MANILA, Philippines—Months after releasing his controversial memoir, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has acknowledged that old age is catching up with him.
Enrile says he no longer looks forward to staying in the rostrum when the 16th Congress rolls in next year.
“I am ready to step down. We have to [admit] the fact that my body is no longer up to it … I will soon be 89 years old. I could be here a while longer but come June or July, it’s possible that there would be a new Senate president,” he told radio station dzBB on Sunday.
Told that he could still muster a majority and preserve his hold on the Senate presidency, especially if most of the senatorial candidates of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) win next year, Enrile said he was “not looking forward to that.”
“I will leave it to the members of the incoming Senate to choose who they want to guide them,” said the oldest member of the current Senate, considered one of the three stalwarts of UNA, an opposition alliance.
Enrile’s stint as Senate president, which began in the homestretch of the 14th Congress, was marred by controversies, stoked by critics displeased with his leadership.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, for example, announced several times that Enrile risked losing his post because of his opposition to the then reproductive health (RH) bill and other Palace-backed measures.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, for his part, resented Enrile’s alleged favoritism and arbitrariness. Another senator, who asked not to be named, wondered whether Enrile really enjoyed the majority’s support since he only had a handful of loyal backers.
Enrile brushed aside the issues raised by his critics. On Santiago, he said he was forced by Sen. Manuel Villar to accommodate her in the majority bloc because she was supported by Villar’s Nacionalista Party in the 2010 elections.
To Trillanes, Enrile aired a warning that the Senate’s youngest member would “face a big problem” during his reelection bid in 2013.
Enrile and Trillanes engaged in a loud, bitter and dramatic quarrel over a string of issues that began with the controversial bill seeking to carve a new province out of Camarines Sur (CamSur) and segued into the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal).
Trillanes accused Enrile in a privilege speech of railroading the CamSur bill as a favor to Luis Villafuerte, one of the province’s elder congressmen.
Enrile, in turn, delivered an interpellation in which he accused Trillanes of working for China’s interests following the younger senator’s alleged clandestine meetings with Chinese leaders at the height of Manila’s diplomatic row with Beijing over a naval standoff in the Panatag Shoal.
Trillanes insisted he had Malacañang’s nod when he went to China for a series of meetings that led to a “deescalation” of hostilities in Panatag but Enrile remained unconvinced.
“Let’s see how (Trillanes) fares in the coming election now that people realize who he is. That would be his problem,” Enrile said.
A week after their public skirmish, Enrile launched his autobiography that raised eyebrows following his claim that his ambush in 1971, which Ferdinand Marcos mentioned to justify the declaration of martial law, was real.
Critics were quick to point out that Enrile, right after the 1986 Edsa uprising, told journalists that the ambush was staged. Still, the book sold well. Enrile said he was considering two more books, one of which would focus on his legal career.
In Sunday’s interview, the Senate president mentioned the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona in the first half of 2012 as an important highlight this year.
Corona, accused of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution, was convicted by senator-judges principally for his failure to declare huge US dollars deposits in several local banks.
Claims made by Corona’s lawyers that the Bank Secrecy Law applied only to local currency was not bought by the Senate that voted 20-3 to convict him. The decision also imposed on Corona a lifetime prohibition from holding another government post.
Enrile said the Senate was “occupied” by Corona’s trial that ran for four months, save for a one-month Lenten interlude in the legislative calendar.
“For the first time in the country’s history, we had an impeachment trial that was completed. Unfortunately, it ended with the removal of the highest magistrate of the land,” Enrile said.
In December 2000, the Senate started its impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada for his alleged ties to “jueteng,” an illegal numbers game.
However, his trial was aborted one month later when he was forced to leave Malacañang after a huge gathering of people on Edsa objected to the senator-judges’ refusal to scrutinize a “second envelope” that supposedly contained incriminating evidence against Estrada.
Enrile said the RH bill and the sin tax measure were the most divisive issues that rattled the Senate in 2012.
“While these were eventually passed on time, the country has been deeply divided and we felt deep political spasms. These bills could not be packaged as simple health measures. They also involved the economy, politics, security and the future of the next generation,” he noted.
The Senate will still have nine session days sandwiched between January and February before Congress goes on another recess to accommodate the 2013 elections.
Enrile said the Senate was still hoping to pass the third round of amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Law and the anti-trust bill and ratify the freedom of information bill that would be reconciled with the version to be passed by the House of Representatives.
These measures must survive the legislative wringer before six reelectionist senators, including Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Trillanes, Gregorio Honasan, Aquilino Pimentel III and Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano are distracted by the midterm elections in May.
Enrile refused to make any bold predictions about the outcome of the 2013 senatorial elections. The Senate president’s only son, Cagayan Rep. Jack Enrile, is running for senator under the UNA.
“The situation is very fluid at the moment,” he said.