Sen. Bam on Charter change, TRAIN, telco industry and death penalty

Q: First, I would like to ask about the mood or the sense in the Senate that you've been getting because there's this very aggressive push toward Charter change at the Lower House. How about the senators?

Sen. Bam: Maraming pagdadaang steps iyan. In fact, I think the Committee on Constitutional Amendments will have a hearing next week. Ang alam ko nga, lahat ng resolutions namin is for constitutional convention, not even for a con-ass, to be honest about it. I have also filed a resolution for a constitutional convention. Previously, when this was raised last year, many of us were looking at con-con as a more viable mode in terms of changing the Constitution. That will be one of the things to be discussed. Will it be a con-con, will it be a con-ass. If it's a con-ass, will it be, obviously I think we're going to push for voting separately and we won't allow voting jointly situation to happen. In the Constitution, tahimik iyong Constitution about this, and it will probably take maybe the Supreme Court to come up and say it's actually voting jointly or voting separately.

My take is that, if it's voting jointly, I don't think the Senate will even open up this process.

Q: So it's non-negotiable?

Sen. Bam: For me, it's non-negotiable. I think, for many of the other senators, if we allow a voting jointly scenario, we take ourselves out of the game. Kumbaga, tinanggal na namin ang aming chance na makapagsalita, makipagdebate at makipag-decide on some of these matters.

Q: You're basically allowing yourselves to be irrelevant?

Sen. Bam: You're killing yourselves. You're taking yourselves out and I don't think any self-respecting senator would want to see that happen. Itong voting jointly at voting separately, magiging mabigat na usapan ito. As we saw in the decision for martial law, kapag voting jointly the senators don't really have a say anymore. There are about 300 congressmen and 24 senators, wala na agad ang bilang niyo. You're not even half, you're less than 10 percent of the House so talagang wala ka nang boto, in short. Secondly, when the Constitution was created, and the intention was to have two houses of Congress, isang Senate at isang House of Representatives, I don't think part of that intention to have two houses was when it comes to the most important changes, which is the Constitution, e dapat mawala ang iyong isang chamber. So I think it's but logical that we vote separately on this issue if con-ass is indeed chosen to be the form of changing the Constitution.

Q: Do you feel somehow a certain degree of pressure coming from the House, especially the leadership, especially with the Speaker, constantly attacking the Senate as an institution.

Sen. Bam: Again, I guess this is the difference between being part of the minority or majority. Siyempre, kapag nagsasalita iyong Speaker of the House, ang tinutukoy niya iyong mayorya, because it is the majority who does put the agenda and thus controls the pace. As a senator, you would like to see more parliamentary courtesy. I'd like to think in the Senate, even speaking as a member of the minority, we've taken time and effort to really deliberate on very important measures. At pagdating dito sa Konstitusyon, na pinaka, masabi nating Saligang Batas, pinakamahalagang batas sa ating bansa, kailangan talagang bigyan ng oras at panahon. Hindi puwedeng bilisan, sasagasaan na lang ang proseso. It has to be given the proper due. And to be frank, you hear about timetables from the administration na sa May magkakaroon na ng plebisito, hindi yata feasible iyon na in three to four months, bigla-bigla na lang tapos na ang draft ng Constitution. Parang hindi naman tama iyon, hindi mabibigyan ng boses iyong mga tao na makasagot at makasama sa diskusyon about the Constitution.

Q: Let's talk about perhaps aces up your sleeves. The minority still heads the very crucial committee on constitutional amendments, that's Sen. Kiko Pangilinan. How crucial would that be in terms of making sure that there will be honest to goodness deliberations at least at the committee level at the Senate.

Sen. Bam: Definitely it's important that it's the minority who heads this committee, primarily because masisigurado natin na lahat ng boses talagang mapakikinggan. When it comes to really important measures in the Senate, the division is never majority and minority. Everyone has his own stand when it comes to issues for example, on the budget, the death penalty, the tax reform package, magkakaiba iyong mga boto, hindi siya down the line minority versus majority. I think if Sen. Kiko is heading this committee, makikita natin na lahat ng boses mapakikinggan, hindi lang ng mga senador pero pati rin ng mga sektor.

The first question, should we even change the constitution or not? If it's yes, what form should we do it, concon or con-ass? Ako, I'm partial to concon, and this was my resolution before, para walang masabing self-serving provisions to extend ourselves, extend terms, take away term limits, take away safeguards to the constitution. Kung hindi pulitiko ang magde-decide dito, masasabing walang nagawang self-serving. Kung con-ass naman, joint ba ito o separate. Of course, I think we'll probably push for voting separately option. Maraming steps iyan, each step of the way, people need to be heard, different voices need to be heard, and I think Sen. Kiko will do a job in terms of making sure na lahat mapakikinggan.

