Miriam warns of ‘rubber stamp’ Congress on 2013 budget

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SENATOR Miriam Defensor Santiago warned of a “rubber stamp” Congress, and called for “more careful and more energetic” scrutiny of its provisions, after observing that the budgets separately issued by Malacañang, the House of Representatives, and the Senate, are “exact copies of each other.”

“We in Congress should use a ‘laser’ approach to the fine lines in the budget. The power of the purse belongs to Congress, and should not be surrendered to Malacañang,” she said.

Santiago attacked the extensive use in the 2013 budget of the practice of augmenting the agency budget through special provisions.

She gave as an example the use of special provisions to augment the budget of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Insurance Commission, as well as the Privatization and Management Office.

Santiago showed off her “laser” approach to the budget during the Senate plenary debates last Monday and Tuesday, demanding clear answers to her tough questions from every cabinet member present.

For the Office of the Vice-President, Santiago pushed for an anti-dynasty ethic from candidates, and warned: “Not all that is legal is moral.”

For the Presidential Communications Operations Office, she warned of arrogance among the Malacañang press office. Santiago directly confronted Sec. Herminio Coloma, Jr. on whether it was the latter’s office which allegedly launched a black propaganda campaign on the internet against her during the impeachment trial of the chief justice.

“The same character assassin who was hired against me in the 1992 presidential elections, was again hired this year to resurrect the same lies against my character. That gunslinger was disbarred in California for fraud. Who paid him to attack me while the trial was ongoing?” she asked.

Later, Santiago inquired why the Supreme Court has not done more to hasten the trial of the Maguindanao massacre case.

For the DepEd, Santiago said that the cost of P1.1 million for every classroom is too high. She proposed that the schoolbuilding program should be transferred from PPP private contractors to the DPWH.
“I understand that DPWH can build classrooms at only half the cost demanded by private contractors,” she said.

For the SEC, the senator said the SEC should have issued a cease-and-desist order against the fraudulent pyramiding operations of AMAN Futures as early as August this year, and not only last October.

For the DSWD, Santiago strongly demanded why there is a huge increase of 32.3 percent in salaries and wages of employees who will distribute money among the poor for the CCT program.

“Government will pay DSWD contractual workers P2.5 billion just to distribute cash among the poor. The budget provisions for alleged training, monitoring, evaluation, and administrative expenses are all excessive beyond conscience. All these huge sums are given to the DSWD, even after it failed to liquidated P1 billion to the COA. This week, I am going to try and slash the DSWD budget, to stop this hemorrhage of public funds,” she said.

But after subjecting the individual cabinet members to the wringer, Santiago reserved compliments for the performance of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, whom she called “the best performing cabinet member.”
“Sec. del Rosario’s statements on the raging controversy over the West Philippine Sea have been sober, calibrated, and well-received by the international community,” Santiago said, noting that del Rosario declined his salary and instead distributed it to DFA employees.

Santiago also treated with kid gloves and refrained from cross-examining newly-confirmed DOTC Sec. Joseph E.A. Abaya on the international document known as the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework for Climate Change.

“Sec. Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya has high professional potential, and deserves more time to enculturate himself with the problem of increasing emissions of carbon dioxide units into the Philippine atmosphere, on land, sea, and air,” she said.

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