Transcript of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago’s Interview
14 December 2007On the JPEPA
By January, on the first working week, I intend to sponsor the JPEPA, provided that I am able to convince the Japanese ambassador that we shall have a side agreement or an exchange of notes that will preclude any finding of unconstitutionality by the Supreme Court. As I have said, that is the threshold question. I think we have also because more or less we have reached a consensus on the language to be employed. The main concern here is that if we substantially alter the provisions of JPEPA, then, under Japanese law, the JPEPA will have to go through the Japanese parliament or Diet all over again. Naturally, the Japanese government does not wish to do that. It is going to delay the matter maybe by a year.
So what we are trying to do is very sensitive. What we are trying to do is craft a vocabulary or a formula that would be acceptable to the Japanese government and will preclude the necessity of submitting the JPEPA all over again to the parliament, and at the same time will satisfy the constitutional requirements of our own Philippine Constitution, so that we can be safely assured that if any petition is brought to the Supreme Court, at least the question of constitutionality, we shall be upheld both on the part of the Senate and the executive branch.
I think we are nearly there because the Japanese ambassador has been very accommodating and cooperative. The formula is with me. I am trying to word it very carefully and calling on all resources of academic training so that we can meet the requirements of Japanese law and Philippine law at the same time.
With regards to the trade and industry provision, there will be no major changes, maybe just a slight amendment on the language employed. I don’t think it would cause any controversy. I think we will have a JPEPA by the first three months of the new year.On the JCPC’s contempt charge against Transco President and CEO Arthur Aguil
He submitted a motion for reconsideration, and under the Epira Law that grants powers and jurisdiction of the JCPC of which I am chair, then I find his explanation acceptable and will reconsider the citation for contempt. Apparently he is also very sick.On the proposed revival of the Anti-Subversion Law
That is a step backward. Under the Anti-Subversion Law, mere membership is punishable, and that would be unconstitutional because it would impinge on the constitutionally protected right of freedom of assembly and association. Although the previous Anti-Subversion Law provided that any member could be prosecuted provided that the member is in possession of arms or in the act of calling on an uprising against the government. Nonetheless, the language is so vague that it could be justifiably accused of unconstitutional infringement of the freedom of assembly and association. Just because you are a member of a party it does not mean that you are guilty of whatever some members have committed, that would be guilt by association which has already been rejected by our Supreme Court.
I believe that the present provisions of our Penal Code on insurrection, sedition, inciting sedition, and the Anti-Terror Law or the Human Security Act already provide amply for the protection of the state against rebels and subversives. But you cannot just hail a person to detention just because you suspect him to be a subversive. That was the authority granted to law enforcers in the Anti-Subversion Law, and that is why it was repealed in 1992.Do you think it would gain support in the Senate?
No. Considering that the Senate is opposition dominated, plus because of the constitutional issues that it raises, I don’t think it would gain any ground in the Senate or even in the House. These two chambers of the legislature are very sensitive to public opinion, and I think it is indefensible to be able to arrest and prosecute a person just because he or she is a member of a political group. That is antidemocratic.On the Senate Committee on Energy hearing
The Renewable Energy Bill has been filed in various forms by thirteen senators, so I can already foresee a brief and happy debate in the Senate because we already have thirteen votes, meaning even before we have debated it is already sure of being passed in the Senate. We want to develop renewable energy so that we will no longer be dependent on the fluctuating price of oil. This is actually an oil independence law. We want to give incentives to people who want to develop renewable energy facilities by, for example, exempting them from tariff duties, value-added tax, giving them substantial discounts in realty taxes and income taxes. There are a lot of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.
On the part of the consumer, the law provides for green energy option, meaning if you choose not to avail of your electricity from the standard electricity supplier which is always sourced from oil, but from a supplier that sources its energy from a renewable energy source. It provides for a discount or a tax holiday when you avail of this option. Binibigyan natin ang consumer ng karapatan para mamili kung alin ang panggagalingan ng kanilang kuryente. Kung oil, kung tumaas ang presyo ng langis, tataas rin ang presyo ng iyong kuryente. O kaya kung renewable energy sources, bibigyan ka ng diskuwento ng gobyerno o babawasan ang iyong income tax. Basically this is an incentives bill so that our country will be weaned away from total oil dependence to renewable energy. We have already agreed with the executive branch that his will be prioritized.Can the proceeds from the sale of the government’s energy assets be used to lower electricity rates?
You can use it in that sense only if the money is turned over to the National Treasury. Remember when we sell our electricity assets, part of it will go to the government, part of it will go to the National Treasury. That part that goes to the National Treasury can be used by Congress by the President when she submits her proposed budget to subsidize oil prices.
As you have heard the PISTON president this morning, apparently this (public transportation) is an industry crying for help, and the only way you can help an oil industry-based service sector is by subsidy, either by exempting oil from the usual taxes or by government stockpiling it. He made a very radical proposal; he wants government to buy Petron, which we already sold. As I’ve pointed out yesterday, it is very important that we must reconsider and study carefully the sale of our asset kasi kapag nabenta mo na iyon, mahirap na bilhin ito muli.
I say that [subsidy] is a real possibility. Imagine, the peso-dollar parity is now almost Php40, baka bumaba pa. We cannot go back to oil regulation. That would be a step backward.
You’ll notice that there is a periodic sense in the public to change presidents whenever there is an oil price increase. Any president who is historically-conscious will make sure that the almost cyclical increases in oil prices will not affect his or her incumbency.On Sen. Madrigal’s insistence that there is an anomaly in the Transco sale
That is for her to prove. As far as we could gather from yesterday’s JCPC hearing, there is no documented evidence of her charges. She makes these accusations, but in court you need evidence, and it could either be testimonial or documentary. You have to have a witness who has first hand knowledge that there is a subversion of the Anti-Dummy Law because in effect the charge is that there is no Razon name in any of the papers involved and he is acting through somebody else. To make that charge stick you have to present either a witness who can testify through first hand knowledge, or documentary evidence. I doubt very much if that is possible.
There is an accusation, but even from a fact-finding point of view there is no probable cause. There has to be more than mere verbal accusation. There has to be evidence to support it.