Sen. Chiz Escudero said President Arroyo’s decision to veto the transparency clause in the 2009 budget will lead to more corruption.
“I am disappointed with that decision because I believe that transparency is the best prescription for fighting rampant corruption in this administration. Transparency equals accountability,” Sen. Chiz the opposition senator said.
Malacanang reiterated the President was being consistent with her past actions and that due regard should be given to legally and judicially established regulations.
Mrs. Arroyo also said that some measure of confidentiality needs to be enforced on certain matters and that with every office having the right to control its operations it may regulate the manner by which the public can examine or copy any public record.
The transparency clause seeks to prevent the Executive branch from reallocating funds for one project to another without informing the Legislative, or allowing the public to scrutinize such allocations.
Escudero recalled that in a study done last year by the Washington-based think-tank International Budget Partnership, the Philippines was seen as not having initiated ways to make it easy for citizens to track its spending, revenue collection and borrowing.
He also said that the money wasted on corruption by government annually could have been spent on education and social services, health and agriculture.
“The Presidential Anti-Graft Commission recently disclosed that 20% of the country’s annual budget goes to corruption. With the 2009 budget set at P1.415 trillion, one can only imagine the amount that will go to the pockets of others,” he noted.
In 2008, the budget for education was P145 billion, social services P5.5 billion, health P1.66 billion, and agriculture P21.7 billion.
Escudero said such sums would be paltry compared to what is lost to corruption.
The opposition senator said Mrs. Arroyo’s veto decision makes it harder to hold government accountable for cases involving abuse, misuse, and corruption of public funds.
As chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revisions of Laws and Codes, Escudero has already taken steps to address corruption.
In trying to make Republic Act 9184, otherwise known as the Government Procurement Reform Act, more effective, he filed Senate Bill 1963 that sought to put treaties, bilateral arrangements, and executive agreements under the coverage of the procurement law.
Escudero noted that the charges filed this week against 17 former and current DPWH officials in connection with the anomalous bidding for World-Bank funded road projects only underscores the need for more transparency.
“It is the duty of any government to have all information on the budget available to the public so that scandals like this can be prevented,” he said.
WITHDRAW SUPPORT FOR CON-ASS; BE ONE WITH THE PEOPLE
Senator Chiz Escudero said yesterday that House Speaker Prospero Nograles should heed the people’s opposition to charter change before 2010 by withdrawing his support from the draft resolution calling for a constituent assembly.
“I urge and challenge the Speaker not to give in to the pressure of the House cha-cha train. He should stand his ground for the people even at the expense of losing his position,” he said in a statement.
Escudero, who is chair of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, noted that the latest Pulse Asia survey shows that two out of three Filipinos do not favor changing the constitution at this time.
Conducted from February 2 to 15, the Pulse Asia poll also shows that public opposition to cha-cha is a “view shared by majorities (60% to 70%) in all geographic areas and socio-economic groupings.”
“The right time for charter change is not now, but after 2010. The Senate will not be a party to this charade and the people will surely reject any proposed amendments at this time,” Escudero said.
The senator also pointed out that Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Jose Melo has said it is no longer possible to hold a plebiscite on charter change before the 2010 elections.
“Why even push and rush it at this time? At a time when we are confronting a deepening economic crisis, the last thing we want to engage in is a divisive debate on charter change,” Escudero said.
Nograles has said that he will file the draft resolution calling for the convening of a constituent assembly (Con-Ass) to amend the constitution after it was able to get the support of 175 congressmen.
CHIZ CALLS ON GOV’T, COMMUNIST REBELS TO RESUME PEACE TALKS
Opposition Senator Chiz Escudero yesterday called on government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) to resume peace talks without preconditions to show their sincerity in ending the longest-running communist insurgency in Asia.
“We should do away with preconditions. Both sides should work for the immediate resumption of the formal talks. The bloodletting must stop, especially now that our countrymen are being hit hard by the economic crisis,” he said.
