Manong Johnny and Gigi
The heart of the issue over the big, nasty fight in the Senate is about accountability in the use of public funds. Underneath the painful, though admittedly, entertaining exchanges and theatrics is the fact that the senators easily get away with millions in “maintenance and other operating expenses” or MOOE.
Economist Winnie Monsod explains it well here. “…when liquidating these expenses, the legislators do not need to produce receipts or other documentary evidence to justify them. All that is needed is a ‘certification,’ signed by them, that they had spent the money on MOOE items.” This is allowed because the senators and congressmen inserted this provision in a law.
Monsod’s research shows that in 2010, each senator had an average MOOE—this did not need proof of spending—of around P18 million. That could buy several cruises to Alaska and the Mediterranean or an upscale 2-bedroom condo, or start the building of a beachfront house south of Manila.
I now understand why senators lust after MOOE. They could spend it any which way they want or simply keep it. Who would know?
The other issue that has inserted itself into this epic word war may be peripheral but it has raised a valid question. Should private relationships in public office matter?
In a stinging privilege speech, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano narrated the supposed influence and power of Jessica “Gigi” Reyes, the senate president’s chief of staff. It is easy to read between the lines and conclude that Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and Gigi enjoy a close, if not special, relationship.
This is not a new revelation. In 1998, the Chicago Tribune reported that Enrile's wife Cristina had left him: "…his alleged tryst with a top aide [Reyes] prompted his wife of 40 years to leave him this week with the public quip that she no longer could tolerate his chasing after other women...”
Despite the denials then and today of Enrile and his chief of staff, their personal relationship is very much in the public domain. And it does matter.
The fidelity aspect is something best left to them. What concerns us is the impact of such a relationship on the institution, the second co-equal branch of government.
As this bitter episode has shown, the power relations in the office of the Senate President seem to have been skewed in favor of the chief of staff, giving Cayetano ammunition for his tirades on unequal disbursement of funds. If personal relationships were above board, the issue would have been more straightforward.
Moreover, very close relationships sometimes get in the way of sound judgment. Reyes, who has kept a low profile during her close to 25 years in the Senate, suddenly burst into the scene with an emotional radio interview. She took the cudgels for her boss who could easily have defended himself. Enrile, after all, has survived decades in the wild and woolly world of Philippine politics.
While Reyes wrote in her public apology that she does not enjoy a privileged status, she seems to possess the secret information on the deep roots of Enrile’s “personal hurt” against the Cayetano siblings, one “which the public will never know and understand.” She seems to hold the key to understanding the depths of Enrile’s rancor.
Her 50th birthday party, graced by President Aquino and Vice-President Binay and held at the Makati Shangrila, was, by itself, a power statement. This came days after the televised and widely publicized launch of Enrile’s book where Reyes stayed in the background and Cristina Ponce Enrile and daughter Katrina sang for the man of the hour.
FVR, Baby Arenas
The question of when do private lives affect public office and thus become fair subject for media coverage was hotly debated in the local media in the 1990s. Glenda M Gloria, who is now managing editor of Rappler, and I reported on the perceived close relationship of President Fidel Ramos to socialite Rosemarie "Baby" Arenas and its effect on members of the cabinet as well as the public.
It was hard to dismiss persistent talk about Ramos and Arenas because the latter, not a few times, reportedly encouraged it. She apparently wanted some role in the official family. It reached a point wherein some of the Cabinet members met with her weekly.
We narrated anecdotal incidents and raised questions. Our story caused an uproar, especially among the male journalists, and divided the journalism community. That’s off limits to media coverage, they cried, because that’s the private life of the president. Keep your noses out of the bedroom!
We argued that once the private affairs of an official affect perception of the office—which is a public trust—then it becomes legitimate for media to step in. At the time, some, including in the Cabinet, were worried about the perceived influence of Arenas.
Today, this issue stares us once more in the face. - Rappler.com