Enrile bloc inclined to accept committees
MANILA, Philippines – They will not sour-grape.
The minority bloc of Sen Juan Ponce Enrile will meet on the 5 committee chairmanships that Senate President Franklin Drilon offered. Some of the minority senators said they are inclined to accept Drilon’s offer even if the powerful and coveted panels were already given to administration allies.
Assistant Minority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said the group will meet next week to discuss Drilon’s offer of the committee chairmanships for economic affairs; agrarian reform; social justice; welfare and rural development; housing and resettlement; and labor, employment and human resource development.
“We will meet on Monday evening to finalize. In my case, I will not accept any chairmanship,” Sotto told Rappler in a text message on Friday, July 26.
Sotto explained in past interviews that he will not accept any committee chairmanships to play an active role in fiscalizing or checking on the work of the majority.
Sen Gregorio Honasan II said he is leaning toward retaining his chairmanship of the agrarian reform committee, with the permission of the minority bloc. The group initially said it was considering following Sotto's example but Honasan said it is likely the minority will accept committees.
“We decided I think as a matter of principle that we will not appear to be sour graping. All we want to do is not make an issue out of the committee chairmanships,” Honasan said in a phone interview with Rappler.
“People might say we just don’t want to work if we don’t accept committees, if we sour grape publicly. I think it will go against public interest and our mandates if we start behaving in that manner,” he added.
Drilon has described the committees he offered to the minority as “major and relevant” despite the perception that they were minor or leftover panels.
Honasan said he observed that “in previous Senate presidencies, not referring to the Senate Presidency of Senator Enrile, it was a more rationalized distribution. You take into consideration competence, experience and seniority. By tradition, you give it to some of those who handled these committees already.”
“But that’s tradition, not a hard and fast rule,” said Honasan who did not retain leadership of his past committees like public information, and public order. These went to Sen Grace Poe.
Honasan added, “I’m careful. I’m not griping. It’s just an objective observation. But again, the will of the majority will be carried or followed.”
Sen JV Ejercito also of the minority bloc told Rappler he prefers the housing and urban planning committee “in case there really is nothing more left.”
Sen Nancy Binay though said she will rather talk to the group first before expressing her preference.
As for Sen Jinggoy Estrada, he said in past interviews that he is interested in retaining chairmanship of the labor committee.
Enrile is an ex-officio member of all committees as minority leader.
Except for Sotto, all members of the minority are part of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). Sotto is a member of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) but is a staunch Enrile ally.
The majority is composed of the administration coalition of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), the Nacionalista Party (NP) and NPC.
Minority approach to budget
In the interview, Honasan revealed that Estrada was designated as the minority’s liaison to the majority. Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano relayed to Estrada the offered committee chairmanships.
Besides the committees, Honasan said the minority will chart other plans for the 16th Congress in the Monday meeting.
“Our own approach to the coming budget deliberations, the allocation of work among the 6 members of the minority will be discussed so the fiscalizing principle will be followed throughout the work done by the committees,” Honasan said.
Honasan also said he is accepting the offer of Poe to be her vice chairman in the public order committee. Poe has admitted that she is not an expert on the topic and is seeking the help of the former soldier.
“There’s no problem with that. I serve at the pleasure of the majority and the chairperson. Maybe I still have something to contribute handling that committee. I’d be more than willing to help Chair Poe,” he said.
Honasan, sponsor of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in the 15th Congress, also expressed support for Poe’s push for the measure.
Honasan said that with an FOI law in place, controversies like the pork barrel scam recently also linked to Sen Lito Lapid will be avoided.
Philippine Daily Inquirer reports named Honasan as one of 5 senators whose pork barrel funds were supposedly used to fund ghost projects of bogus NGOs. Also linked to the scam were Enrile, Estrada, and Senators Bong Revilla and Bongbong Marcos.
“If we have an FOI bill, this spin, premature trial of publicity without the benefit of a completed NBI investigation and Ombudsman panel would have been totally unnecessary and we could have spared ourselves this national pain.”
The FOI bill mandates the disclosure of government records and information, except for select exceptions like national security. The bill aims to institutionalize transparency and accountability.
‘Nothing prevents parallel Senate hearing’
Honasan has decried the supposed trial by publicity against the opposition in the pork barrel controversy. He also said trial by publicity occurs in other issues like the alleged Ozamiz rubout.
He has called for a Senate probe on the series of supposed rubouts to review the police’s rules of engagement and upgrade their operational procedure.
Yet Poe, the public order committee chairman, said she prefers to wait for the Justice Department to conclude its probe. Honasan said the Senate can wait or simultaneously hold an investigation.
“Nothing prevents the appropriate Senate committees from conducting a hearing in aid of legislation. The objective is different, the investigation of the NBI focuses on criminal and other liabilities. We want to find out the flaws in the law,” he said. – Rappler.com