Q: But how will he stay there? I suppose there will be pressure sooner or later when it comes to that particular important position.

Sen. Bam: Alam mo, ang isang bagay na ganito hindi puwedeng madaliin. I think kung mamadaliin mo ang Constitution, it will regret it down the line. Remember, the 1987 Constitution can be characterized as being anti-dictatorship, having safeguards against our liberties and our freedoms, being pro-Filipino kaya marami tayong restrictions against foreign ownership, and social justice also, focusing on social services and social justice.

Kung bibilisan mo ang proseso, hindi mo na pakikinggan ang iba't ibang panig ng tao at masasagasaan ang prosesong iyon, palagay ko it will be bad for the country, not just in the immediate but in the long-term. Ang tanong talaga diyan, iyong mga tao na namamahala sa prosesong ito, may tiwala ba ang tao? It all boils down to that. Efforts to change the Constitution, has been there practically all other presidencies except the previous administration. Ang tanong, may tiwala ba ang tao sa namamahala sa prosesong ito?

Q: What's your answer to that?

Sen. Bam: Kung concon ito at maayos ang eleksiyon, baka mas may tiwala ang tao. Kung voting separately ito, baka mas may tiwala ang tao. Pero kung voting jointly at mamadaliin, bibilisan, hindi papayagan iyong minorya na magsalita, palagay ko hihina ang tiwala ng tao. Kung may makikita kaming self-serving provisions diyan, palagay ko bababa ang tiwala ng tao.

Q: You mentioned these so-called self-serving provisions (inaudible).

Sen, Bam: Firstly, kung nagmamadali na rin tayo, why don't we just convene it after the election. Everybody has a fresh mandate, that's also an option. Or better yet, mag-concon ka na lang, tanggalin mo sa mga pulitiko ang proseso para hindi kami masabihan na may self-serving provisions na isisingit. Once politicians talk about extending themselves, palagay ko iyong taumbayan ay kinakabahan sila bigla. It goes back to that, once you open up the Constitution, no-holds barred na iyan, everything can be changed, every single thing can be changed. You can say magko-con-ass kami, mag-ko-concon kami pero ito lang ang mga gusto naming baguhin. Once that process is opened, you can change everything.

Q: But that's the concern of people or politicians with decency. Other with no qualms about decency, basically promoting the idea of term extension, especially for those with expiring terms.

Sen. Bam: Kasama ako sa re-electionist but I would like to think na mas marami pa rin sa amin ang may delicadeza, may decency and at the end of the day, kapag tinanggal mo ang proseso ng eleksiyon, naging mas mahina iyong ating demokrasya. Elections, that's a pillar of our democracy, allowing people to choose the leaders that they want. It's a pillar of democracy, it's the heart of our democracy. One, kung tinanggal mo na ang boses ng oposisyon na magsalita, pangalawa, tinanggal mo pa iyong eleksiyon. We're a weaker democracy because of those moves. Palagay ko, mahalaga na magka-eleksiyon at mahalaga na makita ng tao iyong prosesong ito, hindi siya para sa aming nasa poder, para sa bayan talaga ito. I think any of these self-serving provisions should be excised. In fact, if we can come up with the situation na kung mga magbubuo nito, hindi talaga magbe-benefit in that sense, the integrity of the process might be safeguarded.

Q: But what would make up these particular- of these attacks coming from the speaker? Do you see any strategy behind it?

Sen. Bam: Alam mo, that's something between the Speaker and the Senate President, but ako, let me just say, in the Senate, - we've always, in our history, we've always been seen as the independent institution. At the end of the day, yung mga naghahanap ng independence yung taong bayan, nakatingin sila sa Senado. And this is one of those times, I think, that we need to make our stay *inaudible* independence of the Senate. Yes, if we will undergo this process, kailangan nandiyan yung mga safeguards na walang self-serving provisions, kailangan may tiwala yung tao, and talagang bibigyan ng tamang panahon at tamang effort ito.

Q: But is your Senate President doing enough to stand up for the Chamber? For the institution? Be frank about it.

Sen. Bam: Ako, to be frank about it, I think the Senate as an institution should be able to say, we will do our jobs, you do our job, we will do our job, and I think we should be able to do our jobs properly.

Q: For example, when he mentioned the idea of the death penalty, sabi niya, ipinasa na sa Lower House, inuupuan na ng mga Senador. All of a sudden, you're talking about resuming discussions about it...

Sen. Bam: Well ito kasi...

