Press Release
February 3, 2016

Transcript of ANC Headstart Interview with Senate President Franklin M. Drilon by Karen Davila

Q: With the 16th Congress coming to a close, would you consider it a success despite the fact that the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) did not make it?

SPFMD: Yes. You know, it's not only with the BBL that we should be judged. This Congress, let's not forget, to my mind, had many firsts. If you recall, if we go back, this is the only Senate where three of our members got jailed - Senator Enrile, Senator Revilla, Senator Estrada. Two of them are still in jail, one of is out. But the three of them went to jail, got charged with the Anti-Graft Law because o the investigations done in the Senate.

We also had an extensive investigation on the corruption charges against the Vice President resulting in a committee report recommending plunder charges.

Q: For more than a year?

SPFMD: More than a year. And the Mamasapano hearings - all of these, you have never seen these in the past. And by the way, in the 15th Congress, we also had the impeachment of the Chief Justice so he had a very historic 15th and 16th Congresses and that is why -many people do not realize it - we have now one-fourth of the Senate running for either president or vice-president. Never happened in our history before.

All these investigations notwithstanding, we did not neglect our principal duties of enacting laws and policies for the good of our country. You'll be surprised, we made a count, we are passing about 2 bills a week, in the 16th Congress, before we close, on the average. I think we passed around 285 bills on third reading in the Senate of which 116 were enacted into law. 27 are with the President pending signature and another 14 are in the bicameral conference committee. Just last night we worked until 8 in the evening passing laws that could still make it.

This Congress was not affected by the controversies we saw in the past three years. We passed many reform measures which languished in the legislative mills for years and we are proud of particularly of those bills concerning the economy. We passed various laws, the latest one is the Fair Competition Act, this one languished in Congress for years. We have passed the amendments to the Cabotage Law, which allowed more competition in inter-island shipping.

Q: And the President has all signed these into law?

SPFMD: Yes, the President has signed into law. We also passed the law which would create the Department of Information and Communication Technology, the DICT. We have passed the law liberalizing the entry of foreign banks. We ratified the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, which have been pending in Congress for several years. So many of these economic reform measures were passed in this 16th Congress, notwithstanding the fact that we had investigations, we were able to do our principal job.

And by the way, there are a lot of criticisms in the Senate, but surveys will show that the Senate has not been affected as an institution. The SWS and the Pulse Asia have consistently shown that the Senate as an institution is performing well in the eyes of the people. We had the highest rating last December, and a little propaganda: This representation, your Senate President, has been judged as one of the most trusted and judged well in my performance as a senator.

Q: I think it is quite interesting that you are mentioning it and we are talking about it because yes, I do remember that when the PDAF scam broke out, you have the trust and the credibility of the senators and the Senate as an institution being questioned. You have people saying, "Wala namang ginawa sa Senado kungdi maghearing," and yet you are saying that amidst all of that is that 116 bills have been signed into law, you have passed more than 200. Of those that passed which did not get the kind of news coverage you would have wanted, which ones would you say which would truly make a dent in the economy?

SPFMD: Me for example, the matter of the Fair Competition Act (Philippine Competition Act). I have been in Congress for 18 years, since year 1 that has been discussed.

Q: Yeah that is not sexy, it won't get the headlines.

SPFMD: Yeah right, and yet especially with the NEDA Director General as the new head of the Philippine Competition Commission then you can really expect that slowly we will remove many of these monopolies which are strangling our economy. You know as I said, consistent with that we have adopted that policy of a more open economy, we have passed various laws, the Cabotage Law, the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, which are very important.

You know, recently we had these problems with our balikbayan boxes because of our outdated and outmoded customs laws which require inspection over a certain amount of cargo which was set years or decades ago.

Q: You also made that P100,000 is tax-free for a balikbayan box.

