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Philippine senate war over cash gifts turns ugly

The Honourables Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (right) and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano engage in a heated debate during a stormy session at the Senate Wednesday. Photo by Raffy Lerma/Philippine Daily Inquirer

Publication Date : 24-01-2013

 

The squabble over the purported “Christmas bonus” turned ugly yesterday—the third of the Philippine Senate’s remaining nine days of sessions—after Senator Alan Peter Cayetano brought up in a privilege speech Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s personal grudge against him and the unusual clout Enrile’s chief of staff wields in the chamber.

Not to be outdone, Enrile waved on the floor a document that supposedly showed a 37-million peso (US$910,600) debt Cayetano’s father, the late former Sen. Rene Cayetano, incurred while a partner in the Ponce Enrile-Cayetano Law firm that the senate president said he had put up so the elder Cayetano could feed his family.

“We all know how you run the Senaste. Or more accurately, how you and Ma’am Gigi run the Senate,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano said Enrile’s chief of staff, lawyer Jessica “Gigi” Reyes, would be in the senators’ caucuses and even join the discussion as if she were one of them. He added that during the Senate presidency of his party mate, Sen. Manuel Villar, he could go directly to Villar.

“But under your administration, I have to go through Gigi or her brother who’s a political officer,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano also presented a document handwritten by Reyes giving instructions for the release of additional MOOE to all senators except him and Senators Pia Cayetano, his sister, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Antonio Trillanes IV.

“I will not go down to the gutter,” Enrile said after telling the Senate of the late Cayetano’s debt as he prepared to answer Cayetano’s questions on how the Senate funds were being used, especially the 250,000 pesos Enrile distributed as cash gifts to all senators in December.

“You already did, Mr President. You already went to the gutter. Your chief of staff has already gone to the gutter,” came Cayetano’s response.

Enrile and Cayetano continued their verbal assault against each other even after Sen. Franklin Drilon moved to suspend the session in a vain attempt to ease the tension.

It took a few more exchanges before Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada managed to bang the gavel to suspend the proceedings. Enrile started to speak on the microphone and had to be restrained by Estrada, imploring him to stop.

Enrile’s blood pressure was reported to have shot up and he had to be attended to by the Senate medical staff in the lounge. After a lengthy break, Enrile returned to the session hall to answer Cayetano on the issue of funds disbursements.

“We have had this practice that during Christmas time the head of the office takes out from his available savings something that will augment the resources of the senators because it’s Christmas time and there are many pressures on them,” Enrile said.

‘Money of the people’

Enrile, visibly calmer, said he distributed the 250,000 pesos to all senators using checks drawn from the Office of the Senate President, so that the auditor could trace where they came from.

“This was not my money. It was not cash that I gave to the senators. I issued the check to the individual senators…and they know that this is a public fund,” Enrile said.

“I know they are well-meaning, knowledgeable gentlemen and ladies. They must know that this is the money of the people that must be used for a public purpose. I do not have to tell them or educate them about this,” Enrile added.

Enrile said he called it a gift because Drilon and Sen. Edgardo Angara “kidded” him before the Christmas break about the practice of making available savings of his office to augment the resources of senators.

“The auditor can chase the source of this money….Now, I own the responsibility for all of this,” Enrile said.

Enrile said he welcomed an independent audit proposed by Cayetano but added that such a proceeding would be up to the entire Senate.

‘I never called you names’

Cayetano took the floor to reiterate his call for an audit by a private firm of the Senate’s finances, particularly its use of almost 1.5 billion pesos in maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and the 250,000 pesos in cash gifts distributed to all senators before the Christmas break.

Cayetano started off by taking issue with Enrile and Reyes.
The 50-year-old Reyes went on radio on Monday to accuse Cayetano of hypocrisy for branding the 250,000-peso-per-senator cash gift as illegal when, she said, he always received such releases in previous years and had yet to return the check his office received in December.

The interview with dzMM took place after Enrile delivered a privilege speech where he moved to declare the Senate presidency vacant to get a new vote of confidence from his colleagues amid the controversy over the MOOE.

Ako po madalas ninyong apihin (you always oppressed me) Mr. Senate President Enrile but I have never been rude to you. I always treated you with respect. I always explained to you after a heated debate that we just have differences in beliefs and views and I never called you names,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano then went on to cite the influence of Enrile’s chief of staff over the Senate affairs.

Close to Arroyo

Cayetano also claimed Enrile tried to prevent him from becoming a member of the Commission on Appointments and the office of the minority leader was disallowed from using one of the rooms in the Senate building.

“There were also committee chairmanships promised when we discussed them that were given to others. I didn’t complain. I just took it,” Cayetano said.

“Let’s call a spade a spade. Why are you personally upset with me? It’s because you and Attorney Gigi are close to the former President GMA (Gloria Arroyo) and the First Gentleman.”

Cayetano said the group was upset with him as a member of the House who frequently took the floor to criticise the Arroyo administration. He added that Reyes’ best friend was a relative of Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano’s political foe in local politics.

“Hypocrites, cowards, without a sense of gratitude. My God! That’s what I often hear from you, from your chief of staff,” Cayetano said.

A hundred truths for every lie

“We received a lot of insults. I am tempted to answer back. I’m also tempted to talk that way. Why am I tempted? Because for every lie that you told about me, I have a hundred truths about you and Ma’am Gigi,” he added.

Cayetano said that when he was the chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, many told him he could earn millions of pesos by just filing a resolution for the investigation of certain businesses. He said he never did so.

Cayetano also said that his wife Lani, the mayor of Taguig City, has yet to spend a single centavo from the 5-million peso intelligence fund of the city. He indicated that it would be easy to steal from the fund because it wasn’t subject to liquidation upon audit.

He also said he lost more than a billion pesos in priority development assistance funds during the Arroyo administration.

“Then for 1.6 million pesos, Ma’am Gigi would portray me as one greedy for money,” Cayetano said.

Standing by Reyes

Following the break, Enrile apologised for “the fracas that happened”.

“I was just trying to answer personal assaults against my person. But I will not deal with those matters anymore. Let it stay on the record and let the Divine Spirit determine whose truth is correct, where lies the truth,” Enrile said.

Enrile, who is turning 89 on Valentine’s Day, also stood by Reyes’ actions, particularly her handwritten instructions on the MOOE, saying she was acting on his instructions.

Cayetano said that while senators harassed persons being investigated for corruption scandals to reveal the money trail, the same did not hold true on the disposition of Senate funds.

“Why is there a double standard when it involves the money of the Senate or the funds under the Office of the Senate President and we don’t want this opened?” Cayetano said.

“Let’s answer the issue directly,” Cayetano added.

Cayetano said this was the reason why he was pressing for an independent audit of the Senate funds by a private firm.

Reyes, in her interview, also said that Cayetano had lobbied for the creation of an oversight committee on the Bases Conversion and Development Authority which would have, like other oversight committees, millions of pesos at its disposal.

*US$1=40.6 pesos


 

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