Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has what jokers may call bulalo (boiled beef or pork with vegetables) problem, but it’s not keeping her from blasting away at her enemies in a money quarrel in the Senate.
Her office said on Saturday that Santiago had been diagnosed with “a slow bone marrow,” a condition that results in low blood cell count.
But she remained quick on the draw, calling her enemies “toxic people” whom she should avoid to prevent another spike in her blood pressure.
“I am quarantined from certain toxic people, and I am sequestered from political news. I may as well be shot,” Santiago said in a statement.
According to her staff, Santiago suffered a mild stroke last week after a television interview where she discussed the supposed impropriety of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s release to selected senators of P1.6 million in additional funds for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) as 2012 ended.
Santiago welcomed the opportunity to rest and spend time with her granddaughters.
Emotional exchanges and insults have punctuated the senatorial quarrel over the propriety and legality of Enrile’s giving away public funds and the controversy threatens to sidetrack pieces of priority legislation in the Senate as Congress returns from Christmas break tomorrow.
Enrile and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, the chair of the Senate committee on accounts, have explained the regularity of the release of the funds, but Santiago has not stopped questioning the constitutionality of giving away taxpayer money.
Santiago, Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV each received only P600,000 plus a P250,000 cash gift, while the rest of the senators, all allies of Enrile, got P1.6 million each in additional MOOE in December.
Santiago said she returned the cash gift. At the start of the new year she began to snipe at Enrile and his allies who defended him.
Former national police chief Lacson stepped into the fray and this week began casting doubt on Santiago’s own propriety, calling her “a crusading crook.”
Then he let fly with a story about a senator who used Senate funds to pay for the wages of household helpers and pay for groceries and repairs to a building the senator owned.
It’s up to COA
On Saturday Lacson said it was up to the Commission on Audit (COA) to look into how the senators spent the funds for their offices.
Lacson said he would submit to the COA documents that he had gathered in connection with the alleged misuse of public funds by one of his colleagues.
“I heard that [COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan] has spoken. She’s encouraged by the ‘positive’ reactions from a number of senators regarding the special audit,” Lacson told the Inquirer.
Earlier, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said the Senate would pass as many bills as it could before Congress goes into recess in the second week of February to give way to the campaign for the May midterm elections.
Congress will return on June 5, and adjourns on June 7.
In a statement, Enrile said the Senate would try to enact measures “that would address the country’s economic and social difficulties.”
“It is the Senate’s task to anticipate the needs of a nation. Every senator is looked upon to solve an immediate concern, proposing to solve it in a manner beneficial to all,” Enrile said.
“I’m excited to attend the session on Monday to see what will happen,” Sen. Francis Escudero said on Thursday before Enrile and Santiago separately announced a ceasefire.
“As I said, after the privilege hour [during which senators can speak on a point of personal or collective privilege], after [speeches have been] delivered by [the members] of the Senate, I hope there will still be time left on the first day of session to tackle pending bills,” Escudero said.
Will she be there?
Santiago said in an earlier statement that she was seriously considering the advice of her doctors that she skip the resumption of session tomorrow lest she suffer either another stroke or a heart attack.
According to her staff, Santiago was recovering from the mild stroke when she was diagnosed on Friday with a slow bone marrow.
Santiago underwent a series of blood tests at the Philippine Heart Center, and the results showed that she has abnormally low red blood cells and low hemoglobin.
Hemoglobin enables red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs and deliver it to all parts of the body.
It is said that when a person’s hemoglobin level is low, the blood cannot carry an adequate supply of oxygen, causing fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and other symptoms.