SPFMD: That's correct. That's precisely the point. I can't exactly remember now how much it was, but that amount gave the customs people the right to inspect, because of that declaration. So, this one is very critical. And I must repeat, the DICT, the Department of Information and Communications Technology, we sent that to the President, it's one of the bills that we passed that are pending with the President. We hope that this becomes law since this is critical for our BPO industry particularly.

Q: How close are we to a Department or a Commission on Disaster Response on its own? Was that part of any of the bills passed?

SPFMD: No it was not. Because, we also have to make sure that we do not unduly expand the bureaucracy. As they say, if it ain't broke then don't fix it. We don't see anything wrong with

The present setup, we just need a strong orchestrator and a coordinator, because disaster relief would rely upon a number of agencies that would be involved - the DSWD, the DPWH, etc.

Q: You speak of a good record of how many were signed into law, and how many bills were passed. But is it fair to ask that the Senate actually read what it has passed? Like the SSS pension hike, where the President vetoing after it had passed bicam?

SPFMD: It's not a question of whether or not the senators read, I read it all and my colleagues in the Senate can attest to that. I pay attention to every bill passed.

In the case of the SSS pension hike, unfortunately there was a disagreement between the stances taken by Congress and the SSS itself. The system of checks and balances precisely would check upon the tendency of to do something which could harm our economy. That's the view of the President, we may disagree - and we disagree since we passed the SSS hike - but the system of check and balances allows or authorizes the President to check on Congress in the same manner we check on the President.

Q: So it's not true that the Senate did not read this law. I was told that this proposal was left to the committee of Senator Villar.

SPFMD: Well that's the nature. You refer it to the committee, there are committee hearings, I would assume all views were heard and at the end of the day, the committee made a committee report which was adopted by the Senate, in the same manner for example, when we worked on and increased the tax exemption for the Christmas bonuses. It used to be P32,000, beyond P32,000 you'll get taxed, but this was fixed 20 years ago so we increased the exemption to P82,000. The President complained but he thought that the national government could absorb this loss in revenue as a result of this higher exemption so that's how this system works. We have a check and balance system where the executive branch under the Constitution is given the power to veto certain policies we have enacted.

Q: Regarding the BBL, what's discussed the BLBAR (Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region). It's not the first draft, the pet bill of President Aquino himself. Do you think it affects his legacy that it did not pass?

SPFMD: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that he was not able to complete the structure. No, in the sense that he was able to come up with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which, by the way, can be pursued. It is not as if the peace process died with the President. He has set the framework, we have the Comprehensive Framework on the Bangsamoro , there are the steps that outline one of them being the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the change in the form of government to fit the Muslim region. It's unfortunate that it did not pass, the President really pushed for it but as I have said in previous interviews, the stars did not align for the passage of this bill.

The reality is that Senator Enrile had a thick file of questions to ask Senator Marcos, inabutan na ng kampanya, Senator Marcos became busy and could not attend all the sessions and Senator Enrile - because he was not there during the committee hearings - had so many questions. And then the political environment, given that we are nearing elections, did not add to an environment conducive for the passage of the law. But the fact that the Bangsamoro Basic Law was not passed does not mean the end for the peace process. I would urge whoever is elected President - and I think it makes a lot of sense for him or her - to pursue this peace process and bring it to conclusion.

Q: So you can re-file this bill?

SPFMD: Yeas you can re-file this bill. It can be refilled, and all the experts opinion, all the testimonies of the resource persons, need not be taken again, it can incorporated in the present law.

Q: I'm curious, what happens when someone like Senator Bongbong Marcos, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, and who is in charge of the details, studying the BBL, and he does not win the vice-presidency, the fact remains that he may not be in Congress next year.

SPFMD: He can be a resource person. He can be asked, whoever is the chair of the committee can ask him before the committee and share his views at this point. So it is not the end of the world.

Q: So what happens to the budget? Did you just continue for 2016 the ARMM budget?