The senator issued the statement on the eve of the 40th founding anniversary of the New People’s Army (NPA), the NDF’s armed wing, on March 29. Formal talks between the Philippine government and the NDF collapsed in August 2004 with the inclusion of the rebels in the US and EU (European Union) terrorist lists.
“The failure of past administrations to bring about true and meaningful change in our country has fueled this long-running revolutionary movement. But armed struggle is not the answer to our country’s problems,” Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, said.
He said both sides should work together to break the impasse by implementing confidence-building measures.
The government demands, among other things, an indefinite ceasefire as a precondition to the resumption of formal talks and proposed that the discussions focus on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR).
The rebels, on the other hand, have outlined a number of “impediments” to the continuation of the peace process. The NDF is demanding that the government move for the delisting of the CPP-NPA as a “foreign terrorist organization” in the list of the United States and the European Union.
It is also asking for the release of NDF consultants Elizabeth Principe, Randolf Echanis, Eduardo Serrano, Eduardo Sarmiento and Randy Malayao. It thas also urged the government to stop the “persecution” of its chief political consultant Jose Ma. Sison in The Netherlands.
The NDF has also deplored alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of over 1,000 unarmed legal activists.
The opposition senator said that the recent electoral victories of the Left in Latin America show that the parliamentary arena is a viable alternative to armed struggle.
Escudero said the success of Bayan Muna party-list leader, Rep. Satur Ocampo, and his militant colleagues as well as other left-of-center groups in getting elected to the Lower House show the advances in the country’s political environment since 1986.
“Democratic space has widened considerably since 1946 when the elected representatives of the Democratic Alliance were barred from taking their seats in the House. We must work together to expand it further,” he said.
Escudero also said the government must seek peace with honor instead of engaging in a military campaign to destroy the rebels by 2010.
He pointed out that billions being spent by government in its counter-insurgency campaign could be instead be allocated for development purposes if talks resume and a ceasefire agreed upon by both parties.
“We all know that a military solution will not end this insurgency. Unless we root out poverty and injustice, the rebellion will continue,” Escudero said.
“There can be no genuine development without peace. All we need is the political will and purity of heart to end this conflict among Filipinos once and for all.”
CHIZ: COMELEC’S AD HOC APPROACH SHOWS INEPTNESS
Senator Chiz Escudero on Monday said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is showing “signs of ignorance and ineptness” when it changed the rules of the game in midstream and allowed the entry of more bidders for the automation of the 2010 national elections.
He also said that its ad hoc approach could raise doubts about the poll body’s fairness and put into question the entire bidding process.
“Who is the Comelec seemingly trying to accommodate in relaxing the rules even before the actual submission of bids?” asked Escudero, who chairs the joint congressional oversight committee on the automated election system.
“By being presumptuous in saying no one can comply with the existing Terms of Reference (TOR), it shows the absence or lack of preparations of the Comelec,” the opposition senator said.
At the same time, Escudero said the recent report on the alleged hacking of computers of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) bolsters fears of automated cheating in the coming elections.
“If we can’t even guard the State’s closely-guarded secrets at the DFA, what makes us think that we can ensure the credibility of the elections when we automate it? What is our guarantee that it cannot be hacked?” he asked.
“And this is our worst nightmare. I have said it before and I will say it again: we are ill-prepared for automation. Now it could just be a matter of pushing the right buttons in order to win an election,” Escudero said.
According to reports, Canadian researchers revealed that the computer network of the DFA has allegedly been infiltrated by a “cyber spy network” based mainly in China.
The Canada-based Information Warfare Monitor (IWM) said the Philippines is just one of the 103 countries affected by the alleged hacking of classified documents from government and private organizations.
He said that the congressional oversight committee will monitor the Comelec’s implementation of automated election system every step of the way.
“If the elections fail in 2010, it could very well be our last,” Escudero warned.