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Lawmakers quietly doubled their pay

/ 07:48 PM August 09, 2011

It was an all-star cast at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday: Sen. Chiz Escudero and resigned Sen. Migz Zubiri, glamor boys of the Senate, and white-haired Chairman Sixto Brillantes of the Commission on Elections.

Zubiri looked relaxed and happy after withdrawing his poll counter-protest against rival Koko Pimentel and resigning from the Senate. He said he has not had a vacation for the last 15 years that he was a member of Congress. Now he will bond with his family. They will go on a vacation abroad, perhaps in the United States, adding that his wife Audrey cried in happiness when he told her of his decision to resign.

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After the vacation, he will go around the country to thank the people for their support, beginning with his constituents in Bukidnon who were hurt, he said, when he did not inform them beforehand of his decision to quit. He said he will run for a fresh mandate in the Senate in the 2013 elections.

“Isn’t that electioneering? The campaign period has not yet begun,” Brillantes was asked.

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“No,” the Comelec chief replied. “He is not yet a candidate until he files his certificate of candidacy. And as long as he does not tell the people to ‘vote for me,’ there is no violation.”

What if his supporters shout “Vote for Migz?”

“That’s not Migz shouting but the people,” Brillantes replied. “That’s not his fault.”

Escudero is also running for reelection in 2013 and somebody predicted that the two of them, Chiz and Migz, will top the 2013 senatorial elections.

By the way, Zubiri is entitled to two more terms as senator, Brillantes said, while Pimentel has only one term left.

Let me get this straight, I said, Zubiri, who already served four years as senator, is entitled to two more terms, a total of 12 years, in the Senate, while Pimentel, who will serve only two years, has only one term left?

“That is correct,” Brillantes said. “The reason is that Zubiri is not considered elected senator for the four years he served. Pimentel is the elected senator for that term. So he has only one more term left.”

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All right then, if Pimentel was the elected senator during that first four years, will he get the pay, allowances and pork barrel that Zubiri collected during those four years?

“No more. Migs earned them.”

Isn’t that unfair? Pimentel lost four years of the first term to Zubiri through, as he claims, fraudulent means, as a result of which he, Pimentel, can run for reelection only once. On the other hand, Zubiri, who served the four years that should have gone to Pimentel, can run for two more terms. In addition, he gets to keep all the salaries and allowances that should have gone to Pimentel. Where is justice there?

“Nothing we can do,” Brillantes said. “That’s the law.”

What about the bills that Zubiri filed and which were passed by the Senate during the four years that he was illegally occupying the Senate seat of Pimentel? Are they valid?

“Of course.”

By the way, I learned that the senators have quietly doubled their own salaries from P80,000 a month to P150,000 a month. Pimentel is coming in just in time for that bonanza. Zubiri is leaving without having tasted it.

I presume that the congressmen secretly did the same thing. The taxpayers’ pockets have been picked again.

The three panelists were asked what they think of President Aquino’s secret meeting in Tokyo with leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Escudero said the President got out of his “comfort zone” to meet with the rebel leaders in an effort to achieve peace in Mindanao. He should be commended for it, he said.

Zubiri said, “Nobody knows the value of peace better than we Mindanaoans. If the President’s tryst will achieve peace, then hail to the chief.”

Brillantes said, “Peace had been a very long time coming to Mindanao. The people have suffered enough. If President Aquino can achieve peace there, he will have done what no other president has done.”

Escudero, a Bicolano, was asked what he thinks of the move to split Camarines Sur into two provinces, an issue that is currently roiling the people of the province. He replied that the issue should be thrown to the people in a plebiscite. “Let the people decide,” he said.

Brillantes was asked about the coming elections. Will it be manual or automated?

“Automated,” he quickly replied. “We will no longer go back to manual elections. Poll fixers and election lawyers will go out of business. There will no longer be election protests. They would be a waste of time and money. The last automated elections have shown that they are accurate. Not one of the poll protests that were filed after the elections has progressed. The case of Koko and Migz will not be repeated.”

Brillantes said the Comelec has started opening contested ballots and so far no discrepancies have been found. “The results did not change. The results of the machines were the same as the proclaimed results,” he said.

“As for the election lawyers, they will no longer have post-election cases. They would be limited to pre-election cases: disqualification cases against rival candidates and other lawsuits before election day. Sorry na lang sila.”

Brillantes himself and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima were election lawyers before they were appointed to the government. They still have to be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments.

Who will supply the voting machines for the 2013 polls?

“There will be a new public bidding.”

So Smartmatic will have the edge. They already have the machines here. They don’t have to make and ship new ones here. They can bid low.

“Not necessarily. We are looking at Philippine-made automated machines. They should be cheaper. And Filipinos will operate them, not foreigners,” the Comelec chief said.

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TAGS: Chiz Escudero, featured columns, Miguel zubiri, opinion, politics, Senate
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