SPFMD: Yes the ARMM budget is there, and the contingency was that if we pass the BBL, the budget of the ARMM will be moved to the new structure. In fact it is not just the budget. Do not forget, there is an election in May, and the local officials will be elected on the basis of the old law, so you would still have the governor for the ARMM, etc. Life will continue, and the peace process will continue. That is my recommendation to whoever gets elected.

Q: One of the disappointing things is that the President promised the passage of the Freedom of Information Act. Where is that?

SPFMD: We passed it in the Senate, it's one those that we counted. It's in the House, we don't know exactly where it is in their committee, but there are a number of versions of the Freedom of Information Bill which the House is trying to reconcile and maybe they ran out of time. But maybe in the Senate, we have passed it.

Q: I think they have an issue with the right-to-reply provision.

SPFMD: Right, among others.

Q: There is also the Salary Standardization Law.

SPFMD: Yes but unfortunately it is stuck in bicam as we talk. We passed the Salary Standardization Law, the issue there is the indexation of the salary of the active personnel in the armed forces and the police indexed to the retirement pensions of those retired. So the salary increase of those in the active service, let's say is P1,000 then those retired will also get P1000. Now the 2016 budget, the present General Appropriations Act, we have P58 billion but this does not approximately P20 billion more for the retirees. So that's the issue, because by a PD (presidential decree) or an old law, there is an indexation, and in next year or the year after next, we will be paying more for the pensions than those in the active service. So this is a difficult area for our fiscal managers because our pension systems for the armed forces and the police is non-contributory not like an ordinary government employee, then we contribute to the GSIS. They are not covered by the GSIS and it is the budget which pays for the pensions. So this must be resolved.

My recommendation is that let us increase the salaries of our workers in our government just for one year, while we are reviewing this very difficult issue.

Q: If we increase it for a year, you are saying 2016, then in 2017 it hangs in balance?

SPFMD: That's what it will be but in the meantime we work on the 2017 budget. Today, is the last day, so if we don't come up with anything, I think the President is authorized under existing laws to increase or order a salary increase, because there is already an authority under the General Appropriations Act in the tune of around P58 billion for salary increases. So he can mandate salary increases for our government employees which was done in the past. Then in the next Congress we should work hard to see how we can reform the system, including particularly the enrollment of our AFP and PNP personnel into the GSIS because that is the only way we can solve this problem.

Q: You have government willing to put in P58 billion to increase salaries, and you have the same government not wanting to reform income taxes which will lessen revenues by around P38 billion, which would go back to the economy. Is there still hop for the income tax reform bill?

SPFMD: P1.3 million workers in government. But I myself is open to that, but the reality is, our fiscal managers were not enthusiastic to that, because there were concerns to our credit standing but to me, it's time to review our income tax system, our income tax brackets, since these have not been reviewed for the last decade or so. We should look at it. We still have the next Congress to do it. I will personally push for it, its' probably one of those agenda items we will push for.

Q: You were Senate President for the 15th and the 16th Congress.

SPFMD: No not in the 15th Congress. In the 15th Congress it was Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

Q: Right. Would you consider the 16th Congress one of the most successful ones that have come in the recent years?

SPFMD: I would think so. I would like to assert that. Because no.1, you know, we really had transparency as our basic tenet, we were a reform oriented Congress. Many of the laws that we passed were languishing in the legislative mill for years. By the way, in the 15th Congress, we also passed the Sin Tax Reform Law, which today I read in the papers in 2015 we generated around P141 billion in sin taxes. And I worked on that, I am proud to say that I worked on that. This year, in the 16th Congress, we passed the full coverage of senior citizens in the Philhealth program, right now our Philhealth which is funded totally out of sin taxes, covers I understand about 90% already of our people because the Sin Tax Law funded our universal healthcare program which now is giving benefit to our senior citizens and 90% of our population per the report of Philhealth is now covered by Philhealth insurance.

Q: So would you say that within the 6 years of the Aquino administration, much has been done in terms of reforming the system?

