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Admirable Miriam

By Alvin Capino
Manila Standard Today

Overwhelming approval would be the most probable result of a public opinion survey on the handling by the irrepressible Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago of last week’s hearing on reports of alleged corruption in the World Bank-funded public works project in the Philippines.

Most people would have to agree with and approve Santiago’s outburst against the seeming indifference by government officials on allegations of corruption in public works projects. People probably wish that they could also publicly lambaste these officials.

Santiago clearly gave vent to people’s frustration on government corruption.

Of course one of the reasons for the strong public support for Santiago’s anti-corruption advocacy is public anger which has been stoked by the kid’s glove treatment of blacklisted contractors by their fellow contractors sitting in the House of Representatives.

The House hearing on the same issue heard by Santiago’s Senate committee on economic affairs was chaired by Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales, the vice chairman of the House committee on public works who is in the construction business.

While Santiago made a strong denunciation of influential people who are stonewalling the Senate inquiry, the Pampanga contractor-congressman on the other hand said that it’s the World Bank which should be sanctioned and not the blacklisted contractors.

While we agree that there should be a scrutiny of the World Bank investigation and how it arrived at its conclusions, clearing the blacklisted contractors outright without looking at the report is patently wrong.

The public would certainly side with Santiago in her desire to get to the bottom of the issue of the WB blacklisting of three big-time Philippine contractors.

Aside from her verbal assault against coddlers of corrupt public works contractors, the feisty Santiago also made another important point when she insisted that the allegations made by Senator Panfilo Lacson should be supported by the testimony of at least one witness.

Lacson had linked First Gentleman Mike Arroyo to one of the WB blacklisted contractor. Lacson also said that one of the contractors under investigation delivered P70-million cash to the LTA building in Makati where the First Gentleman holds office.

Santiago made it clear that she would not allow her committee’s investigations to be used for scurrilous attacks against the First Gentleman Mike Arroyo or other personalities unless a witness can be produced to back up the accusations.

She surprised Lacson and the other senators when she announced the termination of the hearing. She said that she was more than willing to reopen the investigation if Lacson produces at least one credible witness to testify on the allegations about the P70-million bribe to the First Gentleman.

Santiago made two things clear in that hearing. One, she would not allow anybody to treat her committee’s investigation lightly. Two, she would not allow even fellow senators to make unsupported accusations in investigation by her committee. This should be the standard in all Senate investigations.

Santiago’s “performance” in last week’s hearing should explain why even people who do not like her feistiness admire her.

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