MANILA, Philippines – What Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago brands as a “serpentine, underground plot” is a mere enforcement of rules for Senator Sergio Osmeña III.
Osmeña again clashed with Santiago, this time on the supposed “maneuver” of administration allies to get Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman confirmed despite Santiago’s strong objection.
Osmeña responded to Santiago’s complaint that Senate President Franklin Drilon and his “Liberal Party cohorts” deliberately postponed the plenary session for Soliman’s appointment by a week to June 11 so that she cannot veto the confirmation.
Santiago wanted to invoke on Wednesday, June 4, Section 20 of the rules of the Commission on Appointments (CA), which gives individual members the power to delay a confirmation without explanation. The rule though cannot be used on the last session day of Congress, which happens to be June 11.
“What can I say? She loves me so much that if I open my mouth [she might attack me]…. How can she blame us for enforcing a rule? That’s the way the game is played, unfortunately,” Osmeña said in a press briefing on Thursday, June 5.
The CA is a body that the 1987 Constitution created to screen top appointees of the President to serve as a mechanism for checks and balance. It is composed of 12 senators and 12 representatives, with the Senate President as chairman.
Osmeña said Santiago should have known about the rule, being a member of the CA for years. He said he and Drilon were even the ones who put the limit on Section 20.
“There is that rule we call Section 20 and it made members of the CA very powerful. The rule before was like this: any member may move to defer the consideration of the nomination of anyone submitted without question. When someone says, ‘I don’t like that,’ it’s over. So Senator Drilon and I in the year 2000 to 2001 said this is too much. Let’s limit it: except on the last session day,” Osmeña said.
Drilon said Santiago can still object to Soliman’s confirmation but not veto it. “When the confirmation is brought up on June 11, Senator Santiago can certainly oppose but not invoke Section 20. But the opposition will be subject to debate and will be voted upon.”
Osmeña said that instead of criticizing the CA via press release, Santiago could have just made a simple request.
“I already did that before. I talked to the members and said, ‘I still have a question,’ and they granted my request. Alam mo rito sa Senado, lambingan. Don’t be confrontational with your own colleagues, because in Filipino culture, lambingan iyan eh.” (You know here in the Senate, it’s about personal appeals.)
He added: “Her style will not sit well with the Philippine culture. She’ll embarrass you publicly first. She should have objected to that rule a long time ago. What will happen [next week] is we wait for her to finish talking and then move for a vote. She can make any request she wants. [The answer] will be no.”
Osmeña also questioned Santiago’s objection to Soliman’s confirmation, which he said was a personal issue.
In her letter to the CA, Santiago cited Soliman’s shifting loyalties between former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and President Benigno Aquino III. Santiago also raised the secretary’s alleged criticism of her as pro-Estrada for voting against opening the second envelope during the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada in 2001.
“You’re supposed to determine the fitness [of a nominee] and not use an old grudge,” Osmeña said. “Perhaps she should not have admitted that’s the reason. She could have said Soliman is not performing well in the conditional cash transfer program, relief efforts. That’s enough basis, but ‘I don’t like her face’ is not valid.”
Soliman is one step shy of confirmation after the CA committee on labor, employment, and social welfare approved her nomination on Wednesday. If the recommendation is carried over in plenary, the secretary will finally be confirmed after 4 years in office.
Two of the most candid senators, Osmeña and Santiago occasionally criticize each other in public. Last year, Osmeña ribbed Santiago for saying that the Senate hearing on the pork barrel scam was a circus. He said, “Every time she’s here, it’s always a circus anyway. I don’t know what she means by that.”
Limiting time ‘silliest thing ever’
Osmeña also scoffed at the proposal of Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Fariñas and other CA members to limit to two or 3 the number of times a nominee can be bypassed and then force a vote on the confirmation.
“That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard,” the senator said of the proposed amendment to the CA rules.
Osmeña said it is already hard to block a nomination because Malacañang controls the CA through its political allies who lead the commission.
“When you feel somebody is not qualified, you have to work hard to do your homework and come out with issues during the hearing. When you make it much harder by saying we’ll only have two hearings then vote, then kayo na lang. (I’ll leave the process to you.) We will not fulfill our constitutional requirement.”
Fariñas proposed the amendment to avoid delays in the confirmation process, which dragged on for 4 years in the case of Soliman, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Environment Secretary Ramon Paje.
Yet Osmeña said the idea was problematic.
“I’m telling you the moment there’s a vote, the Palace will force it. Call a vote on anything, it’s all approved. Maybe only two or 3 will disapprove,” Osmeña said. – Rappler.com