SPFMD: Very much has been done. This is the political will done by the President, to enact reform measures, to push Congress to enact reform measures, which for years have been languishing. I repeat, the Sin Tax law, for years languished and was eschewed in favor of certain brands. The Fair Competition Act, for years could not move. The Customs Modernization Act, for years could not move.

Here under the leadership of the President and in fairness to Speaker Sonny Belmonte and me we really met every month without much media coverage and we tediously worked on each bill and saw to it that every reform measure that we need to pass will be passed.

Q: What many people complain about is that here we are, we vote for senators and congressmen, and they have a lot of absences, they don't show up, they say they're helping their constituents. The BBL primarily didn't make it due to a lack of quorum in the House. How will this change?

SPFMD: Well the change will start by electing the right people. Once you get elected, you have a mandate, you are responsible for your constituents. Nobody can tell you what to do. What is critical is that we elect the right people.

Hindi naman po sa pagmamayabang, but quorum is not an issue in the Senate, Yesterday we were able to ratify treaties with 16 votes out of - by the way - were are only 21.

Q: Will you be 24 this coming election?

SPFMD: Yes we should be 24 this coming election. By the way, kami po ni Senator Tito Sotto, perfect attendance the whole 16th Congress. No absences, no tardiness, we were there when the gavel is banged and roll call is made.

Q: Is there no punishment for legislators who have a certain number of absences? How about the ethics committee?

SPFMD: Theoretically yes, but the reality is that is why you are elected, it is that you can be subject to the judgment of the electorate when you present yourself, it can be one of the issues against you. You know in the United States, I think it is Marco Rubio, an issue against him is his failure to attend a number of Senate sessions. Here, it can be an issue, when you present yourself for election, what kind of attention did you give to your duties as a senator.

Q: I'm curious, if Manny Pacquiao wins a Senate seat, will he be able to get away with his absences in Congress at the Senate?

SPFMD: Well you know in the Senate we are right in the fishbowl. We are scrutinized and looked at like in a fishbowl, and media, dahil kokonti lang kami, kitang-kita kung palagi kang absent. Those covering the Senate would know who are conscientious.

Q: The lack of quorum, do you think that did in the BBL?

SPFMD: In the House, yes. In our case, it is the process of interpellation because we have no cloture rule in the Senate, we cannot stop other senators from asking questions. That is why filibustering in the history of the Senate is a fact, we can filibuster to prevent the passage of a bill. That is a tradition in the bill.

Pakiusapan mo na lang na huwag masyadong habaan, but in terms of imposing a cloture we traditionally we do not do that.

Q: Representative Nograles said that it is possible that the Senate did not study the Salary Standardization Law in detail.

SPFMD: I don't understand what he means.

Q: Did it really go through scrutiny in the Senate?

SPFMD: It was heard. In fact, a lot of revisions were done. The original bill filed by Senator Trillanes had to be revised, and we studied it. I dispute the statement that we did not study it. The issue that could not be resolved is the issue of indexation because of the amount of money involved. I repeat, for those in the active personnel the Salary Standardization Law this year will cost government P58 billion. The matter of the additional pension, the effect of the pension will be another P20 billion. Yes they are entitled to it, the pensioners, this is by law. Unfortunately, the present budget did not anticipate that, so that is the issue: Where will we get the funding?

Q: Aquino's administration is operating with the largest budget right now - P3 trillion, how much of the GDP is going to infrastructure?

SPFMD: I think for 2016 that is five percent, but that is not even enough. First, five percent, and never in the history of our country were we able to allocate five percent to infrastructure which is critical because infrastructure is critical in being able to move our economy forward.

Having said, you'll hear Secretary Singson saying, "I am returning so much to the treasury, because it is unutilized, or plans changed, or savings." Now this says much about our planning process, about our execution. Maybe we should take a good look at the capacity our construction industry to absorb this budget we allocate. Sayang lang, we allocate five percent for infrastructure and yet they could, the economy could not absorb this, because of weaknesses of the system.

