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PIA Press Release

Miriam dares new solons to spend pork without kickbacks

Quezon City (15 June) -- Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago dared newly-elected senators to prove their integrity by donating their annual pork barrel funds to "kickback-free" projects for the Philippine General Hospital, the country's biggest charity hospital, and to the University of the Philippines, the country's premier state university.

"It is well-known in the pork barrel trade that there are no kickbacks for such projects as state-of-the-art machines for public hospitals, or new buildings for state universities. This project should be the litmus test for new senators claiming to be honest," Santiago said.

Santiago was honored guest at a special program June 15 during the inauguration of new PGH medical facilities, headed by UP President Emerlinda Roman, PGH Director Carmelo Alfiler, and PGH cardiologist, now DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral.

Starting 2005, Santiago launched her personal campaign for "one senator, one machine" for PGH, leading the way by donating at that time P16 million for new equipment for the adult gastroenterology and cardiology sections.

The senator followed this up with her recent donation of another P16 million for the renovation of three rooms, called the control room, medical call room, and medical auxiliary room. In addition, Santiago's pork barrel provided medical gas facilities to ensure that oxygen and lifesaving gases will be available to PGH patients.

Later this year, Santiago has already committed another P12 million to purchase an endoscopic ultrasound equipment for the new gastroenterology center at UP-PGH, the first of its kind in the Philippines to make diagnostic and treatment procedures available to patients who cannot afford similar facilities in private hospitals.

Santiago said that in 2005, she passed around the Senate a "pledge sheet" containing a list of machines urgently needed by PGH, with the intention that every senator should indicate opposite the machine of his choice the amount he was willing to donate from his pork barrel.

"Sadly, my project called 'one senator, one PGH machine' raised a lot of curiosity and interest among the senators, but apparently no senator followed up on his pledge," Santiago lamented.

Santiago said that it is virtually useless for a senator to make public mere refusal of his pork barrel funds, because those funds will simply go to another agency where they could be subjected to corruption.

"Mere renunciation of pork barrel does not constitute a public service. It needs follow-up to make sure that the money refused goes to worthwhile social services. Instead of seeking publicity for giving up pork barrel, senators should allocate their pork barrel to 'clean' projects where it is impossible to get a kickback, such as the importation of expensive medical machines to be made available free to the poor," Santiago said.

Santiago made banner headline news in 1996, when a leading newspaper exposed additional pork barrel that senators allocated for themselves, called the Congressional Initiative Allocation, by refusing it on the ground that it had no constitutional basis.

"Pork barrel has a constitutional basis, so it is legal. But in most cases, it is reduced by kickbacks shared among the legislator, local government official, and contractor. The most kickback-prone projects are those involving public works," Santiago said.

UP President Roman lauded Santiago's consistent support over the years for UP-PGH, particularly her donation of annual pork barrel to complete the new National Institute of Physics building in the UP Diliman campus, where Santiago graduated.

"A senator or representative can sponsor a building by donating pork barrel funds in annual increments until the building is finished. I hope Sen. Santiago's example will be followed by other senators," Roman said.

DSWD Secretary Cabral, known to be a close friend of Santiago, and a former practitioner at PGH, pointed out that PGH is the country's biggest charity hospital, catering to more than 600,000 patients a year, 90 percent of whom are indigents.

"Senators who genuinely care for the poor can help them directly by funding the importation of the latest medical machines. This process does not allow kickbacks, so any senator who donates medical equipment is automatically clean. That should be the attraction for the new senators," she said. (DSWD) [top]

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