Santiago to oppose confirmation of no-showsBy Cathy Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Hell hath no fury like a Miriam scorned.
Cabinet members, as well as Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senators Panfilo Lacson, Alan Peter Cayetano and Aquilino Pimentel, were blasted by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago for the snub she got in her short-lived investigation on Friday into alleged shenanigans of President Benigno Aquino’s shooting-range buddy Rico E. Puno.
“Knowing politicians, most of them are hypocrites. They will attack you behind your back and act like you’re sweethearts when you’re facing each other. That’s how politics goes,” she said in a radio interview.
Santiago vowed to block the confirmation of Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Environment Secretary Ramon Paje as long as she remained a member of the Commission on Appointments (CA) for their absence from the hearing of her committee on revision of codes and laws.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa also did not show up, but his appointment had already been confirmed.
“As long as I am a member of the (CA), I will veto their appointments while I am here in the Philippines,” Santiago warned. A single vote of a member is sufficient to block confirmation of designated officials submitted to the panel.
“The only way they can stop me is having me shot or shipped off,” said Santiago, who was reelected to a six-year term in 2010. She has been elected to the International Criminal Court and is awaiting assignment as a justice in The Hague.
The appointments of De Lima and Paje have been languishing in the CA since 2010. Roxas’ confirmation as interior secretary has been set on Wednesday.
Santiago said the three Cabinet secretaries chose not to attend and answer her questions about Puno’s stint as interior undersecretary in charge of police affairs and the policies of interior secretary-designate Roxas, who replaced the late Jesse Robredo.
Puno resigned on Monday after he was accused of raiding Robredo’s offices and apartment following the August 18 plane crash that killed the popular interior secretary. Puno said he was simply following orders from President Aquino to secure state papers.
Mr. Aquino himself confirmed the directive for a “lockdown” issued less than 24 hours after Robredo’s plane disappeared while attempting an emergency landing at Masbate airport and while a search for the secretary’s whereabouts was in full progress.
Media reports then suggested that Robredo was investigating irregularities in the police arms purchases, as well as the illegal numbers game “jueteng” and illegal logging.
Malacañang, however, announced last week that Mr. Aquino had accepted Puno’s resignation amid media reports of a falling out between the bosom buddies after the President discovered that a P400-million deal for the supply of M4 rifles to the Philippine National Police was overpriced.
Santiago did not spare fellow senators in her blistering offensive during the radio interview after both Enrile and Lacson raised potential technical problems in holding the hearing without an approved Senate resolution, among other things, sending a signal that the Palace could ignore Santiago.
Enrile would not dare antagonize Puno’s friend, the President, according to Santiago. Enrile’s son Jack, a Cagayan representative, is running for a Senate seat next year, she pointed out.
Lacson may still be interested in an appointive position that Malacañang could offer after his second term ends in 2013, she said.
Lacson yesterday denied that he was instructed by Malacañang to boycott the hearing, saying he had an earlier out-of-town commitment.
Botched hostage rescue
“I would have asked Secretary De Lima how she felt when as justice secretary, she headed the committee that recommended administrative and criminal charges against Puno after the Luneta hostage tragedy that were later overturned by the executive secretary,” Santiago said.
The senator explained that after the public learned that the President had divided the functions of the interior secretary and gave Puno supervision over the PNP, the undersecretary “refused to accept responsibility” for the botched hostage rescue effort two months into the Aquino presidency.
“He was undersecretary for peace and order, yet he claimed he was not a member of the crisis management committee on top of things during the hostage crisis,” Santiago recalled.
Roxas would have been asked whether he would sustain the DILG policy that divided the functions of the secretary, she said.
Santiago said it would have been awkward if she made Roxas answer questions about Puno’s alleged wrongdoing, as feared by Palace officials, since he was not yet at the helm of the department that time.
Santiago twitted Mr. Aquino’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, for questioning her committee’s authority in evaluating Puno’s performance.
“He’s only an appointive person. He’s not even a renowned lawyer, he has no business telling us what to do in the Senate. Why should I heed him? Even a proadministration senator would not allow a situation where we can be dictated upon by the presidential spokesperson,” she said.
While Santiago thanked Cayetano and Pimentel, both reelectionists, for ensuring that she had a quorum, she said this was simply because it was convenient for the two to come. Live national TV coverage of the four-hour hearing gave them a lot of free media exposure, she said.
Santiago admitted being very upset at the lack of support displayed by her colleagues, especially after the abbreviated hearing prevented her from unmasking the powerful person protecting Puno.
“I could name this person since I have parliamentary immunity, but I would have wanted to gather evidence during the hearing so as not to appear as if I were just abusing the privilege,” she explained.