POSTSCRIPT / November 26, 2013 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Why must Palace have a virtual second budget?

OFF-BUDGET FUNDS: It is high time the government stopped operating virtually on two budgets — one from funds appropriated by the Congress and another one from funds dispensed at the sole discretion of the President.

Funds in the national budget are routinely moved around between the Congress and Malacañang in disregard of separation of powers, while the President collects and dispenses huge sums, some of them earnings of state firms, outside the General Appropriations Act.

Using only one budget strengthens the check and balance mechanism of our tripartite setup. It helps reduce the corruption that has deprived the poor masses while unfairly enriching those who are smarter than the rest.

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DAP ISSUES: The idea of sticking to just one budget arises from the Supreme Court’s striking down as unconstitutional the Priority Development Assistance Fund (aka the pork barrel) and the diversion of Malampaya earnings to projects that are not energy-related.

Other off-budget funds that the President also spends as he alone wishes are the forced savings impounded in the Disbursement Acceleration Program, an invention of President Noynoy Aquino and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.

If PDAF, which is provided in the budget, is unconstitutional for violating the separation of powers, what more with DAP which was created, funded and used by the President without benefit of an act of the Congress?

The Supreme Court should order that all public funds be turned over to the national Treasury instead of some of them to the President, so they can be included in the budgeting process.

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DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY: By international convention, ambassadors enjoy immunity because they are the alter ego of the sovereigns who had sent them and, under a universally accepted myth, their person is considered an extension of their nation’s territory.

This extraterritoriality covers even their offices (such as embassies), residences, and, believe it or not, their official vehicle when the diplomat is on board. Additionally, they are removed from the pale of criminal codes in the country where they are assigned.

So we hear such interesting questions as: Is an ambassador criminally liable if he runs over a pedestrian? (Answer: No.). Is an infant deemed born on US soil and therefore an American if his Filipino mother who is in labor dashes into the US embassy lobby and delivers him there? (Answer: I don’t know.)

But generally, when an ambassador commits a crime, such as murder, swindling, rape, etc., there is no punitive action that local authorities can take except to declare the diplomat persona non grata and ask his government to pull him out.

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TURKISH ENVOY: The topic of diplomatic immunity came up in media days ago after Turkey’s Ambassador Hatice Pinar Isik reportedly refused to heed the owner’s appeal for her to vacate a Forbes Park mansion she has been leasing.

The ambassador has not said it in media, but we get the impression that she is not clear about the legal ownership of the mansion whose title has changed hands several times. She is insisting on her rights based on the valid contract she had signed with the original owner.

The Turkish embassy occupies a multimillion-peso mansion which was part of the intestate estate of the late Beatriz S. Silverio who died in 1987. The administrators wrote Isik asking her to negotiate with Ricky Silverio Sr., since the property is part of the estate of his late wife.

The existing contract was signed between the Turkish embassy and Silverio Sr. stating that the mission can occupy and rent the property from December 2010 to Nov. 30, 2014.

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VALID CONTRACT: On Sept. 16, 2010, however, Ricky Jr., the son of Ricky Silverio Sr., signed a deed of sale from the intestate estate of his mother Beatriz with Monica Ocampo. A transfer certificate of title (TCT No. 006-2011000050) was issued to Ocampo on Dec. 23, 2010.

Weeks later, Ocampo sold the property to Zee2 Resources Inc. and a new TCT was issued to the firm on Feb. 1, 2011. Twenty days later, the new owner wrote the Turkish ambassador asking her to vacate the property and turn over the mansion to the corporation.

Isik ignored the notice as she fell back on her contract that is still valid until 2014.

The firm then asked for help from the Department of Foreign Affairs, one of whose officers met with a representative of the Turkish embassy.

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OWNERSHIP ISSUE: Zee2 Resources, however, cannot show an enforceable lease contract with the Turkish ambassador.

The property has been the subject of legal action involving the Silverios. Last Sept. 17, Ricardo Silverio Sr. filed a petition for the Supreme Court to reverse a Court of Appeals decision dated March 8, 2013, on the property’s ownership.

Denying the petition, the SC said the legality of the ownership is outside the realm of the courts.

Isik said she was just honoring the lease agreement she had signed, and expressed resentment over being dragged into the Silverio family’s property dispute.

To hasten amicable settlement, the majority owner of Zee2 Resources offered to extend the lease until December of this year. But the ambassador was noncommittal on the “extension” and insisted she could not be asked to vacate the property.

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CAMI FELLOWSHIP: The yearend fellowship party of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) will be on Dec. 6 (a Friday), 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Cherry Blossoms hotel at 550 Jorge Bocobo Ext., Ermita, Manila. For details, please email me.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 26, 2013)

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