MANILA - The Senate is not in crisis even if a number of legislators are being dragged into the pork barrel scam.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said the Senate continues to function and is committed to pass 16 priority bills including laws that will introduce reforms in the Sandiganbayan, extend the corporate life of the Philippine National Railways, put a picture-based health warning on tobacco, and boost educational assistance, among others.
"The Senate is not in crisis. There may be some problems of individual members but the Senate as an institution remains strong. The Senate will not ‘collapse’ as said by some people. The Senate is different from the people which compose it. Politicians come and go, senators come and go but the Senate will remain as an institution of democracy,” Drilon told reporters.
He said that a crisis situation will not possibly hit the Senate even in the face of “black propaganda,” pointing out the pork barrel scam would be dealt with by the law.
“This pork barrel scam is basically an issue of a violation of the law, the anti-graft act. There is no political issue involved. Let me make that clear, hindi po pulitika ito. Ito ay pagpapatupad ng anti-graft law kaya it is a matter of upholding the law and I am very confident that our judicial system will properly address and respond to these allegations of pork barrel scams,” he said.
Drilon urged the people to guard against the return of the pork barrel “and its exploitative shortcomings,” saying it has been abolished. But he defended the power of legislators to introduce budget insertions and realignments as long as they are done in accordance to law.
He said that realignment is justified, especially if it would be put to good use. He cited as an example a congressman’s realignment of a million peso worth of travel funds to the Philippine General Hospital for medical assistance even if the Department of Health would have its own budget.
"Yun ba ay sapat na sa dami ng ating pangangailangan? And should we not use every peso of public funds for the benefit of our people? I can assure you that as we talk here, a lot of patients there ang nakapila sa PGH," he said.
“Halimbawa, mayroon kang nakita sa budget, isang milyon for foreign travel, ilipat mo sa PGH, ‘yun ba ay mali?”
Drilon said that insertions “happen everywhere” and done in other legislative bodies abroad.
“Ang importante is that it is done properly and with public interest in mind, not the personal interest of legislators… This power is exercised for the benefit of the people, not because of the pocket of legislators,” Drilon said.
DRILON THUMBS DOWN CAYETANO PROPOSAL
Meantime, Drilon thumbed down the proposal of Senate Majority Floor Leader Alan Peter Cayetano to modify the rules of the blue ribbon committee and allow witnesses in the pork barrel scam to cross-examine senators being accused of diverting funds to Napoles NGOs.
"Do not forget that a committee hearing in the Senate and in the House is in aid of legislation. ‘Yun ang principal purpose. When you call a witness to a hearing, siya po ay resource person. He or she is a resource person in a committee hearing so how can you have a situation where the resource person is the one who will ask questions to members of Congress who are supposed to craft the law?” he said.
Drilon, however, cautioned against giving credence to various lists that have surfaced.
"Dapat naman may basehan, hindi naman ‘yung lista nang lista dahil maraming listahan, baka listahan na galing sa sari-sari store, listahan din ‘yun. Dapat naman dahil reputasyon ng tao ang nakasalalay, dapat namang merong basehan ang listahan na ilalabas," he said.
SENATE STAFF WON’T BE AFFECTED
In the event that indicted senators are finally charged and ordered suspended by the Sandiganbayan, Drilon said that their respective staffs would continue to function.
“The staff of the senators are employees of the Senate. So they are not affected by the fact that the principal is charged in courts,” he said, adding that they would continue to attend committee hearings and would continue to receive salaries.
He also said that the preventive suspension on senators cannot go beyond 90 days following a Supreme Court decision.
On the call of bishops for implicated senators to take a leave of absence, Drilon said that “the matter of leave is a matter addressed to the discretion of the elected official.”