Q: May konting pressure talaga eh.

Sen. Bam: The premise of this statement is that Congress and the Senate are rubber stamps of the President, na kahit anong gusto ng Presidente, kailangang gawin ng Kongreso at ng Senado. But that's not the case in a democracy. Yung bawat isa sa amin, may kanya-kanya kaming mandato, and we do have different opinions in the matter. In the Senate sa pagkakaalam ko, more Senators have been vocal about opposing the death penalty. So I don't think it's really going to pass. But, that's the aspect of democracy. Ibinoto kami ng tao, may kanya-kanya kaming desisyon on the matter, it's not a split between minority and majority, magkakaiba yung tingin namin dito pero nagkakaisa kami na baka, na talagang hindi na ibalik yung death penalty.

Q: Further on this point, do you expect any reorganization in the Senate soon?

Sen. Bam: I'd also like to address this particular concern.

Q: *inaudible* charter change, kailangan nila ng tao diyan eh.

Sen. Bam: Yung usapin ng Senate change in leadership is really a question for the majority, because there's only five of us. Ang minority, laging handa iyan. We're always ready because we're the minority. The question is, will there be members of the majority who will looking at this any changes in the committees or any changes in leadership, so you'd have to ask them. But ang minority, bilang isang minority, laging handa iyan dahil minority kami.

Q: And because you *inaudible* yourselves basically heading that particular committee, diba? I don't know exactly why kung that is really the priority of this administration, bakit mo pababayaan si Kiko Pangilinan...

Sen. Bam: Maybe gift from God na rin iyan na si Sen. Kiko yung Chairman ng Committee, but, you know, with Chairman Kiko there, palagay ko, hindi masasabihin na minadali, sinagasaan - it's a good sign for independence that it's a minority member who's leading this Chamber. And I think magkaka-hearing naman tayo diyan next week, I think there's already a notice of *inaudible*, so makikita natin how this is moving and ano yung mga ibang panig na lalabas doon sa Committee Hearing.

Q: Let's move on the topic of the TRAIN. It's now in effect, this morning, the Makabayan group is expecting to file a petition before the Supreme Court. You were among the very few Senators who didn't vote for the ratification of the train. Is it too early, basically, to assess the impact? Because it just started getting implemented. A lot of people are already concerned on the impact on prices, for example.

Sen. Bam: Of course, we're all concerned about prices, kasi alam mo Christian, mataas na yung presyo ng bilihin ng Pilipinas. Tinaas mo pa. So the question now is, can we mitigate this increase? It's not a question anymore kung tataas o hindi. Yung tanong, gaano kataas? Now of course, government, DTI is really checking to make sure walang mamimihasa, nobody will take advantange of the tax reform, of the increases in tax, tama naman iyon. But, you know, if you're going to increase a staple, which is petroleum products, you really will see an increase in prices down the line.

Q: May domino effect iyan.

Sen. Bam: May domino effect iyan, inflation will go up, and hopefully it will be mitigated. For many of the middle class, they will hopefully have enough, because tataas yung kanilang take home pay. Kahit tumaas yung presyo ng bilihin, ang computation ng DOF, meron naman iyan- mababalanse naman iyan dun sa mga higher na take home pay. Yung problema talaga natin, Christian, and this is the reason why I voted no during the ratification - paano na yung mga kababayan natin na hindi naman nagbabayad ng tax? Yung nasa informal economy natin, yung mga sari-sari store owners, yung mga vendors natin, mga nasa transport sector- wala naman silang tax na binabayaran. And yet, yung mararanasan nila yung pagtaas ng presyo ng bilihin.

Q: But they also have the unconditional cash transfer.

Sen. Bam: Well, alam mo supposedly, during the deliberations for TRAIN, ito yung sinasabi ng DOF na makakabalanse doon sa pagtaas ng presyo ng bilihin. But during the period of interpolations and period of amendments, unfortunately, naamin na rin nila na di rin nila kayang i-implement this January. Pabago-bago na yung statements. Initially it was September, and many of us started to say, hindi puwedeng September, kailangang mas maaga iyan, naging March, kahapon ata naging February, but the point is, bakit mo itataas yung presyo ng bilihin kung hindi pa naman ready yung programa na pangtulong mo sa mga mahihirap nating kababayan?

Q: And I think the related program would be the National ID, right? Because that would help identify these people...

Sen. Bam: Yes, Christian, pero kung hihintayin mo yung National ID, baka kailan pa iyan matatapos. Yung pagtaas ng presyo, dapat kasabay niyan yung tulong sa mga kababayan natin.

Q: So you want it sooner?

