SPEECHES & INTERPELLATIONS

Speeches

ABSENCES FROM THE SENATE SESSIONS & MEETINGS ABROAD

Privilege Statement of Sen. Nene Pimentel at the Senate, October 5, 2009

On September 22-23 and 28-30, I was absent from the sessions of the Senate. The Secretariat was duly informed of those absences prior to the dates thereof.

 

I had flown on September 20 to Washington, DC for a series of meetings with academes, legislators, government officials and Filipino expat groups.

 

On the morning of September 21, Senator Manuel Villar arrived from Manila on time for the start of the meetings.

               

Luncheon meeting

 

For backgrounders, the event at the John Hopskins University School of Advanced International Studies was announced as follows:  

 

"Luncheon meeting with Philippine Senators Villar & Pimentel

 

"September 14, 2009

 

"To:  Philippine cognoscenti:

 

 "As many of you know, Bill Wise, Professor of Southeast Asia Studies at SAIS and I are trying to revive periodic fora on the Philippines among individuals who have been associated with or are interested in the Philippines.

 

 "Two key Philippine senators - Manuel Villar and Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel - will be in Washington next week.  As part of their consultations, we have arranged for a luncheon discussion at SAIS on Monday, September 21 from 12:00 to 1:45 in Room 500 at 1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW.

 

"The senators come to Washington to meet people in the Obama administration and have an opportunity to renew contact with acquaintances.  As you know, Villar is an announced candidate for president in next May's election while Pimentel, a former Senate president, is the only senator from Mindanao.  With constitutional change, controversy over the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Manila's efforts to win approval of a Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact for the Philippines, the on-going conflict(s) in Mindanao and Sulu, there are many issues of mutual US-RP concern.

 

"I hope you will be able to join us on Monday. xxx.

 

"If you know of others who might be interested, please send me their names and contact information.

 

 

"Gene Martin (US Institute of Peace)".

 

Platform

 

                At the forum, Senator Villar expounded on his platform of government. It was the first time I heard the senator talk about what he would do as president and, to me, it was convincingly doable. He stressed economic development as a way not only of addressing poverty but to show the world that our country can be as competitive with the best developed countries at least in South East Asia.

 

He also underscored his belief that there will be elections in 2010 although he foresees problems with the automation of the polls that may arise from lack of widespread voters education and the unfamiliarity of the electorate with how the voting machines work.

 

Forthright answers                        

 

During the open forum the Senator answered questions directly and without equivocation. For example on the issue of investments, he said he wanted local and foreign investments to help develop the country according to law. For as long as contracts are entered into openly and in accordance with law, he said that they should be implemented without delay. He stressed the phrases "open and in accordance with law" because – as he put it - he would not want his presidency to be seen as tolerant of official corruption.

 

In his opinion, in the first year of his incumbency, he would want contracts for infrastructure development - especially the BOTs - should be immediately implemented.

 

He also said that he was a pro-lifer and he believes that properly motivated, our population is an asset, not a hindrance to development.

 

Uprisings           

 

                He likewise talked of the NPA uprisings. He said that the NPA problem could be solved by good governance that leads to development. And the Moro secessionist wars could be solved also by development. In the war of the Moros, however, there were added dimensions, he said: that of religion and the involvement of our neighbor Muslim countries and the OIC. Their participation could go a long way towards solving the Moro rebellions that still plague the country to this day.

               

Negotiations with armed rebels should be the way to go in arriving at a just and lasting peace for the country.

 

Natural allies

               

He added that the Americans should be seen by our people as our natural allies. But he does not want, he emphasized, another Daniel Smith incident. Otherwise, things can become more complicated.

               

There were many other items, including the proposal to adopt the federal system and/or the parliamentary form of government that he touched on that would impact on the lives of our people. But it might be better for the curious to hear him discuss the details so we do not misspeak what he intends to do as president.

 

Federal System

               

As for me, I dwelt mainly on the issue of the Moro rebellion, the Visiting Forces Agreement, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and corruption.

