ESGUERRA: …you said that the President continues to trust basically the Budget Secretary. But when it comes to the so-called whiff of corruption, because they are trying to pour a lot of corruptions here, di ba, not just a whiff?
SEC. PANELO: Yeah. But the corruption is baseless, their corruption charges is baseless. He has nothing to do with the allocations of the budget, that’s the job of Congress – to scrutinize, to review; and if there is any irregularity, they can correct; and if they find the irregularity amounting to a crime, then they can charge, they can recommend filing charges against those who are offenders.
ESGUERRA: So how do you read the situation now, what is Congress actually trying to do… the House leaders?
SEC. PANELO: From what I gather, it’s about the Road…
ESGUERRA: User’s tax.
SEC. PANELO: User’s Tax. They want that and Secretary Diokno and the Executive doesn’t want it.
ESGUERRA: But is the President aware or familiar with the play here… how certain actors are trying to play the game here?
SEC. PANELO: Meaning, what do you mean?
ESGUERRA: Meaning, the—
SEC. PANELO: Oh they just him out, because… perhaps they cannot get what they want.
ESGUERRA: Yeah, precisely, because when you talk about issues like this there’s more than meets the eye, basically. So, is the President familiar with that?
SEC. PANELO: Definitely, he used to be member of Congress.
ESGUERRA: Now, you said that they simple want the Road User’s Tax. So what is the position of Malacañang here? Because they want it released, right?
SEC. PANELO: The position of Malacañang? I don’t know, the position is the reverse.
ESGUERRA: Yeah, I mean, the House leaders.
SEC. PANELO: Yes, they want it released; but the Palace doesn’t want. Even the Senate doesn’t want.
ESGUERRA: The reason of Malacañang is that?
SEC. PANELO: Well, because as Mr. Diokno says it’s the cash flow, that’s where the Congressman get their money.
ESGUERRA: But has the President spoken with Diokno regarding this allegation?
SEC. PANELO: Oh, definitely—
ESGUERRA: Regarding these allegations against him.
SEC. PANELO: I’m sure, they have been—they have talked. He said so himself.
ESGUERRA: So, the President also assured Diokno that his job is not in trouble here?
SEC. PANELO: Oh, definitely. All of us are in support of him.
ESGUERRA: What do you make of the… the way the House treated Diokno in that Question Hour. Because there seems to be—do you think he was set up here? Because after the Question Hour came the resolution calling for his resignation basically… or for the President to fire him?
SEC. PANELO: I think I’m more inclined that the way they treated Diokno was more of squid tactic, because—if you remember Lacson gave an expose on certain amendments or he called it insertions and since they were the ones on the hot seat, they had go for another person to replace them and I think it succeeded.
ESGUERRA: So, they are trying to divert attention…
SEC. PANELO: Yeah.
ESGUERRA: …from themselves?
SEC. PANELO: I think so.
ESGUERRA: And also, if you look at the cast of characters here, it’s not technically at this point Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo talking.
SEC. PANELO: Oh, definitely.
ESGUERRA: But it’s her boys that defending her.
SEC. PANELO: Yes, I agree. I think it’s not GMA, it’s the ‘boys.’
ESGUERRA: Yeah, for all intents and purposes, it’s GMA actually moving here.
SEC. PANELO: I do not think so.
ESGUERRA: Because you mentioned squid tactics here, but part of the accusations which came from Senator Lacson was that there was as much as 2.4 billion pesos allocated in the Congressional District of Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; also huge amount for Majority Leader Rolando Andaya.
SEC. PANELO: But, Speaker GMA already explained that, that considering the ranking, she was far below the other Congressman.
ESGUERRA: Pero malaki pa rin – 2.4 billion.
SEC. PANELO: You know, to me what is important is the allocations should be given to the district that needs them. Because to my mind the equitable distribution should depend on the necessity of each district; it doesn’t mean that you will have to divide the pie equally, because if one district doesn’t need it, why do you have to…
ESGUERRA: Yeah, it has to be equitable.
SEC. PANELO: Yes.
ESGUERRA: So, do you think the distribution was equitable?
SEC. PANELO: It depends on the requirement of that district, if they need that. Like for instance, between a road it’s already being used and there is access to that, as against the construction of a bridge, certainly, you need the bridge more than the road.