Sen. Bam: It should at be the same time. My proposal, then, was, kasabay yung implementation nung excise taxes doon sa implementation ng financial assistance for the poor. Logical lang naman iyon eh, diba? Itinaas mo yung presyo, yung tulong, dapat kasabay rin diyan. But unfortunately, during the deliberations, hindi daw nila kayang isabay. And that's one of the big reasons why I voted no is-

Q: But do you think that would be too late, let's say, they implement it February or middle of the year... ganun na ba kalaki? Irreversible na ba iyong impact sa expenses nila, for example?

Sen. Bam: Ang point kasi diyan, Christian, for many of our countrymen, they live day-to-day. So ang bawat araw na walang tulong na naibibigay sa kanila, ay isang araw na gutom sila. So, again, we go back to the Constitution, social justice diba. Mahustisya ba iyan na itinaas mo yung presyo ng bilihin para sa mahihirap, pero hindi mo maiimplement yung programang tutulong sa kanila? Ako, I was of the mindset, I think some of my colleagues were of the mindset- dapat naman magkasabay iyan. And hopefully, if more people are clamouring for this, hopefully DSWD and DOF will speed up the process. Sana huwag nang patagalin itong programang ito, gawin nila as fast as they can, and as efficiently as possible, because distributing money to 4 million more Filipinos is not exactly that easy.

Q: And you have linkage also.

Sen. Bam: And you have linkage also. Sa totoo lang, alam naman nilang mapapasa yung TRAIN in 2018 eh, they should have been working on this a year ago. Sa totoo lang. So, I'm hoping that they can speed up the process of coming up with this program.

Q: Do you think they're coming in ill-prepared in terms of basic redistribution..?

Sen. Bam: Yes. Because if you really were prepared, on the same day that you're implementing the increase in excise taxes, magkasabay rin doon yung programa na tumutulong ka. We budgeted this already, it's already an implementation issue. So palagay ko, Christian, kung talagang seryoso tayo na gusto nating gawing positibo itong epekto ng TRAIN sa ekonomiya at sa lahat ng kababayan natin, itong programang ito na tutulong sa 10 million Filipinos - 10 million Filipino families, should be in place at the soonest possible time.

Q: And finally, before I let you go, considering your very important position. Hindi naman masyadong gusto iyan ng ibang Senators, but it's a very important Chairman, yung Science and Technology. Now, the President, last year, said that he wanted a third telco player up and about within the first quarter of the year. But, a lot are concerned about the choice of China only.

Sen. Bam: Well, dalawa iyan. One is, we shouldn't be satisfied with three. We should have, maybe at least five. Singapore, a much smaller country than ours, has about five telco players. We have two, basically, right now. We can do three, we can do four, sa totoo lang, but the more the merrier.

Q: But can we accommodate it?

Sen. Bam: That's the second issue- we can accommodate them, but hindi naman iyan mangyayari in a month or two. They have to put up infrastructure, they have to get all the necessary permits... you have to look at the whole -

Q: The franchise.

Sen. Bam: Yung franchise, I think, kaya naman din makipag-partner sa mga kumpanya na meron nang franchise. Mas madali iyon. Pangalawa, yung spectrum, pwede naman mag-reallocate ang NPC. Sa totoo lang naman, Christian, kung gusto mo naman talaga, madali naman lahat eh. Political will. And in fairness, we're seeing political will to put up a third player. But, we shouldn't be satisfied with three. We should have even more, and we should look at countries like South Korea, Japan, you know, countries which have shown- yung nagpakita talaga na kaya nila ng mabilis na internet. Hindi lang iisang bansa, which is China.

Q: But, let's say, we're trying to accommodate a third player, at the very least, at this point. They think that would lead to better services, that's not even talking about yung cheaper, more affordable-

Sen. Bam: Yes, it will. It will, inevitably.

Q: Kung tatlo lang.

Sen. Bam: Any time that the market expands, kapag lumalaki yung merkado mo, nagkakaroon ka ng economic forces diyan. And any time there's competition, prices go down, services go up. That's why we pushed for the Philippine Competition Act, that's my law. So gusto natin makita yung totoong kompetisyon sa lahat ng mga industriya sa ating bansa, even in the Telco sector. Pag nakita natin may pangatlong player diyan, and remember, San Miguel was supposed to be our third player - when they were about to enter the market, bumaba na nga yung presyo. So even before they were operational, prices already started to *inaudible*. May impact na iyon. So pag may third, fourth, fifth player tayo, prices will go down, but more importantly, yung mga serbisyo, tataas din. Because that is the natural consequence of a healthy market.

Source: Senate of the Philippines

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