MANILA, Philippines – On the last session day for the 16th Congress on Monday, June 6, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile bade farewell to the chamber, where he served for a total of 24 years.
This time, Enrile has maximized the Constitutional term limit of two consecutive terms for senators – from 2004 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2016. He served as Senate President from 2008 to 2013.
Citing MacArthur, the 92-year-old lawmaker gave a short but sentimental farewell to his home for the past 12 years: “Old soldiers never die, they will just fade away. I would say, today, my last appearance in this chamber, old politicians never die, they will just fade away. My head was bloody but never bowed.”
The veteran senator thanked all his colleagues and Senate staff for helping him during his terms in the Senate.
He recounted spending “more than half a century” serving the nation – 24 years in the Senate, 3 years in the House of Representtives, and more than 20 years in the executive department.
“This will be my last day to visit this chamber because when we adjourn at midnight today, I shall have closed my public service to the nation, a service that is spanned more than half a century," Enrile said.
“All those years, I tried my best to serve the people because I felt that my call to service was something that I never intended in the first place but I was impressed into the service of the people and, as a consequence, I thought was a mission for me to do," he added.
During the time of President Ferdinand Marcos, Proclamation Number 1081 gave then Defense Minister Enrile and the armed forces the authority to "prevent or supress…any act of insurrection or rebellion." Among those orders given to him was to shut down privately-owned media facilities. (READ: Remembering Enrile and the imposition of martial law)
Martial law came to an end in 1986. Marcos was ousted in a People Power Revolt that started with his withdrawal of support for Marcos.
Enrile, although at the helm of the Senate during the first 2 years of the Aquino administration, hardly gave President Benigno Aquino III a walk in the park. He opposed the landmark legislation pushed by Aquino – the sin tax reform and the reproductive health laws.
In 2014, the senator was detained for plunder charges in connection with the pork barrel scam, but was granted bail by the Supreme Court in 2015 due to poor health. Enrile, however, had been active in the Senate, participating in hearings, since he was granted temporary liberty. (READ: Enrile too 'sick' for detention, but fit to work?)
His former chief of staff, lawyer Lucila "Gigi" Reyes, remains in detention for plunder charges in connection with the same scam.
Asked what his legacy in the Senate is, Enrile refused to answer: “I leave that to history. I don’t judge myself. Otherwise that would be self-praise.”
Aside from Enrile, 8 other senators are wrapping up their term: Pia Cayetano, Sergio Osmeña III, Lito Lapid, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, Teofisto Guingona III, and detained senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr.
Only 3 out of the 9 "graduating" senators were present on the last session day: Enrile, Cayetano, and Osmeña. The rest skipped the farewell while Santiago continued to be on medical leave until the official last day of her term on June 30.
Osmeña, who ran for reelection in 2016 but lost, said he would no longer return to the government, as it is “too slow.”
“No plans…pagod na ako (I'm tired), I have to work too hard. So I give myself a break,” he said.
Asked what his plans are after his term ends, Osmeña said he would do “some trading” to earn money for his family. He might help in the agriculture and tourism development sectors.
“I won't miss the work, except policy making, which is always interesting but it requires a lot of hardwork, especially policy on banking, economy, agriculture, energy. But still we will be able to advise current or new senators if they ask for advice on how to go about it,” Osmeña said.
Cayetano, for her part, thanked her staff and colleagues in the Senate for their help in her 12 years in the chamber.
One of the sponsors of the controversial reproductive health bill, Cayetano asked the remaining women senators to continue fighting for the measures women advocates have long pushed for.
"Carry on. May I ask you to keep working on the measures that even the women and men supporting women have worked on in the early days even before I became a senator?" she said.
Although leaving the halls of the hallowed chamber, Cayetano is set to join the House of Representatives in July, after winning as representative of Taguig City in the May 2016 polls. She replaced her younger brother Lino Cayetano.
“I’m sorry, my colleagues, you will still see me and hear of me. I will just be in the bigger house, but I will be there. Mas malayo lang nang konti (just a bit farther). But rest assured I will still bug you with the bills that are close to my heart,” she said.
The Senate, with the 12 newly elected senators, is set to open its first regular session for the 17th Congress on July 25, the expected date of the first State of the Nation Address of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org