ESGUERRA: Now, is it true that the President was not aware of this 75 billion peso insertion or augmentation in the DPWH budget? This was admitted by Secretary Diokno during the Question Hour. It’s not only 51 or 52 billion, it was 75 billion added to the budget of DPWH.
SEC. PANELO: It cannot be that. Because the budget after being prepared is submitted to the President, it’s submitted to the Cabinet. So we know the existence of that.
ESGUERRA: So, the President approved of this?
SEC. PANELO: Certainly and the Cabinet did.
ESGUERRA: So what was this thing that Majority Leader Andaya was saying that the President was not even familiar with that addition, for example – at least during deliberations – and even Public Works Secretary Mark Villar?
SEC. PANELO: How can he know that? He is not a member of the Cabinet, he was not there during the deliberation. Those are allegations.
ESGUERRA: But this addition of 75 billion, the President was aware of this and approved of this?
SEC. PANELO: Yeah, the Cabinet approved the budget.
ESGUERRA: So, how do you settle this problem with the House leaders? Basically, they are demanding the head of the Budget Department.
SEC. PANELO: They cannot intrude into the discretion of the President in appointing or retaining them. The only part where they can intrude is when they approve the appointment, but they have already done that.
ESGUERRA: And of course, it’s your job to scrutinize the budget.
SEC. PANELO: Yeah, that’s precisely why I cannot even understand why they keep on harping on this. If they see something wrong, then they can amend it, they can do some realignments, that’s their job.
ESGUERRA: How does the President feel about all this? You have here a delayed budget and now revelations coming from certain House leaders of supposed indiscretions?
SEC. PANELO: Oh certainly he doesn’t like it… he doesn’t like it and he said so himself.
ESGUERRA: Who does he blame… for the delay?
SEC. PANELO: Well, it could be greed…
ESGUERRA: From who?
SEC. PANELO: … from those who want money, it’s election time.
ESGUERRA: What exact are you saying here?
SEC. PANELO: Well, why are they complaining about these funds? Perhaps they want money, so that they can use it during election time. I mean, that’s the game in Congress, in politics.
ESGUERRA: But curiously, that same allegation is also being thrown against Secretary Diokno, because they were trying to establish the connection supposedly of Diokno with this favored contractor.
SEC. PANELO: You know, it’s difficult to throw mud at Diokno; because as between Diokno and them, obviously… they all suffer by comparison in terms of integrity and reputation.
ESGUERRA: And this is how the President also sees this.
SEC. PANELO: Yes.
ESGUERRA: But won’t the President at least look into the allegations, at least just to verify whether some of them are true or all of them are false?
SEC. PANELO: What allegation, for instance? Give me a specific allegation.
ESGUERRA: For example, allegedly… flood control projects in the 2019 budget, actually, allegedly they started in 2017, 2018, so much money poured in flood control projects, because supposedly that’s one way of executing that supposed racket.
SEC. PANELO: But in the first place, Secretary Diokno has nothing to do with that, it’s the line agency that does it. So… in that particular case, it’s the Public Works.
ESGUERRA: How about the allegation that there’s as much as 300 million pesos involved in the so-called ‘pork parking scheme.’ Basically you park a portion of the budget in certain districts, because… of course the condition is that, the one who parked that amount would get to control how that would be spent and could choose the contractor?
SEC. PANELO: Again, Secretary Diokno has nothing to do with it again. He has nothing to do. He has repeatedly explained that, the budget process is this way, he has nothing to do with that. It’s the line departments.
ESGUERRA: So, the President also is not buying the supposed conflict of interest, because so much money supposedly was poured in the congressional district of his in-laws in Sorsogon?
SEC. PANELO: No, I don’t think so. The President doesn’t believe in that.
ESGUERRA: So, will there be any, for example, a direct message coming from the President addressing specifically that House resolution calling for the ouster of—
SEC. PANELO: We already issued a statement in behalf of the President.
ESGUERRA: But they way you explained it today, very, very direct, that he is keeping Diokno.
SEC. PANELO: Oh definitely, he has instructed me to say so.
ESGUERRA: So, what’s the lesson here? The next time a Cabinet secretary is called let say for a Question Hour, how will Malacañang deal with this; because there’s talk of a possible strict implementation of Executive Order 464 before.
