Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago's Press Statements
I just came from the caucus of the majority in the conference room of the Senate President. I have been assigned to make a statement to the media for the entire majority caucus. First, pursuant to my recommendation, the Senate economic affairs committee, of which I am chair, will no longer issue a subpoena to the country director of the World Bank. Instead, as he himself has suggested, we shall invite him through the secretary of finance to an informal technical briefing, to be attended not only by the members of the three committees handling the World Bank issue, but by all the senators, if that is the wish of our colleagues. Since he has requested for an informal setting, we presume that he means not the formal setting of a public hearing. Perhaps, he prefers an informal conference where he would explain to us the nature of the World Bank documents.
Second, pursuant also to my recommendation, the caucus of the majority today decided that we will not hold another public hearing, but merely an informal technical briefing. Finally, with respect to the rules of evidence, we shall apply the Senate Rules of Procedure, particularly the Rules Governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation. The Rules state in effect that as much as possible, technicalities shall be waived, except when substantive rights of an accused person are involved. The substantive rights of an accused person are those enumerated in our Constitution. The Senate will strictly follow the rules of evidence with respect to the substantive rights of an accused – for example, the presumption of innocence of an accused person, his right against self-incrimination, and his right to confront the witnesses against him.
If this is the case, my committee will be happy to limit itself to economic affairs, because, after all, that is the eponymous name of my committee. The committee is named economic affairs. After that, if there is a senator who wishes to pursue the criminal angle or the accountability of a public official or a public figure, then that senator should file a resolution and the Senate President will assign it to the proper committee, perhaps to the blue ribbon committee. In the meantime, the economic affairs committee and the two secondary committees will first finish this particular investigation on the economic angle of the World Bank case.
Were the results of the majority caucus a win-win situation?
Yes. If you remember, I filed an application for indefinite sick leave, because right now I am in very poor medical condition. I have, as one of the symptoms of my chronic fatigue syndrome, arrhythmia, which is irregular heartbeat, that and I am palpitating right now. That is why I am breathing like I just ran up several flights of stairs. Actually, I did not even want to hold committee hearings. But since the matter of the World Bank fell on my lap as chair of the proper committee, I did not want to be absent because that would have triggered a string of media stories and speculation about why I was absent and that I was just trying to avoid the controversy. That is why I am very happy about the result of the caucus. I was the one who suggested that I should finish the investigation of my committee, and thereafter, anyone can file a resolution if he feels that the economic affairs committee has sufficiently exhausted only the economic aspect of the issue and he wants to pursue the criminal aspect which would fall into the jurisdiction of another committee.
On the confidentiality of the World Bank documents
According to the procedure of the World Bank, we do not communicate directly with them. But they communicate only with whom they call the “accountable officers” of the government, the finance secretary, who is also a governor of the World Bank, and the ombudsman. So I will immediately write a letter to Finance Secretary Gary Teves and request him to arrange an informal technical meeting with the World Bank country director and the Senate as soon as possible.
In his letter to me yesterday, it appears that the World Bank country director, after hearing from the legal department in Washington DC, has made slight adjustments in their strict rules of confidentiality and immunity. The rule of confidentiality in the World Bank is that none of the documents could ever be used for any purpose and cannot even be distributed or cited in any document of our government. In other words, you cannot use the documents for any purpose whatsoever. In his letter to me yesterday, the country director at least gave an inch to the Senate by saying that since they have already given the reports to the two accountable officers of the Philippines, then they give the discretion to the two as to whether to share those reports with the Senate or with any other sector of our society.
I have the referral report, the notice of sanctions proceedings – which is actually an enumeration of all the witnesses and documents that came into the hands of the World Bank investigators, and the decision. The difference in viewpoint taken by the Senate and the World Bank is owing to the difference in our functions and objectives. The objective of the World Bank is simply to find out if there is some evidence if collusion has taken place, because their main objective is to prevent corruption in the bidding of World Bank-funded projects. In the case of the Senate, we are conducting an inquiry in aid of legislation. We have to find out what things are covered by the jurisdiction of the World Bank. That is why they initially do not want to release the documents because they might be misused or the World Bank might be manipulated into a certain position, which it is not taking at all, with respect to domestic politics.