Santiago hits P800M Ceza budget
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Wednesday urged Budget Secretary Butch Abad to recommend to President Aquino the veto of the P800-million allocation for the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza) under the P2.26-trillion national budget for 2014.
In a letter to Abad, Santiago argued that the P800-million appropriation for Ceza was illegal because it contravened the recent Supreme Court ruling that congressional pork barrel laws were unconstitutional.
Santiago, a former regional trial court judge, also said that the huge allocation for the economic zone was immoral as the fund could have been channeled instead to disaster relief and reconstruction.
She said the Supreme Court on Nov. 19 declared unconstitutional not only the PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund] but also “congressional pork barrel laws … which authorize legislators to intervene, assume, or participate in any of the various post-enactment stage of the budget execution … and all informal practices of similar input and effect, which the court deems to be acts of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.”
The budget allocation was meant to develop Ceza into a self-sustaining center.
“Notwithstanding the special provision for this appropriation, over P800 million in effect will become the pork barrel of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who authored the Ceza law, and who has been notoriously linked to smuggling and gambling in Ceza, in his home province,” Santiago said.
She said that while other economic zones were receiving much less, Ceza had been allocated appropriations of up to P5.1 billion from 2008 to 2013 “without any significant contribution to the economy or the national treasury.”
Santiago said the neighboring Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport “will apparently receive an appropriation of only P300 million to P350 million.”
“The amount [for Ceza] is unconstitutional, wanton and unconscionable,” she said.
Enrile’s staff said he would not comment on the matter.
Jobs, nothing hidden
In a manifestation on the Senate floor after Santiago first brought up his alleged involvement in smuggling and gambling at Ceza, Enrile said he had no other interest in the economic zone “except to develop the place in order to give jobs to the people where I came from.”
Enrile said the Senate could scrutinize the operations in Ceza, noting that there was nothing being hidden from anybody.
“The law that was passed and attributed to me was debated in Congress and passed by both the House of Representatives where I was at that time and this Senate and in fact it was the late Sen. Raul Roco, I think, who sponsored that bill here,” he said.
As to her argument that the Ceza budget was immoral, Santiago referred to an Inquirer report indicating the country’s needs to rehabilitate areas hit by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”
“In summary, [the Agence France-Presse] says that storm surges wiped out entire coastal communities and displaced nearly four million people. The UN refugee agency says that it needs $19.2 million more,” Santiago said.
“Although our government has received foreign pledges, only $12.13 million has been received so far,” Santiago added.
She also cited the deaths of thousands and the $30-million cost of burying people.
“And in the midst of this hellish apocalypse, Enrile insisted that the budget should give over P800 million to his home province of Cagayan to construct what he insists will be a so-called deeper navigation channel for Port Irene!” Santiago said.
“His tunnel vision of the national landscape defies all legality and all morality. Hence, if all else fails, I humbly but strongly recommend that it would be appropriate for the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) to recommend that President Aquino veto this anomalous item in the 2014 budget,” she said.
In a privilege speech last week, Santiago mentioned Enrile’s immense influence and alleged illegal activity at Ceza.
She pointed to the alleged smuggling at the economic zone even after the Supreme Court upheld the validity of an Arroyo executive order imposing a partial ban on imported used cars.
“During all this time, in open defiance of the Supreme Court rulings banning importation of used cars, Ceza continued its importations. In 2012, car traders imported some 5,400 vehicles contained in 18 shipments,” she said.
Santiago added that Ceza was also promoting “online gambling, or what it called interactive gaming, which has been described as a lucrative niche market.”
She asked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to order the National Bureau of Investigation to look into these allegations.
Enrile had denied Santiago’s allegations made outside the Senate session hall that he was the mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam, that he wanted Janet Lim-Napoles dead and that he was the financier of the Zamboanga siege.
Low bar grades
He went on to question Santiago’s move to have the Senate rent space in her building for her use as her satellite office, and dug up old issues, such as her alleged use of a sports car seized by the Bureau of Customs, an alleged mental health problem and low grades in her bar examinations.
Enrile, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. and a couple of former House members are facing plunder charges in the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly pocketing huge amounts of their Priority Development Assistance Fund allocations.
The three senators have all denied any wrongdoing and have expressed willingness to face the charges.
Responding to Enrile’s allegations against her, Santiago delivered a privilege speech on Dec. 5 reiterating that Enrile was the main player behind the pork barrel scam.
She also brought up other issues such as Enrile’s alleged culpability in the human rights violations committed during martial law as then defense minister, involvement in smuggling and gambling, and his alleged womanizing.
Santiago also denied any culpability in the issues of propriety that Enrile brought up against her.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III and Sen. Vicente Sotto III have both expressed the preference that the personal attacks in both privilege speeches be stricken off the Senate records.
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