SEC. PANELO: Well, we will respond to the invitation. But during the Question Hour or deliberations, if we see any bad language of disrespect or any act of unparliamentarily behavior then we will excuse ourselves.
ESGUERRA: But you will appear?
SEC. PANELO: We will appear, as a sign of courtesy for co-equal branch.
ESGUERRA: Do you think this was the case when Diokno was called for the Question Hour, there was disrespect?
SEC. PANELO: Well, the manner by which—they are saying that, ‘Oh, it’s our authority to question. We are not questioning your authority; we are questioning the manner by which you put the person in a bad light, the innuendos. So the manner of your questioning, you are mocking him.
ESGUERRA: Do you think, he was, somehow set up by the House here? Supposedly there were question sent to him in advance and he prepared answers to those questions.
SEC. PANELO: Well, you can say that, because if you submitted questions, you never asked then there are some bad intention there.
ESGUERRA: So, you mentioned play here, you also mentioned the upcoming elections here. So, basically the Malacañang has reading through all these things that are happening now.
SEC. PANELO: Of course. The President is smart… he can see through all them, he has been there.
ESGUERRA: Now, there’s this talk that after 2019, the former President and now the incumbent House Speaker might join the Cabinet. Is there any truth to that? That sooner or later, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo might end up joining the Cabinet of President Duterte?
SEC. PANELO: I don’t think so.
ESGUERRA: But you have heard of that?
SEC. PANELO: Yeah, I’ve heard of that. But there is no confirmation of that.
ESGUERRA: But there is no discussion yet so far?
SEC. PANELO: From what I gathered, the former President wants to retire and enjoy life… while she can still enjoy.
ESGUERRA: Let see what happens afterward.
SEC. PANELO: Let see. Well.
ESGUERRA: Now, let’s go to the other important issue here, which was implement—this was done by the House of Representatives before they went on Christmas break and this received a lot of criticism from a lot of people, the fact that they passed Resolution – of both Houses – No. 15. They have their version of a federal constitution and a lot of people found a lot of objectionable portion in that resolution of both Houses.
Number one, does the President support this version of a federal constitution passed by the House of Representatives?
SEC. PANELO: The President’s position on the matter is simple. You propose draft to change the Constitution against the interest of the few. He will campaign against it. It was simple as that.
ESGUERRA: Do you think this version goes against the interest of the Filipino people?
SEC. PANELO: If you listen to the former Chief Justice, it is. It’s against the agenda of the President.
ESGUERRA: What specific proposals in the House draft does the President consider as against public interest?
SEC. PANELO: I have not seen the proposed draft. But I listen to Chief Justice Puno and he said it’s certainly different from the version that they have passed. But you know, in fairness to Congress, it’s still early to judge to them. They can always introduce amendments. Still they are inside Congress.
ESGUERRA: But it was already passed on third and final reading at the House of Representatives.
SEC. PANELO: Yeah, but there is Senate.
ESGUERRA: Sige, let’s talk about the procedure first. The supposed play here, the supposed strategy by the House of Representatives is to force the Senate to act on the resolution of both House #15, because at this point the senators are not moving. If they don’t move, the House can go or someone can go to the Supreme Court and force the senators to move mandamus, it’s the strategy. Is that tenable, will that work?
SEC. PANELO: Well, I think the Senate will do its work. I’m sure of that. They are honorable men and women.
ESGUERRA: Pero procedurally, what if they don’t do that. Can the Supreme Court actually compel the senators to move?
SEC. PANELO: That’s a legal question of that the Supreme Court can tackle. I do not know, I cannot read their mind on this particular matter.
ESGUERRA: How about the procedures here when it comes to revising the Constitution as if the proposal were a normal piece of legislation. First, second, third reading and then you go to the Senate and then they discuss it somehow on a bicam?
SEC. PANELO: Perhaps what is a better procedure is: if you have two drafts, then let the people decide which draft people want.
ESGUERRA: Is that even in the Constitution?
SEC. PANELO: There is no prohibition on that.
ESGUERRA: You present two drafts to the people in a plebiscite?
SEC. PANELO: Why not. It can be done. If they so desire.
ESGUERRA: There’s a lot of criticism when it comes in this House draft. But how does the President feel about this, because he is supposedly he has his own draft, the product of the Consultative Committee. But if you look at the draft of the Consultative Committee, most of the proposals were rejected or ignored by the House and they came out with their own.