               

I said that the only feasible and legal solution to the Moro secessionist wars that have raged for centuries is to adopt the federal system. Under that proposal a BangsaMoro Federal State would be created to consolidate the Moro dominated provinces into one legal entity where Muslim tradition and culture may be the basis for the development of their ancestral areas. It is understood that  there shall be only one Constitution  for the Federal Republic that respects the human rights of all peoples of the country including the residents of Federal State of the BangsaMoro.

 

Make it work    

               

On the Visiting Forces Agreement, I said that even as I voted against it, now that it is in place and considering recent world developments (especially the war against terror), I would rather that it be made to work well for the benefit of our country and the US.

 

Little Assistance

               

I made the observation that we are not getting as much assistance from the US for example even in terms of armaments and other equipment to modernize our armed forces. This, I said, despite the fact that the Mutual Defense Pact between our country and the US still exists.

               

I suggested that the US troops that do Balikatan Exercises with our troops should not engage in combat missions. They should not do our battles against our internal enemies for us. Otherwise, our sovereignty as a nation would be demeaned.

  

Development work

               

What the US troops should do is support our efforts to contain, if not weaken, the secessionist wars by training, logistic and intelligence assistance.

               

If the US troops want to help solve the insurgency problems of the country, they should assist our soldiers in intelligence gathering, provide our military with logistics, modern weapons, and perhaps, tactical advice. At bottom, I said, I would rather see US soldiers construct schools, roads, bridges, hospitals, water systems, and the like, to bring development to the areas where they do Balikatan.

 

Impunity            

 

As to the issues of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, I said that these are sad facts of life in the country but should not just be ignored. The culprits should be punished according to law otherwise we allow them to act with impunity.

               

The problem that obstructs the prosecution of extra-judicial killers and abductors, I said, is the same as that which causes corruption to proliferate. There are adequate laws to inhibit, deter and punish the corruptors and the corrupted. But there is no visible will to implement the laws. The solution to the problem of corruption is for the executive to implement the laws, not to pass a spate of other laws - increasing the penalty of this or that offense - that are not really necessary and which don't appear to be implementable anyway under the present dispensation.

               

On the Philippine Government Memorandum of Agreement with the MILF that was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on October 14, 2008, I said that the main fault was not only the utter secrecy with which the government transacted the agreement with the MILF Moro rebels but also with the content that virtually parceled out parts of the Republic in violation of the Constitution.

 

II. Meetings on the Hill.

 

From the afternoon of September 21 up to the whole day of September 23, in summary, we "met senior officials of the White House Security Council, the Department of State and the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees including Representatives Donald Payne, Dan Burton, Ileana Ros-Lehiten, and Jackie Spiere and Senator Richard Lugar and their staff at the Hill. 

Additionally, we met with current and former State and Defense Department Philippine affairs officials including Willaim Wise, Eugene Martin, Ambassador Thomas Hubbard, ex director of the National Security Council John Maisto, and ex director of National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.  Finally, the Senators met with various NGO's including Human Rights Watch with an interest in the Philippines.

               

Senator Villar's trip to Washington was part of a four nation tour of the United States, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and China: the major trading and diplomatic partners of the Philippines for an exchange of views.

 

Special meeting

 

We had a special meeting with Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana who has maintained a special interest in our country ever since he supported the move to get Marcos to leave the country in 1986. This, he did for the sake of what was good and right for our people despite the fact that he was a Republican pillar support of the Republican President Ronald Reagan, a friend of the Marcoses.   

 

III. At State

 

At the Department of State we were received in audience by Deputy Secretary of State Scott Marciel, whose superiors were attending the sessions of the United Nations in New York.

 

Marciel was interested in the Moro secessionist wars, the Human Rights situation and how the Visiting Forces Agreement is faring in the country.

 

Among those who heard our discussion of the Philippine situation were Susan Niblock, Philippine Desk Officer of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the State Department and Kathy Kerr, Country Analyst of the Philippines and other countries in Southeast Asia of the State Department.

 

We told Marciel basically what we had mentioned at the forum at Johns Hopskins and what we had discussed with members of Congress. I added that perhaps, they should know that one of the problems we as government have with the Abu Sayaff bandits is that the latter after committing depredations in places near the autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao would seek sanctuary in the areas supposedly controlled by the MILF. And when our soldiers pursue the hooligans, they invariably get into a shooting war with so-called MILF partisans.

