Is Malacañang gunning for control of the Senate to ensure the conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona?
Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, the Senate president pro tempore, on Friday implied as much. He denounced the reported attempts to unseat Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, with a month to go before Corona, who was impeached by the House, formally goes on trial for alleged betrayal of public trust and culpable violations of the Constitution.
Estrada, a close ally and party mate of the 87-year-old Enrile, revealed the alleged plot in a speech at a Christmas party that he and his allies hosted for Senate reporters on Thursday night.
In his own remarks at the party, Enrile himself seemed uncertain about how long he could hold on to the Senate presidency.
“We’re all very happy today. It’s Christmas once again. I hope we get to spend another Christmas. But I’m not saying that I would reach the next Christmas as president (of the Senate),” he said.
Enrile told Estrada that they would spend the entire Christmas break training the younger senator, who is not a lawyer, on the rules of evidence, “if something happens to me.”
“I am training Jinggoy because if something happens to me while we are trying the impeachment case, he would be the one to preside,” Enrile said in Filipino.
“That’s why I would give you a seminar on the rules of evidence. From our vacation until Jan. 15 (the eve of the trial), we will do nothing but memorize the rules of evidence so that you can make the rulings,” he said.
“There are reports that many senators want to become Senate president, but they will not get the position,” Estrada said in Filipino in the presence of Enrile and Sen. Gregorio Honasan.
He said if Enrile reverts to being an ordinary senator, so would he. “Manong Johnny, I will never leave you,” he said, addressing Enrile.
Unlike the House of Representatives which is controlled by President Aquino and his Liberal Party (LP), only four senators swear allegiance to the ruling party.
In an interview, Estrada elaborated on the alleged plot to unseat Enrile. He said he had warned Enrile the night before, telling the Senate president that there were “rumblings.”
He said Enrile would likely lose the post if Corona is not convicted. “You know how it is,” he said.
Corona earlier denounced Mr. Aquino for allegedly ordering his impeachment at the House, saying it was fueled by the President’s desire to control the Supreme Court by appointing a Chief Justice who would follow his wishes.
Let it be
Honasan on Friday warned against attempting to oust Enrile, saying it would only fuel perceptions that Mr. Aquino was hell-bent on taking control of the legislature and the judiciary.
“It would reinforce the perception that the Palace wants to control the two other coequal branches of government. It might shift public opinion against it. It would not help if they would mess around with the Senate, especially at this point,” Honasan said.
Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said “it would be better if Malacañang would just let things be.”
But Sotto remained confident that Enrile would keep the post because their so-called “macho bloc” remained “a very solid and secure majority.” Besides Enrile and Sotto, the bloc includes Estrada, Honasan and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Antonio Trillanes IV.
Enrile also has the backing of the Nacionalista Party bloc of Sen. Manuel Villar, which includes Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Joker Arroyo, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Loren Legarda and the Cayetano siblings.
Honasan said it would be difficult for Malacañang to oust Corona if senators were to decide based on party affiliation, even if Senators Francis Escudero and Sergio Osmeña III were added to the four LP senators—Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto and Teofisto Guingona.
“All the rest are independent-minded senators belonging to different party affiliations,” Honasan said.
Look at the numbers
Those seeking to convict Corona would need the affirmative vote of at least 16 senators for each article of impeachment. There are 23 senators and the required number of votes would remain at 16 even if Santiago leaves to join the International Criminal Court, according to Sotto.
“So, how do you influence all these 23 variables? Would you talk to each of the 23 senators and convince them to vote in your favor?” Honasan said.
Enrile has said that he was ready to step down if any other senator could muster the required 13 votes to become Senate president.
Enrile clinched the Senate leadership last year after the LP’s candidate, Pangilinan, and Villar failed to muster enough votes to get themselves elected.
Enrile was also Senate president from November 2008 until June 2010.
First posted 6:39 pm | Friday, December 16th, 2011