SEC. PANELO: Well, again, as I said, still premature to make any final judgment on the draft of Congress, because there is draft to speak of at this time.
ESGUERRA: No, from the House there is a draft.
SEC. PANELO: Even then, so it’s still premature.
ESGUERRA: But do you see this is a rejection of the President?
SEC. PANELO: Maybe they have some ideas on their own that they want to pursue. Let’s see, it’s still premature. I will repeat that.
ESGUERRA: Premature in the sense that the senators—
SEC. PANELO: Wala pa naman eh.
ESGUERRA: Hindi, the Senators are not yet participating di ba.
SEC. PANELO: Oo, wala pa.
ESGUERRA: But there is already a draft from the House. Hawak na iyon.
SEC. PANELO: Draft pa lang naman iyon.
ESGUERRA: It’s a document already.
SEC. PANELO: But eventually, I think the members of Congress will listen to the voice of the people.
ESGUERRA: But is there concern that somehow this campaign promise of the President, might end up of being hijacked or spoiled by, let say members of Congress, because of the way they crafted their own version? Remember that is a campaign promise of the President, di ba. But this is how it was treated so far.
SEC. PANELO: You must remember that the President has his agenda in changing the Constitution. And he said during the Cabinet meetings: that if you draft—in fact, he addressed it to the members of Congress at the time it was I think a National Security meeting: if you draft a Constitution or propose amendments to the Constitution that go against the people, then I will campaign against it.
ESGUERRA: So far, will he campaign against this version?
SEC. PANELO: It depends. We have to see the finished version of the draft.
ESGUERRA: Okay, let’s talk about one particular controversial provision here. One proposal is to lift term limits for legislators, of course, hindi kasama iyong Presidente saka Vice President. Is the President in favor of this, lifting term limits for legislators?
SEC. PANELO: Again, it’s premature. We have to see the entire draft.
ESGUERRA: In that particular proposal? Will that work, are you in favor of that?
SEC. PANELO: The President’s—with respect to term limits?
ESGUERRA: Lifting of term limits, no more term limits. You can run as many times as you can, if you are the incumbent legislator?
SEC. PANELO: That particular, I have to ask him because I am not sure of his position there. What I know is his statements during campaign is let the people decide. It’s the sovereign people speaking during election time.
ESGUERRA: The problem during the campaign and even after was that, the President talked about federalism but we are not sure what kind of federalism he wanted. Meaning, the details were lacking as far as the President was concerned. That’s why he formed a Consultative Committee. So, we also have to talk specific proposals here. The second controversial proposal… second, is the House draft removed any ban on political dynasties.
SEC. PANELO: Again following the logic of the President he says let the people decide. So it appears to me that that will be his decision with respect to any matter that goes against to the voice of the people.
ESGUERRA: But aside from that motherhood approach to the specific topic, what does the President really wants when it comes to federalism?
SEC. PANELO: Well, I suppose what the Commissioners has drafted, since it was presented to him. If it was presented to him and he did not object to it, the logic there necessarily he would be he approve of it.
ESGUERRA: But will he push for that aggressively, because that didn’t happen during the last State of the Nation Address. He endorsed it yes, but there was no strong push for that particular version.
SEC. PANELO: I think members of the House as well as the Senate know the position of the President, so it’s their call.
ESGUERRA: But one concern of the Puno committee was that shifting to federalism without a ban on political dynasties would be a lethal experiment. He said that the President approved of the draft itself. So does it mean that the President also share that particular warning or position?
SEC. PANELO: I supposed because if he approved of the draft of the Commission, then necessarily he approves of every provision that made there at.
ESGUERRA: But I remember before, he had somehow sent mixing words about that specific ban on political dynasties. Because of course we know that the President himself is part of the dynasty; but of course people are trying to distinguish between fat and thin, good or bad dynasties. So, once and for all, will there be—or should there be a clarification coming from the President as far as the draft that he wants or let say a specific ban on political dynasty is concerned?
SEC. PANELO: Again, I will repeat, since he approved of the draft, the logic is that he approves of every provision introduced into the draft.
ESGUERRA: On that note, thank you very much Atty. Salvador Panelo for joining us again, sir.
SEC. PANELO: Thank you for having me.
SOURCE: PCOO – NIB (News and Information Bureau)