Enrile resigns Senate presidency
MANILA, Philippines (2ND UPDATE) – Juan Ponce Enrile irrevocably resigned the Senate presidency on Wednesday, June 5, on the second to the last session day of the chamber.
Enrile, who was Senate President for 4 and a half years, delivered a privilege speech lamenting how his critics in the minority used the Senate fund controversy to destroy his name and derail the senatorial candidacy of his son and namesake, outgoing Cagayan Rep Juan Ponce "Jack" Enrile Jr.
Acknowledging that criticisms against him centered on his handling of Senate funds – born out of a system that was “not my creation” – he challenged the Commission on Audit (COA) to look into how individual senators and their offices disbursed their allocations.
The 89-year-old Enrile said he had had enough of having to defend his fellow senators, as his Senate leadership position required him. Individual senators should be made individually accountable for their disbursements, he said.
“Let us all be men and women worthy of being called ‘Honorable Senators.’ And let the chips fall where they may. And so as a matter of personal honor and dignity, I hereby irrevocably resign as Senate President,” Enrile said at the end of a 15-minute speech.
In keeping with Senate rules, Senate Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, who is with Enrile in the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), has been designated as acting Senate President.
In his speech, Enrile delivered a litany blasting his critics: Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago, Sen Alan Peter Cayetano and Sen Antonio Trillanes IV. Santiago was absent.
“I refuse to be anyone’s scapegoat and everyone’s whipping boy.”
“I refuse to let any Senator drag my name down the gutter with her.”
“I refuse to stand idly by when no less than the son of my former partner, the late Senator Renato L. Cayetano, would dare accuse me of being a thief or a scoundrel.”
“I refuse to lend my hard-earned name as a convenient refuge to those who cannot face the public and defend their own honor.”
“I refuse to allow anybody, whether in or outside the halls of this Chamber, to just freely trample upon the name that my late father, Alfonso Ponce Enrile, had so kindly allowed me to carry with pride.”
In his speech, Enrile referred to preparations for a Senate reorganization, particularly moves to replace him in the 16th Congress. He said Budget Secretary Butch Abad was already quoted as saying that the first order of the day in July is to replace him.
"Old age may have physically impaired my vision. But let me assure all of you: I can still see and read clearly the handwriting on the wall. I need not be told by anyone when it is time for me to go."
Enrile first threatened to resign in January, when he declared the office of the Senate president vacant. Yet 11 senators voted to reject his motion. This time, he made good on his plan.
His critics saw his resignation as "theatrics" and an effort to preempt the moves to replace him.
Watch the latter part of the speech here:
'My heart bled for my son'
Enrile is one of the stalwarts of UNA, under whose banner his son ran but lost.
He blamed his rivals and the criticism they hurled against him as a factor behind his son's defeat.
“Yet Jack forged on, plodded and toiled on his own. He braved the storm and took on all the brickbats and accusations, both old and new. He squarely faced the issues against him and submitted himself to the judgment of the electorate without uttering a word against his detractors.”
He added, “As a father, I endured in silence the pain of seeing my son suffer because of me. He carried on his shoulders the weight of all the mud thrown against me. As I stayed and watched quietly by the side lines, my heart bled for him.”
'Colleagues silent in public, whispered in caucus'
Enrile was referring to the issue of his alleged favoritism in the distribution of Senate funds.
Four senators who had been at odds with Enrile – siblings Alan Peter Cayetano and Pia Cayetano, Trillanes, and Santiago – complained of getting only P250,000 each, while 18 received P1.6 million each, last December.
Enrile said that like his 4 critics, he also did not receive any additional disbursements.
He scored his colleagues for refusing to defend him at the height of the controversy.
"I carried the brunt of 4 of my colleague’s anger and displeasure over not receiving what they felt they were entitled to as their share of the savings of the Senate."
He added, "No one bothered nor cared that I, too, did not receive the same amount that I had approved for the rest."
"I suffered the anger of the public as the media branded all that I had authorized for release to the Senators’ offices last December as my personal 'CASH GIFTS' no matter how hard I tried to explain the nature of these disbursements from the Senate’s coffers and my own office’s savings."
Enrile also fired back at colleagues who “chose to keep their silence as I was publicly pilloried, crucified” over the fund issues, while they supposedly expressed concern about how new liquidation rules will affect them “in the privacy of caucuses.”
He was also left alone to defend himself and the Senate as an institution over the issue of bigger allocations for oversight committees, he said.
“The budgets for these committees are charged against the Senate’s budget, but the truth is that these committees operate and spend funds autonomously.”
Challenge for next Senate president
Acknowleding that the16th Congress is likely to elect a new Senate President when it opens in July, Enrile said the next leadership of the chamber should not be allowed to sweep fund issues under the rug.
“Must all issues of transparency, accountability, and propriety be forgotten? Have all these issues suddenly become irrelevant? Can we just ‘move on’ and bury these issues in the dustbin of the Philippine Senate's history?"
"My answer is no. The Senate neither begins nor ends with Juan Ponce Enrile. This chamber has its own honor to uphold,” he said.
He continued: “Now that the election noise has quieted down, I lay claim to nothing more than the right to vindicate my sullied name."
“I will leave each of my colleagues to explain directly to the people who elected them their respective positions on these issues and to account for their own budgets, as I have always been ready to account for my own. I can no longer speak for them.” – with a report from Ayee Macaraig/Rappler.com