 

US political NGOs

 

We also met separately with the presidents of the National Democratic Institute, Kenneth Wollack, and, Lorne W. Craner, of the International Republican Institute along with Tom Hubbard and John Negroponte, who both had stints in the country as ambassadors.

 

We suggested to Wollack and Craner that perhaps they should consider sending observer teams to monitor the 2010 elections in the country. Their presence would help deter electoral fraud that has been the bane of Philippine elections apparently since time immemorial. They were amenable to the suggestion.

 

We established easy rapport with Hubbard and Negroponte because they are knowledgeable with the situation of the country.   

 

                We also talked with Sophie Richardson, advocacy director, Asia Division, of the State Department whose interest was the persistent reports that innocent people have been killed extra-judicially or caused to disappear by some elements of the armed forces.

 

                At the meeting with the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) on the morning of September 24 I asked that their representatives in Manila should probably come up with a plan to educate the voters on the use of the voting machines and ensure that the machines are not used to facilitate election fraud.

 

Human Rights Watch   

 

On the evening of the 24th, I had a meeting with a Filipino community. I met two Filipino teachers in Virginia who had been recruited to teach somewhere in the State but whose contracts were not honored. They were preparing their suits against their recruiters. In the meantime, they, along with many other Filipino expats are helping our compatriots who need help as volunteers.

 

The members of the community were not only interested in the prospective candidates for the presidency in 2010, they were also curios about what was going to happen to the heated charges and countercharges between former President Erap Estrada and Senator Jinggoy Estrada on the one hand and Senator Panfilo Lacson on the other.

               

I said that the two sides reminded me of the arms race between US and the USSR in the cold war era. Analysts then said that the two behemoths of the world were engaged in 'MAD" - Mutually Assured Destruction.

               

In the presidential race, I told them that Senator Villar appears to be the leading candidate for having topped a series of poll surveys. I added that they should not be looking for a saint to back up in 2010 because "the saints are in heaven." One practical way by which they may choose the better candidate is to contrast their individual "virtues" with their "sins".

 

Assessment

               

My impression at the end of our official conversations was that our country is now probably only a blink in the radar screen of the US. The US is more focused on Indonesia today probably because it is seen as a dynamic democratic country in the making.  And probably because Indonesia may wind up as an example of a predominantly Islamic country that moderates its dealings with other countries. Which is just fine with us because Indonesia, our next door neighbor in Southeast Asia, has always been a friend to our country anyway.

               

In any case, it would be best for the authorities of our country to explore ways to get the US to help us develop the country economically and not just let it concentrate on the military aspects of US aid.    

 

Personal agendum

               

I was supposed to undergo a check up by doctors at a reputable medical facility after the talks in DC. But the plan did not materialize as there were time requirements of admission, examination and the like that we could not meet. Since it also would prolong my absence from the Senate, I decided to come home via LA where I rested my back for two days - that was the reason for my absence from the sessions of September 28-29 -before I finally flew back home. Which is just as well because I managed to witness for myself the ill-effects of the devastation caused by flood waters in Metro-Manila - including our home in Marikina - the likes of which had never been seen before.

               

It also enabled me and my family to share whatever food and other necessities we could with our neighbors and other evacuees who needed assistance.

 

Trivia

 

1.    There was an editorial of the Washington Post of September 23, 2009 on the need for legislators to read the bills that they pass.

 

The editorial may be applicable to us, Philippine lawmakers, too.

 

2.    Congressman Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, who shouted "You lie!" while President Obama was addressing the Joint Session of the House and the Senate last September 9, 2009, was rebuked by his colleagues for unruly behavior.

 

An item in the magazine, Washington City Paper of September 25, said that "Eversince Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted "You lie!" at President Obama … folks across the land have been decrying the lack of civility and respect in Washington's political quarters."

 

3.    An article in the New York Times of September 16 speaks of a lady writer who "vexes the men who run Singapore". The lady's name is Catherine Lim.

 

Among other things, she calls Singapore a "nanny state for its smothering top-down control" or "a macho state, in which government warriors of social engineering and economic development command the citizenry.

 

In reaction, the former prime minister Goh Chok Tiong warned her in a speech: "If you hit us in the jaw, we hit you in the pelvis."



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