Miriam finally gets foreign relations panel

Ayee Macaraig
Sen Miriam Santiago says Enrile did not give her the foreign relations committee in the 15th Congress out of spite

FOREIGN RELATIONS. Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago finally gets her first choice, saying she did not head the foreign relations committee in the 15th Congress because Sen Juan Ponce Enrile was mad at her. File photo from Santiago's office

MANILA, Philippines – Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago finally gets her first choice committee – foreign relations – after accusing former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile of depriving her of the panel in the 15th Congress. 

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano announced the third batch of committee chairmanships on Monday, July 29, with Santiago heading both the foreign relations and constitutional amendments committees.

While Santiago was also the head of the constitutional amendments committee in the 15th Congress, she said her fierce rival Enrile deliberately blocked her from getting foreign relations. Sen Loren Legarda headed the committee then.

“In 2010, I understand Enrile said foreign relations [goes] to anyone but Miriam. Ganoon ka-personal ang galit niya sa akin. He wanted to really punish me,” Santiago said in an interview two weeks ago.  (That’s how personal his anger at me is.)

The senator is a constitutional expert and was elected judge of The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC). She said she is waiting for the ICC to call her to duty before resigning from the Senate. 

Santiago will head the committee tackling all matters relating to diplomatic and consular services, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the United Nations and its agencies, multi-lateral organizations, all international agreements, obligations and contracts, and overseas Filipinos. 

Santiago is still on medical leave as she is suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. She is part of the majority headed by Senate President Franklin Drilon. She cannot be reached for comment as of press time.

Enrile and Santiago have a deeply rooted rivalry that intensified during debates on the reproductive health law and the Senate fund controversy.

Cayetano also named Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingona III as the chairperson of the committee on health and demography. His vice chairperson is the former head of the panel, Sen Pia Cayetano.

Sen Jinggoy Estrada in turn announced the assignment of chairmanships of the 5 committees Drilon offered the minority.

Here is the list of the committee chairmanships so far:

  1. Foreign Relations – Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago
  2. Health and Demography – Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingona III
  3. Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws – Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago (as in 15th Congress)
  4. Government Corporations and Public Enterprises – Sen Cynthia Villar (not Sen Antonio Trillanes IV as announced last week)
  5. Labor, Employment and Human Resource – Sen Jinggoy Estrada (as in 15th Congress)
  6. Agrarian Reform – Sen Gregorio Honasan II (as in 15th Congress)
  7. Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development – Sen Nancy Binay
  8. Economic Affairs – Sen JV Ejercito
  9. Urban Planning, Housing and Resettlment – Sen JV Ejercito

10. Civil Service and Government Reorganization – Sen Antonio Trillanes IV (as in 15th Congress)

  1. Finance – Sen Francis Escudero
  2. Education, Arts, and Culture – Sen Pia Cayetano
  3. Cooperatives – Sen Lito Lapid (as in 15th Congress)
  4. Ways and Means – Sen Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara
  5. Games and Amusement – Sen Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara
  6. Local Government – Sen Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr (as in 15th Congress)
  7. Public Works – Sen Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr
  8. Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation – Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III (as in 15th Congress)
  9. Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations (Blue Ribbon) – Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingona III (as in 15th Congress)
  10. Peace, Unification and Reconciliation – Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingona III
  11. Environment and Natural Resources – Sen Loren Legarda
  12. Climate Change – Sen Loren Legarda (as in 15th Congress)
  13. Cultural Communities – Sen Loren Legarda (as in 15th Congress)
  14. Tourism – Sen Lito Lapid (as in 15th Congress)
  15. Agriculture and Food – Sen Cynthia Villar
  16. National Defense and Security – Sen Antonio Trillanes IV
  17. Trade and Commerce – Sen Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV
  18. Public Order and Dangerous Drugs – Sen Grace Poe
  19. Public Information and Mass Media – Sen Grace Poe
  20. Public Services – Sen Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr (as in 15th Congress)
  21. Justice and Human Rights – Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III


In announcing the minority’s chairmanships, Estrada said, “We thank the majority bloc headed by Senate President Drilon for giving us 5 vital committees.”

Minority senators have earlier said they might not accept chairmanships if only “minor” or “leftover” committees will be offered to them. Administration allies already clinched the leadership of the plum panels, like finance for Sen Francis Escudero, blue ribbon for Guingona, and ways and means for Sen Sonny Angara.

Yet Honasan told Rappler in a previous interview that his group does not want to appear like they are “sour-graping.”

Estrada also managed to exchange jokes with Drilon about why his brother, Sen JV Ejercito, got two committee chairmanships: urban planning and economic affairs.

“That’s how much I love my brother,” Estrada quipped, joking about their reported sibling rivalry.

READ: Father and sons Estrada: Blood thicker than water

There was an extra committee for the minority because Sen Vicente “Tito” Sotto III refused to accept any committees, saying he wants to be effective in checking on the performance of the majority.

As minority leader, Enrile is an ex-officio member of all committees.

Sex-for-flight probe, no Charter change

As the head of the labor committee, Sen Jinggoy Estrada said he will prioritize the investigation on the alleged sex-for-flight scheme, along with the Senate blue ribbon committee.

READ: Senate to grill ‘sexual predators in barong’ 

Estrada delivered a privilege speech Monday blasting Riyadh assistant labor attaché Antonio “Tony” Villafuerte and labor attaché Adam Musa for their alleged involvement in the scheme.

The senator brought to the Senate 3 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who complained about the two labor officials. In the sex-for-flight scheme, labor and embassy officials in the Middle East allegedly promise to prioritize the repatriation of distressed OFWs in exchange for sexual favors.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice are investigating the issue.

As for Santiago, she said in previous interviews that Charter change will not be her priority in the committee on constitutional amendments because she opposes the move.

“There is no such empirical evidence that will make economic development become a necessary corollary of the loss of nationalistic provisions. There is no direct relation in other countries. If there is economic boom, it was not because of ownership but other factors. And if we changed our minds because we saw it did not boost our economy, we can no longer take that back,” Santiago said.

Yet Santiago said if her committee receives a formal resolution from the House of Representatives, she is duty-bound to hold a public hearing on the issue.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr and other lawmakers have filed resolutions and bills to amend economic and political provisions of the Constitution.

“I will hold a hearing on whether they can convince me and my committee that foreign direct investment will come to the Philippines the moment we lift economic provisions and whether we can muster votes in the Senate and the House in light of the fact that [the Liberal Party] coalition controls both houses.”

She added: “It’s a question of feasibility and practicality. Is it necessary, does everything have to hang on a dime, on this one issue? Is it beneficial? Is it practical? Who is going to foot the bill?” –


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