The presidential aspirant with the longest tenure in the government among the presidentiables, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago is running for the highest office in the land for the third time.
“Do you want a clean government? Do you want a courageous government? Do you want a government of, by, and for academic excellence?” These are Santiago’s words when she formally announced her presidential bid at the University of the Philippines Bahay ng Alumni in October 2015.
A staunch critic of the Aquino administration, Santiago said she is running again to fight corruption. The lawmaker has previously campaigned for the presidential seat in 1992, but lost to former President Fidel V. Ramos. She ran again in 1998, but placed seventh by the end of the elections that former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada won.
The lawmaker has one of the most celebrated careers among the presidential candidates; she is a lawyer and a former regional trial court judge. She has also served as a legal officer in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; as an Agrarian Reform secretary; and as the immigration office director.
Santiago was also elected as judge of the International Criminal Court in 2012, the first one from Southeast Asia to be given the honor. She resigned from the post later citing chronic fatigue syndrome. In 2014, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, then later said it has regressed a year after.
Pick-up lines aside that captured the youth’s attention and catapulted her into a social media darling, Santiago’s campaign is hounded by her health concerns. Critics observed she was visibly weak when she and running mate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. launched their campaign on February 9. An unlikely tandem, the senator said if she is elected president and something happens to her, “we want someone young and idealistic to replace me," referring to her running mate.
Still, Santiago upholds she can run the country and has a platform ready for the next six years.
For tax reforms
During a presidential forum in October 2015, Santiago said she will conduct tax reforms within six months in the administration.
“The Philippine tax system is 20 years old. It needs to be overhauled. But major tax reforms are best done at the start of each administration when the President has the clear mandate from the voters.”
The country has the second highest income tax rate in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nation) and the highest one in terms of corporate tax.
Keeping the tax system in-sync with the country’s ASEAN neighbors will keep the country competitive, and could provide better finances for government projects, Santiago said.
With the reforms come the better selections of officers in government agencies.
The Bureau of Customs (BOC) has always been in hot water, especially following various allegations of corrupt practice, from reportedly stealing from balikbayan boxes to unreasonable tax fees of pasalubongs (souvenirs or goodies).
Santiago said all tariff regulations must be placed in a single act to keep up with all recent trade agreements the country has. However, she emphasized this will not be a “magic bullet” that will solve all of the agency’s problems.
“The solution there is to appoint a few good men to run BOC and for Malacañang to stop meddling with BOC. Corruption at the BOC will cease only if not tolerated by Palace officials,” Santiago said.
Wide-scale infrastructure projects
Santiago listed a comprehensive plan for the infrastructure projects she will lay out in the next six years in office, if ever elected. It includes a new, modern international airport, an entirely new railway system from Manila to Sorsogon—even a major infrastructure project for each region and province nationwide.
“The Philippine government should set aside at least 5% of its resources for public infrastructure for it to catch up with its ASEAN-5 neighbors and to sustain strong growth,” Santiago said.
In an article by The New York Times in August 2015, the Aquino administration was slammed for the lack of infrastructure projects in the country, as it “threatens to hold the Philippines back from reaching the next level, economically speaking.”
Santiago hopes the projects planned will be done simultaneously to achieve maximum impact, but reminded that these plans cannot be made based on promises alone.
“It will have to be financed through better tax administration, tax policy reform, and government borrowings,” Santiago added.
In a youth forum in Ilocos Norte on February 9, Santiago quipped that corrupt officials, specifically those guilty of participating in the pork barrel scam can choose three kinds of jail once she gets elected. The statement is just one of the many she has had before, condoning corruption. The lawmaker has a reputation for lengthy privilege speeches and colorful press interviews regarding the matter.
Santiago added once she gets elected in office, the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill would be her first priority, as it “deserves to be passed first.”
The bill seeks public officials and government agencies to disclose all documents to the public, one way to showcase transparency in the government. Currently, only selected documents may be posted on the government website. The proposed FOI bill under the Aquino administration also still awaits second reading.
“With the FOI, concerned parties can ask specific information from department secretaries or agency heads, and the latter are duty bound to comply. That is what enhances transparency and accountability—not the selective posting of public information,” Santiago added.
‘Cha-cha should be studied’
The Senate committee head for foreign relations has not made concrete plans on how to “liberalize” the economy to attract foreign investors further, but thinks amending the Constitution will have to be studied as a viable solution.
“I don't know if the young people in this country would agree to that proposal, because it places the Constitution at the mercy of politicians. I don't know if the young people today wish for our Constitution to be dictated to by foreigners. All of these have to be studied, possibly by means of a referendum,” Santiago added.
The lawmaker believes statistics would have to play a huge number to differentiate the practices the country has regarding foreign trade compared with its neighboring countries. Still, a study must be conducted to develop more sound practice to increase foreign direct investments.
Entrepreneur Philippines profiles the leading presidential, vice presidential, and senatorial candidates in the upcoming May 9, 2016 elections. We aim to help voters know these candidates through their platforms focusing on the economy, entrepreneurship, tax reform.