MANILA, Philippines – Senator Francis Escudero may be one of the youngest lawmakers, but he is not new to politics. He started his political career when he was 28 years old and was elected representative of the 1st district of Sorsogon.
After 3 terms in the House of Representatives, he ran for the Senate and won in 2007. While he is midway his second term as senator, he declared on Thursday, September 17, his vice presidential bid, as the running mate of Senator Grace Poe.
As part of Rappler’s #PHvote “The Leader I Want Series,” we look at Escudero’s stand on issues that the next vice president is expected to help the president tackle: corruption, social inequality, climate change and disasters, foreign policy, overseas Filipino workers, and peace in Mindanao.
What gains from the Aquino administration should he continue and which strategies should be changed? Tell us in the comments section below or tweet using #TheLeaderIWant why or why not Escudero should be the next vice president of the country.
Escudero became known to the public as a staunch critic of the Arroyo administration, even pushing for the impeachment of former President Gloria Arroyo in the House of Representatives.
For him, it’s simple to curb corruption: the government should eliminate discretion.
Even with this stand on corruption, Escudero was unable to evade the controversy. During the peak of the pork barrel issue, the alleged mastermind Janet Lim Napoles accused Escudero of receiving money in 2009 to fund his supposed 2010 presidential bid. He denied this.
Escudero also said he did not receive his Priority Development Assistance Fund during the time of Arroyo and that all his expenditures are on his website and are open to scrutiny. With this, he called for the abolition of the PDAF or the pork barrel.
Escudero was a former ally of Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is allegedly involved in multi-billion questionable government projects. They were together in the opposition in 2004. In 2010, Escudero supported Binay when he ran for vice president.
But times and politics may have changed their course, Binay dropped Escudero from the United Nationalist Alliance’s slate in 2013. Escudero, meanwhile, signed the Senate committee report recommending plunder charges against Binay.
Escudero had been one of the “poorest” senators, based on their Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth. At the time of his lavish wedding to celebrity Heart Evangelista, he was the 2nd poorest senator. (READ: How can a 2nd 'poorest' senator afford a Balesin wedding?)
In his 2013 SALN declaration, Escudero’s net worth jumped to P8.243 million, on the strength of 6 properties he acquired by “succession.” (Escudero’s father, former Agriculture Secretary and Sorsogon 1st District Representative Salvador Escudero died in 2012). His cash on hand also rose to P3.183 million.
The principal sponsors in the wedding were the biggest names in business, easily the biggest contributors to political campaigns. Some of the names were involved in Senate investigations, which Escudero as senator has to deal with. While some say there was a conflict of interest, Escudero maintained he and her wife did not spend beyond their means for their wedding.
As for the long-standing issue of corruption in the Bureau of Customs, Escudero said corrupt officials should be removed from post and should be penalized with the heaviest punishment allowed by law. He also said there should be no mirrors and drawers in the offices and even pockets in Customs officials’ uniforms.
Escudero said the government should not underspend on the agriculture sector to increase the household income of farmers. He also called on the government to improve the technology in the sector “to be able to compete in an open market,” especially with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
With the looming El Niño phenomenon, he called on the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to provide alternative jobs to farmers affected by El Niño.
Escudero supported the passage of the Reproductive Health law, saying he wants "each and every newborn Filipino to be a given fair and equal chance to uplift and improve their lives."
Escudero wants the DSWD to tighten the screening process of the Conditional Cash Transfer, the Aquino administration’s flagship anti-poverty program.
He cited an Asian Development Bank study that said a third of funds for the CCT program are allotted to those who don’t deserve them.
“[The DSWD] step up the process of weeding out spurious names from the list of deserving beneficiaries under the government’s flagship poverty alleviation program,” the senator said in a statement on June 26, 2015.
Escudero said it is not enough to end poverty, as he said every Filipino should have an equal opportunity to succeed in life.
Escudero, a friend of President Benigno Aquino III, supported the enactment of the enhanced basic education program or the K to 12 system.
Escudero said anyone who graduates from the K to 12 program is already eligible to work for simple and vocational jobs.
He also urged the government to modernize public schools, saying they have “to be updated with the latest developments in technology” to be competitive in the jobs market, citing the booming Business Process Outsourcing industry where above-average English and technology skills are needed.
Escudero, a lawyer, was the former chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights. He is one of the lawmakers who are against the revival of death penalty in the country, saying certainty of punishment, not death penalty, will ultimately deter the activities of drug lords and criminals.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND DISASTER
Escudero, as former chairman of the Senate committee on finance, questioned the government’s handling of the P137 billion set aside by Congress for the rehabilitation of areas affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. He said he still did not see where the money went.
Escudero, chairman of the committee on environment and natural resources for several years, was the co-author of the Climate Change Act of 2009. The law institutionalized the creation of the Climate Change Commission and the need for government policies to include climate change.
As for the controversial issue of mining, Escudero only said he is not against mining but operations should comply with environmental and labor laws.
Escudero supports the Aquino administration’s position on the maritime disputes over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The senator said it is right that the government brought the issue to the proper fourm, saying getting attention and support from the United States and regional partners in the ASEAN is crucial.
“International attention and support will play a key role to pressure China to conform to international laws and practices. It could also temper them from their bullying tactics and convince them to resolve the matter peacefully," Escudero said.
As for the ASEAN integration, Escudero has yet to make a categorical stand on it. But from his earlier statements, he is urging the government to prepare the agriculture and education sector for the said integration.
Overseas Filipino workers, for Escudero, play a major part of the Philippine economy and its sustainability.
With this, all his public statements are in support of the OFWs. Recently, he reprimanded the Bureau of Customs for targeting the OFWs in its anti-smuggling campaign, following reports that BOC would open Balikbayan boxes.
He said the BOC should put to good use its 2015 budget for surveillance and prevention of smuggling, instead of putting the burden on OFWs.
Escudero also urged the government to relax regulatory requirements for seafarers, after receiving numerous complaints about the red tape in their documentation.
Escudero also filed Senate Bill 2601, seeking to imprison recruitment agencies that collect excessive placement fees from prospective OFWs.
With the case of Mary Jane Veloso in Indonesia, Escudero was among the many politicians who called on the government to exhaust all legal means possible for the commutation of death of the Filipinas.
PEACE IN MINDANAO
Escudero was among the many lawmakers who have apprehensions about the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. Among the questionable provisions for him are the P70 billion budget to implement the law once enacted, and the creation of a separate entity from the national government.
With this, Escudero said he wants the budget to be placed under line-item budgeting to better monitor the expenses. He also pushed for the inclusion of a detailed timeline of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s decommissioning of high-powered weapons.
Escudero said Congress has to thoroughly study the measure so as to avoid the mistakes with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
As for the Mamasapano incident that killed 44 elite policemen, Escudero insisted it was a massacre, not a misencounter, as the national government labeled it.
He also released a statement on February 26, a month after the botched operation, saying it was not President Aquino’s fault.
Escudero said Aquino's only mistake was he allowed then suspended Philippine National Police Chief Alan Purisima to give orders. But Escudero was quick to downplay it and said, “But then again, we have the benefit of hindsight.” – Rappler.com
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