. To make it more technical, let me just say that the criminal libel provision of the present internet law violates at least two widely accepted principles of constitutional law. The first is the void for vagueness doctrine. As presently worded, the provision on online libel is so vague that you hardly know who are covered by it. Although the Supreme Court has said that it is only the sender who is liable not the person who is commenting or receiving. But what do these words mean? Who is the sender? Is it the service provider, the individual netizen, or if they are a group, how do we identify them? Even worse, if they are not using their true identities, how are you going to go beyond what they professed to be their identities on the internet? That is the main problem today. Identity theft is common on the internet. We’ve never heard of this crime before. So, these emphasize how different the internet is from traditional forms of media. The Supreme Court is treating social media as if it were just a scion or successor or just another classification of traditional media—it is not! Here we have a case that unfortunately, appears to be jurisprudence trailing after technology because of lack of information of how the internet operates in society. That is the first objection: the void for vagueness doctrine. The language of the law that has been passed upon by the Supreme Court is so vague that it becomes illegal since it is a very significant constraint on the preferred freedom of the entire bill of rights—the freedom of expression or the freedom of free speech.

The second objection in constitutional law terms is overbreadth. Sinasakop na niya ang lahat, kaya hindi mo maiintindihan ngayon this law. The basic principle should be that the law should be confined within very strict limits.  Only a certain group of persons are liable under this provision. But this law plus the interpretation of the Constitution makes this field so wide open. It is virtually almost like the void for vagueness doctrine that you no longer have any clear voice or signals on where the line ends or begins. So for these two reasons, the void for vagueness doctrine and the overbreadth doctrine, I humbly submit that the Supreme Court ruling on these particular provisions is erroneous and I call on all netizens to magnify all our efforts and to speed it up as soon as possible so we can either file a motion for reconsideration with respect to this particular libel provision or we can speed it up here in the Senate on the new law that I have filed from crowdsourcing (Senate Bill No. 53, The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom). It was not me who crafted this law, but all the netizens coming from different professions, naturally, from lawyers, but also from civil engineers, etc.



17 Feb

Sen. Santiago interpellates Ruby Tuason during the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing on the PDAF scam last 13 February 2014

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, a multiawarded former RTC judge, said that the mere presence of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile during the times when his chief of staff Atty. Gigi Reyes met with Ruby Tuason is enough proof of a conspiracy, and proves Enrile’s guilt “to a moral certainty.”

“It is now obvious that Tuason was covering up for Enrile, so that the entire criminal liability for plunder could be shifted to Reyes alone. That is devious of Tuason, and heartless of Enrile. He is ready to sacrifice Reyes to save himself,” Santiago said.



29 Jan

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, in one of her rare appearances in the Senate last Monday, dared her colleagues to support a legal provision making it mandatory for government to publish in a website, not only the basic salary, but also the allowances and other sources of personal income of all public officials, both elected and appointed.

She issued the challenge while interpellating Sen. Grace Poe on the proposed Freedom of Information bill last January 27.

“The basic monthly salary of a senator is P90,000. But if you add all other legitimate sources of income such as allowances and honoraria, the total monthly income of a senator could be placed at some P1.4 million,” she said.

The senator said that this amount came from computations made by the Senate finance and administrative services department.

Santiago said that if the proper information is published in a government website, the voters would know during election period whether they want to pay that much for the services of a person who might not even be a high school graduate.

“There are some senators who did not finish high school or college. Do we really want to pay them this high a salary? That is a valid concern that voters might want to address, if they have access to information,” the feisty senator said.



22 Jan

Keynote address at the opening ceremonies of the Annual Convention of the Philippine Psychiatric Association, Inc., at Edsa Shangri-la Hotel on 21 January 2014

Psychiatrists Should Lead Hospitals

Let me name some of the most famous medical centers in the world: Harvard Partners System, Mt. Sinai in New York, UCLA System, Georgetown/Medstar, and New York Presbyterian Hospital. All these medical centers have a common feature, in that their CEOs are all psychiatrists. This “new normal” indicates that psychiatrists make good leaders, and therefore psychiatric residence programs in our country should now provide the training necessary for the next generation of medical directors and CEOs.

According to a paper published only last November by the American Psychiatric Association, medical residents should be more exposed to leadership roles. This exposure should consist of three components: specialized curriculum, experiential learning in the form of a project, and mentorship by a physician leader.

Thus, medical schools should cultivate leadership skills as an important component of the psychiatric profession. According to an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, the mood of the leader should be characterized by what is called “resonance.” The mood of the psychiatrist affects his patient. For this reason, medical schools should promote the process of self-awareness and mood management. Medical schools should start training residents to become clinician leaders.

To understand this new call for psychiatric doctors to take the helm of change, we have to look back to how medicine has evolved. At first, doctors practiced so-called bedside medicine, and then progressed to so-called hospital medicine. After the 20th century, we are now faced with hospital service complexes with complicated hierarchical structures. The Philippines as a developing country faces problems within our healthcare system concerning economics and efficiency.

