Miriam Santiago moves on to fight another battleBy Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
After starting and ending a Senate inquiry—in just one day—into resigned Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno’s anomalous position in the Department of the Interior and Local Government on Friday, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago appears to have moved on, returning to her advocacy of the RH bill.
Still, she continued to attack Puno for his denials of wrongdoing, Malacañang for requiring her to submit a list of questions for the Cabinet secretaries who did not attend the hearing, and her Senate colleagues for questioning her jurisdiction and the validity of the hearing.
“How can I show the Philippine public [that jueteng is a national anomaly] when there were no Cabinet members? There was only an undersecretary who kept on saying, that’s not true, that’s not true, that’s not true,” she said at Saturday’s RH bill forum.
Santiago said she was keeping her temper in check because of her hypertension but jokingly told her audience that she was almost tempted to resort to fisticuffs.
Taking off from the “pickup lines” that have made her very popular with student audiences, she kept the jokes coming at the expense of Puno.
“Sana birthday candle ka na lang, para ’pag pinatay kita papalakpak sila (I wish you were a birthday candle so that when I snuff you out, people will cheer),” Santiago said, to the delight of the pro-RH crowd.
Stakes not as high
The stakes are apparently not as high for the reproductive health (RH) bill as removing ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona or synchronizing the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with the midterm polls.
President Aquino is simply not interested in marshaling his allies in Congress to push the bill’s passage.
Malacañang has not made any move to convince Senate and House members to vote for the approval of the maternal health and population management measure that has been languishing in the legislative mill for the past 11 years, according to RH bill coauthor Santiago and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, an Aquino ally and supporter of the bill.
Mr. Aquino does not want to cross swords with the Catholic hierarchy and is, thus, opting for a low-key discussion of the RH bill in Congress, Santiago observed.
“Naturally, the President is a politician so he knows that there might develop a crisis between state and religion, or there might develop a chill in the relationship between Malacañang and the Catholic clergy,” Santiago told reporters after speaking before Catholics for RH group in Quezon City on Saturday.
“So although the President is in favor of the RH [bill], he wants a low-key, not an intensely, verbally violent debate. That is the reason why the President is not really pushing it among the members of his [Liberal Party] coalition in the Senate,” she said.
No Palace push
If the Palace was really keen on pushing the RH bill, there would have been discussions already between Malacañang and the senators, Lacson said.
“Nobody’s initiating talks. They’re not pushing for it both here and in the House,” he said.
“We know how the legislature works in our country. If Malacañang really wants it, they’d work for it. They would exert pressure. There was no pressure on the RH bill,” he said.
LP in control of Senate
According to Santiago, while there are only four members of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) in the Senate, other senators would naturally want to be on good terms with the administration.
“They are in control of the Senate. Although there are only a few of them [in the Senate], it’s but natural that everyone would want to go along with the administration. That’s natural in politics,” she said.
“But the President doesn’t want an all-out war [for the RH bill] because he doesn’t want to quarrel with the Catholic Church,” she added.
RH bill coauthor Sen. Pia Cayetano was allowed to introduce committee amendments two weeks ago. Santiago is, however, doubtful that the bill would get any further in the Congress this year as the legislature will be going into recess soon.
Promote public disgust
Santiago is hoping that public sentiment in favor of the RH bill will force the Senate leadership into putting the measure up for voting in January before the campaign period for the 2013 election opens in February.
“We only have one week left, then we go on a break. After the break, we’ll already be discussing the national budget. It seems like we have no more time. We can only continue the [RH] debate by January when we resume our sessions,” Santiago said.
Santiago said it was about time the bill was put to a vote, as she believed all questions on the measure had already been answered.
She accused Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III of delaying further consideration of the bill.
“We’re hoping that we can provoke enough public disgust over this continued delay by calling it cowardly so that they will be compelled to participate in the voting,” Santiago said.
Commenting on the reports of a coup against Enrile last week, Lacson said the continued delay in the consideration of the RH bill in the Senate was not enough reason for Malacañang to move for Enrile’s ouster.
The coup reports emerged after RH bill proponents accused Enrile and Sotto of delaying the vote on the measure even after an exhaustive interpellation.
“It’s because Malacañang isn’t forceful enough about the RH bill. The big-ticket issues for Malacañang are the ARMM—in fact, Enrile supported it—and of course, the impeachment [of Corona],” Lacson said.
“Those are the issues that if weren’t supported might have forced Malacañang to intervene using its allies in the Senate,” he added.
Sen. Franklin Drilon, a key LP member, said the House of Representatives should first pass their version of the RH bill before the Senate considers its own.