Miriam Defensor Santiago

Transcript of interview

1 October 2009

On the suggestion of waiving the donor’s tax for the donations for typhoon victims

There are many organizations here and abroad who want to make donations for the typhoon victims. What deters them is the prospect of having to pay donor’s tax. They are afraid that the tax would eat into the donation, that, in effect, they would be just giving money to the treasury which might be stolen by corrupt public officials.

There are existing exemptions from donor’s tax. One of the ways you can avail of so we can immediately give the donation to the flood victims is to course it through a government organization and not through a private individual or organization. I will file a resolution on Monday that the Senate and the House should set up a donor reception center and issue the proper receipts and document the donations so that the donations would automatically be tax-free. That would stimulate the expected influx of donations from abroad.

What happened to the P10 billion for disaster relief from Congress?

They decided just to source it from national treasury funds because there is a measure of assurance from the DBM that the funds are ready anyway. There might be technicalities involved with the road user’s tax. We are coordinating closely between the committees on ways and means, and finance, with our counterparts in the House so that both chambers would be able to approve it, meet as a conference committee, and then immediately implement the P10 billion supplemental budget. You can expect by next week that the P 10 billion will be available and ready for distribution, and that the Senate would put up relief centers with the House of Representatives so that the donor’s tax would be automatically waived. I patterned the donor’s tax exemption after a Hurricane Katrina legislative measure.

On the reported extravagant LWUA anniversary celebration That should be considered an extravagance during a time of calamity, and under the Civil Code it could be prevented by means of a court injunction. The Civil Code frowns upon excessive or conspicuous consumption in times of national emergency or calamity. If it falls within that category, anyone can go to court and obtain an injunction to stop it.

If it has already happened, then a petition can be filed in court for damages against those who held the celebrations because of a violation of a provision in our Civil Code. If we do not enforce it by means of court injunction, then it becomes a dead law. So I would strongly encourage any private person or organization to file the commensurate action for damages against the people responsible for it.

What could be their penalties?

They would have to pay in their individual capacities and refund the national treasury because I’m sure that the COA will not allow that as a necessary expense. Remember that the COA law provides that it shall disallow any unnecessary expense.

On public officials' infomercials still airing in media despite the calamity

I call on all public officials that are still broadcasting their infomercials to stop it immediately and to ask the permission of the networks, with whom they presumably have contracts, to agree to suspend at the very least those contracts and give the money to the typhoon victims. I think the infomercials will cause a backlash because if we just suffered the loss of lives and property, we don’t want to see in TV a person who is promoting himself as a candidate and appears oblivious to the calamity that other people are going through. So it becomes scandalous and anomalous.

On public officials and celebrities taking advantage of the calamity for publicity

There is public resentment, if they are not aware of it, of public officials very conspicuously distributing relief goods or even movie stars. This is not the time. If we just want to exercise an act of Christian compassion, they have to observe that this should be done in private and that there should be no benefit of any kind for the individual who is distributing these relief goods. Maling kultura iyon na kapag may disgrasya, kaagad kang darating at may ipinamimigay kunwari pero meron kang sariling mga photographers at press release.

That is sheer opportunism in my view. You know, if you are a devastated typhoon victim, with your life and properties in ruin, you don’t want to face TV cameras. And for example, movie stars dressed to the nines with heavy TV make up on giving you one kilo of rice.

On the country’s disaster preparedness

There has to be a long term strategy because we are in the typhoon belt and the earthquake belt. We have to have a long term program. First of all, we must complete the Marikina floodway project. The floods in Marikina were predicted long ago because it is a valley. And so government already started a drainage project so that the floods in Marikina could be diverted to the Manggahan floodway in Pasig, and then diverted to Manila Bay. But the canal from Laguna Lake to Manila Bay was never constructed. That is the reason why.

In addition to these floodway systems, we should have permanent evacuation centers because we are always implementing ad hoc measures. I just think that NDCC should have been better equipped than it actually is during these events. There is always an element of surprise like “Huh? What’s going on?”. That is why it is called disaster preparedness—they should be prepared.