Santiago warns senators, Cabinet officials with infomercials vs criminal raps before Ombudsman

August 14, 2009 10:09 am 

By Janice M. Cave

MANILA, Aug. 14 – Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Friday warned that senators and Cabinet officials who have infomercials currently being aired on national television and who would fail to pull these out by the end of the month would face criminal raps before the Ombudsman.

Senators and some Cabinet officials who are seeking higher posts in 2010 failed to attend Friday's Senate probe on the so-called infomercials.

A visibly irked Santiago who is chair of the economic affairs committee, said her fellow senators who were absent in the hearing could be guilty of the issues raised.

"Ayaw nilang pumunta kasi mamaya baka sila rin ay mapagbintangan din ng mismong krimen na yun, dahil makikita mo ayon nga sa kasabihan sa korte na he who comes to court must come to court with clean hand (They do not want to attend because maybe they are guilty of the crime. In courts, it is said that he who comes to court must come to court with clean hand)," Santiago said.

Among the 11 senators, only Santiago and Sen. Loren Legarda were present.

Blue Ribbon committee chair Richard Gordon, who earlier said he would attend the hearing, was also absent.

Presidential wannabes Sen. Manuel Villar and Sen. Mar Roxas, who have their own infomercials currently being aired, likewise failed to show up.

Of the 12 invited Cabinet officials with infomercials, only six showed up.

Among those present in the probe were Vice President Noli de Castro, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) Chairman Efraim Genuino and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando.

Those who failed to attend were Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Director General Augusto Syjuco, Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, Jr., Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, Jr. and Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman.

Santiago said: "I requested them to please stop appearing in those commercials… I gave a deadline until the end of the month. After that I will file a committee report recommending that any department heads, who personally appear in a commercial on televisions, will face prosecution in the Office of the Ombudsman and their officers, if found guilty should be disqualified either from running a public office or from holding the public office if he wins in the elections."

According to the senator, the Cabinet members' source of funds for the infomercials are hidden "behind so-called extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses".

"The Cabinet candidates are probably padding their miscellaneous expenses to camouflage their payments to the TV stations. They are entered as extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses or as other maintenance and operating expenses," she said during the probe.

"The rest of the Cabinet members who did not appear and who did not even gave me the courtesy of specifying what their so-called previous appointments were, are simply scared stiff. Their absence indicates that they are probably guilty of using public funds," Santiago added.

The lady senator said there is no law that requires Cabinet members to publicize their departments' projects.

As such, it is illegal for them to feature themselves in infomercials, she added.

Santiago asked the Cabinet officials to pull out their infomercials even if the hearing on the issue is not yet over.

The committee also invited Commission on Audit (COA) Chairman Reynaldo Villar but he refused to attend the hearing.

Santiago said the COA should double check whether there are no false entries in the liquidation of public funds.

According to De Castro, Pag-IBIG Fund funded his infomercials that are being aired since 2007. The other Cabinet officials also said that their departments funded their infomercials. (PNA) LAP/V3/PTR/jmc/

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