MANILA, Philippines – “I humbly ask: why was I excluded?”
Sen Pia Cayetano broke her silence over the raging controversy surrounding Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s decision to exclude her and 3 other critics from the receipt of additional Senate savings.
Cayetano made a manifestation on the Senate floor on Tuesday, January 22, a day after Enrile offered to resign as Senate President but won a vote of confidence from 11 of his colleagues.
The lady senator, who engaged in bitter debates with Enrile on the Reproductive Health (RH) law last year, said she believes her stand on the issue and on the sin tax reform law was the reason for her exclusion.
“I can only surmise that because I did not back down on the RH law and I pushed for a stronger sin tax law, I have displeased his honor the Senate President who has been very vocal against these bills,” Cayetano said.
She added, “I cannot apologize for the stand I have taken on the RH and sin tax laws and if this is the price I have to pay to fight for the things that I believe in then I will accept the implications that come with my job.”
Cayetano and Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV did not receive P1.6 million each in additional Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) last December.
Enrile admitted excluding them from the second tranche, giving them only the first tranche of MOOE amounting to P600,000 each and a Christmas cash gift from Enrile's office of P250,000 each.
Cayetano said she received the P250,000 cheque and will just donate it to the Department of Social Welfare and Development for homeless and abandoned children.
The senator said she decided to keep quiet on the issue and on Enrile’s return of her Christmas gift out of respect and courtesy but “the Senate President prefers to impute malice on my silence."
In his privilege speech on Monday, Enrile said Cayetano was “conspicuously silent” on the issue when it was her office that kept following up with his office on additional MOOE.
Enrile: I’ve done no wrong to resign
Enrile said he has no plans of stepping down after making a motion to declare his post vacant but being outvoted by his fellow senators.
“That is a vote of confidence that I asked for. I have not committed anything [wrong] to resign,” Enrile told reporters.
The Senate President said he will only reiterate his motion “if necessary.” Initially, he said he will again make the motion when there is complete attendance. Eleven senators voted in his favor while he and only two others voted to declare the post vacant.
Enrile said he only delivered a privilege speech to set the record straight “since there was so much talk about something which is not understood well … and many of our countrymen were somewhat doubtful.”
“It’s okay for me. I’m waiting for the time they can muster the number of votes necessary to make me retire,” Enrile said.
On Santiago’s accusation that he committed grave abuse of discretion, Enrile said she should just take him to court.
“That is the best thing to do instead of let it hang and people don’t know the technical meaning of these things … She should take the necessary action so we who are accused are given our day to defend ourselves in the proper forum,” he said.
‘Far from Eat Bulaga bonus’
The issue is not about to die down, with Sen Alan Peter Cayetano planning to make his own privilege speech on Wednesday, January 23, to respond to Enrile.
Trillanes initially said he will respond to Enrile on Tuesday but later told reporters, “Mahirap na patulan.” (It’s hard to respond.)
Cayetano said the issue was not the change of leadership but responding to questions about senators’ use of taxpayers’ money. He is calling for an audit of Senate funds by a private auditing firm.
“What Senate President Enrile did yesterday doesn’t answer the issue,” said Cayetano.
“I’m not asking that he be replaced. What I want is an audit of Senate funds so the people do not say that senators are thieves. If he is not hiding anything, why doesn’t he just open the accounts instead of attacking the newspaper?”
Cayetano called on Enrile to just present the voucher liquidating the P250,000 cheques.
Sotto, however, continued defending his close ally. He said criticism that Enrile did not issue an irrevocable resignation is baseless.
"Why should the Senate President resign? Ang mga nagsasabi noon, eh di sila ang mag-resign." (Those saying that should be the ones to resign.)
He said based on Senate rules and tradition, a Senate President cannot resign without a replacement because the legislative agenda will “be in shambles.”
“Ang nagpasama lang talaga diyan ang misnomer na cash gift ang P1.6 million. Merong malice sa pag-iimply kasi walang cash gift na MOOE,” Sotto said. (What made it look bad was the misnomer that the P1.6 million is a cash gift. There is malice in implying that the MOOE is a cash gift.)
The COA and senators have distinguished the MOOE from the cash gift, saying the former is subject to auditing and is for official purposes only.
Sotto added, “Yung P250,000 na Christmas gift, there’s nothing wrong at wala nga sa kalingkingan ‘yun ng bonus ko sa Eat Bulaga.” (The P250,000 Christmas gift, there’s nothing wrong and that’s far from the bonus I get from Eat Bulaga.)
“At tingnan naman natin ang legislative work ng Senate (Look at the legislative work of the Senate), I think we are worth every centavo.” – Rappler.com