The strong movement toward medicalization has given rise to the rising costs of our national healthcare coverage. To help solve this problem, increased importance is now being given to such practices as: preventive medicine, surveillance medicine, and homecare treatments. We are besieged with numerous problems such as “funding constraints and demands for greater accountability for the safety, quality, and efficacy of healthcare.”

In the face of this ascending spiral of healthcare spending, the medical profession is compelled to pay proper attention to the task of developing individual leaders and new models of leadership within the profession. If we could properly train healthcare professionals in the area of medical leadership, we could eliminate hospital inefficiency. Thus, in the Philippines as in most other countries worldwide, we see and accept the need to develop leadership skills in medical students.



22 Jan

If President Aquino merely confined himself to attempts to influence the outcome of the impeachment trial last year, he did not commit a crime. But if he bribed the senator-judges to convict the accused, then he is guilty of bribery as prohibited by law and as a ground for his own impeachment under the Constitution.

It is not a crime for the President to try to influence the outcome, because an impeachment trial is both legal and political in nature. It is illegal for the President to try and influence the courts, because of the principle of independence of the judiciary. But it is legal for the President to try and influence the senator-judges, because he is the nominal head of his political party, and within bounds, he has the right to assure his political survival.

In his privilege speech, Sen. Ramon Revilla, Jr. claimed that Pres. Aquino had him fetched from his house and brought to Malacañang, where the President allegedly tried to convince him to withstand pressures from civil society to acquit.

Hence, I shall deal with two issues: judicial review of impeachment trial; and the constitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), particularly when it is apparently used as a bribe.



10 Jan

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago condemned the unscrupulous acts of entities involved in the alleged overpricing of bunkhouses meant as temporary shelters for the victims of supertyphoon Yolanda (international codename: Haiyan).

The senator filed Senate Resolution No. 436 yesterday seeking for a Senate investigation following reports that some 203 bunkhouses being developed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in Leyte and Eastern Samar allegedly do not comply with internationally recognized standards and best practices.

“This controversy multiplies the suffering of our countrymen in the typhoon-affected areas, as they faced devastation from a natural disaster and the evils of corruption,” she said.



23 Dec

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, downed by chronic fatigue syndrome, still managed to file the highest number of bills and resolutions in the Senate.

Her nemesis, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile –with whom she has a running word war—filed the lowest number of bills and resolutions for the same period.

As of 19 December 2013, the Senate legislative bills and index service said that Santiago, a perennial topnotcher, filed 618 bills and resolutions, while Enrile filed only 16 such measures.

The top three senators are: Santiago, 618; Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, 543; and Sen. Antonio Trillanes, 249.

The lowest three senators are: Enrile, 16; Sen. Vicente Sotto, 30; and Sen. Pres. Franklin Drilon, 31.



12 Dec

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago appealed to budget secretary Florencio Abad to recommend a presidential veto of an item in the 2014 budget appropriating overP800 million for the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, created by a law authored by then Rep. Juan Ponce Enrile. The exact appropriation is P890,886,000.

The CEZA, reportedly run by Enrile’s family, is notorious for smuggling and illegal gambling.

Santiago described the appropriation as illegal and immoral. She said that even with a Special Provision, it will become a lump sum, subject to Enrile’s discretion. Allegedly, this outcome would violate the landmark Supreme Court ruling that all kinds of pork barrel are unconstitutional.

The senator also said that it is “extravagant” to spend such a lump sum for an alleged “deeper navigation channel” in Port Irene, when the government is cash-strapped, and when the budget describes the mandate as: “to develop CEZA into a self-sustaining area.”



5 Dec

Privilege speech on 4 December 2013

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen of the Senate:

Mastermind of Plunder

It comes rarely in the life of the nation that a people, under the travails of developing country status, aided by providence, find it in themselves to rise above the morass of political corruption, and to build the architecture for a fresh and shining territory where people live free of the forces of darkness.

Today, the time has come. At last we stand at the very heart of the epic pork barrel corruption in the Congress, specially the Senate. Why are the proportions of corruption so epic in scale? How did the criminals manage to steal some P10 billion pesos of the people’s money in just ten years? Who is the mastermind?

Guided by faith in a just God and in the rule of law, dozens of whistleblowers have testified in writing and provided supporting documents to prove that the very heart of darkness is the leadership of the Senate itself. Thorough NBI investigation has led the Department of Justice to file formal charges of plunder against the first batch of suspects, led by no less than the Senate President at that time, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile. The Ombudsman is conducting preliminary investigation, and has assured the public that justice will not be denied: the resolution will be issued by the end of this month.

Notably, the Ombudsman has admitted receiving a memorandum of over 200 pages pinpointingEnrile as the mastermind of plunder. That official memorandum validates the charge I aired in the latest hearing of the Blue Ribbon Committee, where I first made that very same accusation, based on the lawyer’s thought process of enlightened scepticism. If he smarted against the accusation, Enrile could have requested for an additional hearing where he could be personally present and interpellate Janet Napoles, who appears to be his BFF, or Best Friend Forever. But he chooses to stay away and keep silent, because he is immobilized by fear and humiliation.

