MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The Senate word war between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and his critics got ugly and deeply personal, dragging the late Sen Renato Cayetano, Taguig politics, former President Arroyo, and Enrile's chief of staff into the issue.
The explosive exchange between Enrile and Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano began after the latter delivered a privilege speech to respond to Enrile.
In his privilege speech on Wednesday, January 23, Cayetano sought to respond to the controversy over Enrile's exclusion of his critics in the receipt of Senate funds.
Cayetano said he wants to answer the main issue: the use of taxpayers' money but he eventually got personal, hitting Enrile and his chief of staff, Gigi Reyes' ties to Arroyo and the Tingas, his wife's political rivals in Taguig.
Cayetano's wife is Taguig City Mayor Lani Cayetano. Retired Justice Dante Tinga lost to her in the 2010 mayoral race, a victory that Tinga questioned before the Commission on Elections.
Cayetano said: "Bakit ba kayo inis at galit sa akin personally? Dahil dati na po kayong galit sa akin sapagkat napakalapit po ninyong dalawa ni Atty Gigi sa dating Pangulong GMA at kay First Gentleman. Kasama naman po talaga kayo noon 'di ba, sa planning group at sa asar na isang katulad ko ay pwedeng tumayo sa Kongreso at labanan sila. At diba si Ma’am Gigi, best friend po niya ang asawa ni Justice Tinga na nakalaban ng asawa ko sa Taguig. At ang hipag naman ni Ma’am Gigi o sister-in-law niya ay isang konsehal sa Taguig na number 1 kritiko ng aking asawa. So every time may hearing dito, pati si Chairman Brillantes, sa inyong opisinang diretso, ako ang inuupakan at minsan tinutulungan niyo pa kaya nagkakasagutan tayo."
(Why are you annoyed and angry at me personally? Because you've long been angry at me because you and Atty Gigi are so close to the former President GMA and the First Gentleman. Weren't you really together then in the planning group and criticizing someone like me standing up in Congress and fighting against them? And isn't Ma'am Gigi the best friend of the wife of Justice Tinga who was the rival of my wife. So every time we have a hearing here, Chairman Brillantes goes straight to your office and criticizes me and sometimes you join him and we have an exchange of words.)
On Monday, January 21, Enrile's chief of staff lambasted Cayetano and Enrile's critics in the Senate for being "hypocrites" when they accused the Senate President of excluding them from a cash gift that was released to other senators in December 2012.
Interviewed on dzMM, Reyes said: "We have to expose these hypocrites. Ilegal ba? Bakit hanggang ngayon, si Senator Miriam Santiago ibinalik niya. Bakit si Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, kinuha niya? Bakit yung last year, kinuha niya, nung 2008 kinuha niya, nung 2009 kinuha niya, nung 2010 kinuha niya, nung 2011 kinuha niya, 'yung 2012 hindi pa niya binabalik?" (Is it llegal? Why did Senator Miriam Santiago return the money? Why did Senator Alan Peter Cayetano take it? How come last year, he received it? In 2008, he got it too, in 2009, in 2010, in 2011 but in 2012 he won't return it?)
Reyes is known to be an influential political player. When she celebrated her birthday in October last year, her guests at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati included President Benigno Aquino III and Vice President Jejomar Binay.
In his speech, Cayetano lamented Enrile's leadership, saying he has long suffered in the selection of committee memberships because he is in the minority. Yet he said he chose to keep quiet but decided to respond now because the minority's name is in question.
The minority leader called on the Senate to allow a private auditing firm to look into its finances, saying it cannot investigate other agencies when it is "under a cloud of doubt."
Enrile was quick to the draw, immediately standing to respond to Cayetano.
In his rejoinder, the Senate President immediately brought up Cayetano's late father, saying he owed him P37 million in their law office. Enrile and the late Cayetano were law partners in Pecabar law firm.
"Tungkol sa iyong yumaong ama. Nandito hanggang ngayon, 'di nabayaran utang niya na ginastos sa opisina namin na tinayo ko para may pakain sa pamilya niya, P37M." (About your late father. Here until now is his debt, what he spent in our office that I started to feed his family worth P37 million.)
