Monday, 21 January 2013

LATEST: Enrile retains Senate presidency

Senators Loren Legarda, Panfilo Lacson and Francis Escudero vote to retain Juan Ponce Enrile (shown in file photo inset) as Senate president after the seat was declared vacant yesterday. Senators Aquilino Pimentel III and Antonio Trillanes IV voted to replace Enrile. –Philstar.compic

MANILA: Faced with an ethics complaint and rumors of his ouster, Juan Ponce Enrile declared the Senate presidency vacant yesterday, but was retained in his post by 11 senators’ vote of confidence.

Only Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Aquilino Pimentel III voted to replace him. The third vote was cast by Enrile himself.

Two senators abstained, while others were absent, including Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who disclosed that Enrile had gifted his supportive colleagues with P1.6 million each and four critics including herself with P250,000.

Unfazed, Trillanes said efforts to replace Enrile would continue, adding this would be possible with the support of Liberal Party (LP) senators.

As lawmakers returned to work yesterday after a month-long holiday break, Enrile immediately addressed the issue.

“As I have repeatedly said in the past, I serve at the pleasure of the majority of my
colleagues. I claim no vested right to this position,” he said.

He was declaring his post vacant, he said, “to pave the way for anyone who may be interested, whether secretly or not, to get the position through a majority vote".

Trillanes and Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III voted to replace Enrile. Senators Joker Arroyo and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. abstained.

Voting to retain Enrile were Senators Vicente Sotto III, Franklin Drilon, Jinggoy Ejercito, Francis Escudero, TG Guingona, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Lito Lapid, Ralph Recto and Ramon Revilla.

Absent were Senators Edgardo Angara, siblings Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano, Sergio OsmeƱa III, Francis Pangilinan and Manuel Villar. Angara was attending to a brother who died, while Pangilinan is in Geneva.

In interviews before yesterday’s plenary session, Trillanes said his group was close to getting the required number of votes to replace Enrile.

“There are senators who are ready for a change in leadership. We are just waiting for the senators of the LP,” said Trillanes, who has waged a campaign for several months now to engineer a change of leadership in the chamber.

Drilon, however, denied that there were talks within the LP to oust Enrile. Drilon is the highest ranking LP senator.

Recto, also of the LP, said he believed “that the leadership is doing very well".

Sotto, for his part, criticized Trillanes for dragging the LP into the fray.

Lacson, an Enrile ally, conceded that if the LP senators support the ouster move, Trillanes could have 12 votes and getting a 13th would not be difficult.

“A leader must not be blind, deaf when the institution he serves and its members are dragged into the mud with him,” Enrile said yesterday.

“Let’s not allow ourselves to be further derailed, distracted. Let’s settle this one and for all, with few remaining days left. Time is of the essence and we owe it to people to perform our duty.”

Santiago had returned the P250,000, informing Enrile’s office that it must have been wrongly sent. She accused Enrile of using public funds to buy senators’ loyalty.

Enrile has said the P1.6 million given to his colleagues were from savings in his office and meant for additional maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).

He described the fund release in the final days of the year as “lambing” to colleagues – a description that his critics said bolstered claims that the money was a gift.

The anti-crime group Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption filed a complaint against Enrile yesterday before the ethics committee in connection with the fund release.

Lacson, for his part, said he would file a complaint against Santiago before the Commission on Audit (COA) once she returns to work from sick leave.

“I never bribed anyone to gain support for myself, much less with the money of the people. The very thought that this position is for sale repulses me truly,” Enrile bristled yesterday. 

“The Senate need not, should not suffer the venom which is aimed solely at me.”

He said whether in the majority or minority, he always did his best to serve and perform his job well.

Both Enrile and his chief of staff, Gigi Reyes, called his enemies “cowards and hypocrites.”

Last week, Santiago burst a vein in her eye and landed in a hospital. Enrile wished for her recovery.

Yesterday, however, he said that when Santiago’s integrity was challenged, “it seems that alone was enough to cause a danger to her own health".

Santiago has asked the COA to look into the practice of realigning Senate savings to the operating expenses of senators in the final days of the year.

The COA is waiting for Lacson to submit proof that one of his colleagues allegedly misused public funds for groceries, rent for a satellite office, and even the salaries of household helpers.

COA chief Ma. Grace Pulido Tan said state auditors were willing to look into allegations that MOOE was being spent for personal needs.

She stressed that the COA audits government expenditures “on the basis of evidence.”

Tan refused to use the word “investigation” in looking into Enrile’s release of his office savings to his colleagues.

“If we find, on the basis of what they give us, that we need to do a little more, then that’s probably the time that we will make a decision on whether to do a special audit or not. But right now I don’t think there is any need,” Tan said.

She said liquidation of MOOE funds is done by lawmakers by issuing certifications instead of receipts and similar documents.

A certification, she said, is “a piece of paper that says I certify that the X amount that is received for MOOE, for example, was spent for the following. 

"Congress, being a branch of government, there is no reason for us to doubt their certifications. They certify it on their honor,” Tan said.

With Lacson’s story, however, Tan said the COA may have to dig deeper into the way some lawmakers are spending their MOOE.

She said senators would also want to set an example in fiscal responsibility. –

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