Instead of presenting evidence to the public of his hypocritical protestations of innocence, Enrile once again chose to steer public attention to what he hopes will be a diversion: the lies and black propaganda hurled against me during the 1992 presidential campaign. This man, contrary to logic and common sense, hopes to evade criminal prosecution and public outrage over his plunder, by resurrecting campaign dirt against me which are over 21 years old! Dream on, old man, aka Tanda.

Enrile tried to portray me in the blackest terms. He pointedly ignored the fact that I am a laureate of the Asian Nobel Prize, the 1988 Magsaysay Award for government service. According to the official citation, the Award “recognizes her bold and moral leadership in cleaning up a graft-ridden government agency.” Media has noted that I am reportedly “the most awarded Filipino public official,” because I won such awards as TOYM, TOWNS, and U.P.’s most outstanding law alumnus. Enrile never reached these levels of professional recognition. Please feel free to compare my resume to his, since my biography appears in Wikipedia.

This was not only bringing parliamentary debate to the lowest level. It is a violation of every canon of civility and decency in public discourse. Parliamentary rules strictly forbid arguments ad hominem, but my attacker delivered an entire speech by appealing to personal prejudices rather than to reason; and by attacking my character rather than my assertion that he is the mastermind of the plunder. In fact, my attacker is guilty of violating the Senate Rules, Rule 34, Sec. 94: “No Senator, under any circumstances, shall use offensive or improper language against another Senator or against any public institution.” (Emphasis added). Under Rule 34, he has committed the offense of “unparliamentary acts and language,” and I shall charge him with disorderly behaviour with the Ethics or the Rules Committee, punishable by suspension for 60 days.



22 Nov

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said that with evidence pointing to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile as the mastermind in the P10 billion pork barrel scam, Janet Lim-Napoles is no longer the most guilty among the accused in the plunder case, and is now qualified to be a state witness.

Santiago was reacting to news that the Ombudsman field team has submitted a report fingering Enrile as the real mastermind of the fraudulent scam that ran for some ten years, including the period when he was Senate President.

Earlier Santiago, in a rare public appearance, attended the Senate hearing where she interpellated Napoles and, by sheer lawyer’s logic, led the TV public to the conclusion that she herself categorically declared: “Enrile is the mastermind, and Napoles can turn state witness.”

Santiago said that under the Rules of Court, the motion to discharge Napoles to be a state witness should be filed by the prosecution before the Sandiganbayan, aka the anti-graft court.

The senator, a multiawarded former trial judge, said there are six requirements for an accused to be discharged as state witness: absolute necessity for her testimony; no other direct evidence except her testimony; substantial corroboration in the material points of the testimony; the accused has not been convicted of any offense involving moral turpitude; and the accused does not appear to be the most guilty.

Santiago said that “in all likelihood” Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales will adopt the report of her field team. Morales has announced that the plunder cases against some 38 accused, including Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, and Sen. Bong Revilla Jr., will be resolved before the end of December this year.

She said that once the Ombudsman resolves to file the cases in the Sandiganbayan, automatically, the Sandigan under the anti-plunder law, will order the suspension from the Senate of the three senators.

The court will also order a bail hearing immediately to determine if evidence of guilty is storng. In plunder cases, there is no right to bail.

“If the Sandigan discharges Napoles as a state witness, this means that in effect she has been acquitted. But she has to comply with the condition that she must specify every single detail of the scam hatched by the mastermind and carried out by her fake NGOs,” Santiago said.

Santiago said that if the Sandigan as a trial court discharges Napoles, even if Enrile appeals the order to the Court of Appeals, the latter will not interfere unless Enrile can show grave abuse of discretion.

“The philosophy behind the state witness procedure is to give immunity to one of the conspirators in order that not all shall escape, particularly the mastermind,”she said.

She cited the principle that: “Where a crime is contrived in secret, the discharge of one of the conspirators is essential so that she can testify against the other conspirators.”

Santiago said that Napoles’ testimony is absolutely necessary because she alone has knowledge of the entire crime, and her testimony is not simply corroborative.

She added that under Supreme Court decisions, when Napoles applies in the Sandigan for discharge, she is required to file a sworn statement as a proposed state witness.

“Because she has to file a sworn statement in court, I would strongly urge that Napoles should file a petition in court to perpetuate her testimony. She must file such a petition, because her life is in danger as a potential state witness.” In her petition, Napoles must give the facts which she desires to establish by her proposed testimony, and the reasons for desiring to perpetuate it. Napoles will have to name the adverse parties, such as senators Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla so that their lawyers can be present during her deposition,” she said.

“The Sandigan will grant the petition for perpetuation of testimony to prevent a failure of justice. The lawyers of both the petitioners and the adverse parties, together with the clerk of court, will then go to Napoles and either ask verbal questions or present her with written questions which she must then answer at that place. A court stenographer will be present to take down her testimony,” the senator said.

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