POSTSCRIPT / May 24, 2009 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Ask C5 daily users if P200 M was worth it

MOTIVES: The question of whether or not Sen. Manny Villar proposed a second P200 million for the 2008 budget of the C5 Road just to benefit himself is a speculative political question.

Motives lurk in the mind. Unless one is a mind-reader, how can he divine in good faith another person’s intentions?

The better option is to toss to the people, especially daily users of C5, that political question of motives and benefits. Villar’s rivals for the presidency posing as members of a jury of his peers cannot speak for those people on the road.

And if any criminal violation has been committed, the appropriate complaint should be heard and resolved by the court, not by the Senate.

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ROUTINE: The supposed budget “insertion” has been explained, one time by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile himself, but Villar’s rivals refuse to let it go away without him having to pay very dearly for it.

Budgetary “insertions” are part of the legislative process. The finance committee chairman asks for amendments to the budget bill. To speed up work on C5, Villar proposed to add P200 million to the P200 million originally proposed by Malacañang.

The committee chairman (Enrile at the time), and not the proponent (Villar), endorsed the insertion for approval by the plenary. That second P200 million was later passed by the entire Senate, although the money was not released by Malacañang.

Was the insertion proper? It must be assumed to be, otherwise Enrile and his then finance committee would not have endorsed it to the plenary.

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LUDICROUS:If we swallow the argument that Villar is guilty of conflict of interest because C5 passes through areas where his family has land development projects, we would be treading on dangerous grounds.

We would have the ludicrous situation of finding President Gloria Arroyo guilty of conflict of interest when she proposed and later approved appropriations for her native Pampanga province and her Lubao hometown.

Then President Fidel Ramos would have been guilty of conflict of interest when he approved outlays for improvements to the roads leading to Tagaytay City where he and his wife have landholdings, and to his home province of Pangasinan.

We would have the absurd situation of the House of Representatives being depopulated by conflict of interest convictions because most congressmen sponsor or insert budget measures benefiting their provinces or districts where they have property.

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DISCLOSURE: Pursuing the absurd argument, we would have to prohibit lawmakers from sponsoring or amending measures benefiting communities where they or their families happen to have businesses or landholdings.

Section 12, Article VI, provides: “All Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives shall, upon assumption of office, make a full disclosure of their financial and business interests. They shall notify the House concerned of a potential conflict of interest that may arise from the filing of a proposed legislation of which they are authors.”

Note that the only requirement in Section 12 is the “full disclosure of financial and business interests” by all members of the Senate. There is no prohibition against members of Congress having “financial and business interests.”

Whatever it is, the question of whether or not the conflict of interest provision of the Constitution being cited by senators Jamby Madrigal and Ping Lacson applies to the Villar case should be resolved by the courts for present application and future reference.

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PUBLIC ROAD: Lacson has said in interviews that the second P200 million was inserted in the C5 budget to be stolen (he did not say by whom).

Villar said that when a developer wanted his land to fetch a higher value, he made it exclusive and did not allow a public street to pass through it. Having a busy public road cut through one’s property, he said, was not profitable.

But Madrigal and Lacson insist that Villar planned to profit, and did profit, from the realignment of C5 with the allocation of P200 million more.

Assuming that benefits were derived, one question is whether Villar’s motive was public interest or personal profit when he proposed the additional outlay.

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INCIDENTAL GAIN: The political question of motives and benefits is best answered by the people themselves.

It is not for the senators, certainly not the presidential aspirants in the chamber, to say if the millions of residents and commuters in Cavite and other areas served by C5 approve of the upgrading and interconnections.

There should be a way of asking the residents served by C5 and other roads linked to it. The 2010 elections would be one such occasion.

If they approve of the upgrading and the doubling of the P200-million outlay, any benefit reaped by developers, including the Villar family, would be incidental.

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ACCUSER-JUDGE: Another dangerous precedent set in the Villar case is the chamber’s allowing Madrigal the accuser to vote on a substantive question that impinges on the guilt or innocence of the man she is accusing.

It rankles when the accuser is allowed to cast a crucial vote on the substance of her own charges.

We suggested in an earlier piece that Madrigal should not be allowed to vote, and that the presidentiables in the chamber should voluntarily inhibit themselves from speaking and voting on issues related to the fate of their rival.

They appear too eager to crucify one of their own on a political issue, and that is bad.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 24, 2009)

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