Cayetano took exception, saying his father supported Enrile and owed him nothing.
"Nung siya’y tumakbong senador, he practically gave his life to you. Nung panahon ni President Cory, kayo’y nakulong, siya ang katabi niyo. Nung panahon ng EDSA Revolution, siya ang katabi niyo. Nung kayo’y payaman nang payaman, siya ay nagtiis din sa law office...I don’t remember he owed you P37 million. My father worked for every single centavo and it’s unfair for you to bring that up."
(When my father ran for senator, he practically gave his life to you. During the time of President Cory, he was with you. In EDSA, he was with you. He also suffered in the law office.)
Enrile shot back. “Anong utang na loob ko sa inyo?” Cayetano replied, “Ang bahay namin inutang sa bangko.” Enrile said, “Pati kahoy?” (“What is my debt of gratitude to you?” “We had a debt to pay for our house.” “Even the wood?”)
At this point, Sen Franklin Drilon sought to suspend the session as the exchange got even more intense.
Yet Enrile still spoke. “Let me address the budget. I won't go down to the gutter.” To which Cayetano replied, “You already went to the gutter. Your chief of staff has already gone to the gutter. This is irrelevant to our discussions here and you're bringing up things where a person who's already dead cannot answer."
Caucus before speech
Before Cayetano’s privilege speech, the mood was already tense.
The Senate had a 40-minute caucus prior to Cayetano’s speech. During this period, his sister Sen Pia Cayetano tweeted that she “walked out of the caucus.”
“I'd rather sit beside my brother and listen to him breathe in an empty session hall than listen to such hypocrisy,” Pia Cayetano tweeted.
When the session resumed shortly past 6pm, Enrile said: "First of all, I'd like to apologize for the fracas. I will not deal with those matters anymore." He then proceeded to discuss the Senate budget.
Cayetano is one of the staunchest critics of Enrile in the Senate. In December 2012, Enrile excluded the 4 – Cayetano, and Senators Pia Cayetano, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and Antonio Trillanes IV -- from the list of senators who received P1.6-M each in additional Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE).
Enrile admitted excluding them from the second tranche, giving them only the first tranche of MOOE amounting to P600,000 each and a Christmas cash gift from Enrile's office of P250,000 each.
On Monday, Trillanes said they had the numbers to oust Enrile from the presidency. But Liberal Party members dismissed the idea, saying it was too late to revamp the Senate leadership. The Senate goes on election break in February.
Enrile chief of staff resigns
Later Wednesday evening, ABS-CBN anchor Karen Davila reported that Reyes texted her that she was resigning. Davila was the anchor during Reyes' DZMM interview where she criticized Cayetano.
ABS-CBN News said the text message read, "Karen, I have resigned from the office of Sen Enrile effective today. I'm signing off, sorry."
Enrile's staff told reporters though that the Senate President did not accept Reyes' resignation.
Cayetano said in an interview after the word war, "I don't see why he cannot scold his chief of staff and say don't disrespect my fellow senators."
In his speech and DZMM interview last Monday, Cayetano described Reyes' powerful role in the Senate.
He said senators will have to go through Reyes to get to Enrile.
"Pero medyo special si Atty. Gigi kasi sa lahat mabibigat na issues, sa impeachment, sa Cam Sur at even sa lounge na bawal ang ibang staff kundi siya, mabigat yan kapag nagsalita. Kasi sa lahat ng usapin ng senador palaging andiyan yan. Parang kanang kamay na rin yan ni Sen. Enrile at minsan siya ang nagsasabi kung anong gustong mangyari ni Sen. Enrile," Cayetano said in the radio interview.
(Atty Gigi is special because in all major issues like impeachment, the bill dividing Camarines Sur and even in the lounge where staff are not allowed, she is able to speak her mind. In all senators' discussion, she's always there. She is like the right hand of Sen Enrile and she sometimes says what Sen Enrile wants to happen.) - Rappler.com