Q: What can you say about the Senate Blue Ribbon Subcommittee partial report recommending that charges be filed against Vice President Jejomar Binay and his son?

SPFMD: Well it was presented to the Senate, the chairman of the Subcommittee, Senator Koko Pimentel presented the report to the Senate, it is now subject to interpellation.

Q: Did you sign that report?

SPFMD: I did not sign that because under our rules it is submitted to the plenary through me. So I am not a member of the committee. Having said that, with the findings contained in the report, the report speaks for itself. It's up now to the Senate to approve, to amend or to reject the report.

Q: Now you have presidential and vice-presidential candidates spending billions already in advertisements and it is not even campaign season already to begin with. Elections in this country have gotten so expensive.

SPFMD: Yes, so expensive, and we have to take the bull by the horn especially in the next Congress insofar as election spending is concerned, and better monitoring is concerned. First maybe we take a look at the budget allowed, the authorized spending per candidate, because it may have been outmoded. The law is violated, but maybe we look at how reasonable the law is. That's one.

Number two, the political reform act, of course, it is an idea which, maybe, we will not have the support. In other countries, the candidates are given support by the government. Of course, those are countries with better economies such as the United States.

Q: Not too many candidates like in our country?

SPFMD: That's one. Maybe the time is not yet ripe but it is always good to start with a debate. But the political party reform act is something that we should work on. The reason why people hate politicians is that we change parties like we change our clothes every day. I have no magic solution to this election spending, but we should look into it because, as you've mentioned, election spending, has gotten expensive, with almost P600 million for the whole year of 2015 is something that to me, we should look at whether we can regulate this. P600 million and this was done before election period and this was not counted. Shouldn't we ask them to reveal their contributors? And maybe this is one of the areas that we will look into in the reform of the election laws.

Q: Yeah, because in the US it is quite interesting how they do it.

SPFMD: In the US, there is no limit on how much you spend, but there is a very strict regulation as to the contributors.

Q: And how much one person can give?

SPFMD: Yes. Very limited. Yesterday, I was listening to Senator Sanders and he is very proud to say that his average contribution is $25 per person and this was started by President Obama when he was able to utilize social media to get the grassroots' support. But can you imagine $25 per person, that's something that we look up to. They have this is what they call the super PACs where, if you were a candidate, I will form the super PACs for you, raise money for you, pay your television ads, and I hit your opponent, but I have no contact with you. I just believe in you. These are reforms... Whatever fits our system, we should do something about these enormous spending that we are doing because the next question is, "are you going to recover these?

Q: Can a sitting be arrested?

SPFMD: Under the Constitution, a sitting cannot be arrested while Congress is in session for crimes that the penalty is less than six years.

Q: Libel, definitely no?

SPFMD: Definitely.

Q: So, to arrest Trillanes on libel...

SPFMD: I really didn't study that portion. But I'm just citing the Constitutional provision.

Q: Senate Poe, if she gets disqualified, what happens to her Senate seat?

SPFMD: Very difficult. That's an open question because the qualification for the president, it is the same qualification for the senator, except for the residence. The question of natural-born is an issue in the Senate that is why there was a case in the SET and that questions her status, but beyond that I don't want to comment.

Q: Would it really matter who wins as president for 2016? I know that you're with the Liberal Party and you support Mar Roxas. But given that you came on that show and said that there are so much economic reforms that are already put in place by this Congress. In other words, a democracy works where the institutions are strong. Will it make that much difference in our country?

SPFMD: It does. We have a very personality-oriented system. Before we came to the show, we talked in America they are campaigning on issues, not on personalities. In our case, our psyche and culture would still look at the person. That is why President Aquino has succeeded because he was perceived to be clean, incorruptible, and reform-oriented, and therefore, in the almost six years of his presidency he was able to push many of the reforms because of his credibility as a leader. That is why even if we have done all these reforms, the implementation and execution is necessary that is why the next leader is very important.

News Latest News Feed