It was described as a brilliant stroke by a wily politician to redeem himself in the face of what he called a campaign by his enemies and critics to portray him as a “liar” and “traitor” and cast the Senate “under a dark cloud of suspicion as a house of thieves.”
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Monday offered to step aside for his staunch critics—Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Antonio Trillanes IV and Alan Peter and his sister Pia Cayetano—to take over his post and secured a rousing vote of confidence in the process to retain his post.
Eleven senators—Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Assistant Majority Leader Gregorio Honasan, Franklin Drilon, Francis Escudero, Teofisto Guingona III, Panfilo Lacson, Manuel “Lito” Lapid, Loren Legarda, Ralph Recto and Ramon Revilla Jr.—rejected Enrile’s motion to declare his post vacant.
The number was enough to overturn the yes votes of Senators Aquilino Pimentel III, Trillanes and Enrile, himself as movant.
Senators Joker Arroyo and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. abstained.
Political analyst Clarita Carlos called Enrile’s move a “masterstroke” and another commentator described it as an attempt to lift the sagging Senate candidacy of his son, Rep. Jack Enrile.
Santiago and the Cayetano siblings were not in the session hall when Enrile delivered his privilege speech lashing at his critics on his distribution of the “maintenance and other operating expenditures,” or MOOE, just before Christmas, which a senator described in an exclusive Philippine Daily Inquirer report as “unconscionable.”
Santiago, who has called on Enrile to account for his role as martial law administrator in the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, was on sick leave; Alan Peter Cayetano was in Cebu while his sister Pia was abroad, according to her staff.
Trillanes hours earlier confidently told Senate reporters that the move to oust Enrile would take place within the nine remaining session days.
Asked why it was necessary to remove Enrile, Trillanes said, “because we can,” adding that the group that would take over was only waiting for the chamber’s four Liberal Party senators to join them.
The three LP senators present on Monday were Drilon, Guingona and Recto. Drilon and Recto told reporters before the session started they were not part of any plot to oust Enrile.
In his speech, Enrile said he offered to step down “to pave the way for… Santiago, Trillanes or any of the Cayetano siblings” to succeed him as Senate President.
He added that the post was also open to “anyone who shared the sentiment against me… and is secretly interested in this job.”
Enrile scored the Inquirer, which he did not name but described as a newspaper known for its tagline “Balanced News, Fearless Views” for joining the crusade to allegedly malign him in public. The charge apparently stemmed from the Inquirer’s exclusive story on Enrile’s selective distribution of MOOE to the senators in December.
The four senators Enrile singled out and tagged as his “adversaries” were also those whom he deprived of the second and third tranches of additional MOOE totaling P1.6 million for each of the other 18 senators.
He said that efforts to tag additional MOOE as “cash gifts,” “Christmas bonuses” and “bribes” were “distorted information and deliberately misleading phrases.”
“I cannot blame the public for their sentiments and outrage over what they have been made to believe,” he said, blaming the Inquirer for purveying “what they want the public to know and to believe and what facts to ignore.”
“They enjoyed the freedom to carry on their own crusade, that is to make sure that Enrile, this humble person, shall forever be known as… a liar, a traitor, a thief and a villain,” he said.
“In their passionate desire to destroy me, my enemies and critics have not only dragged the reputation of my other colleagues, wildly accusing them of taking bribes and pocketing the people’s money. They have succeeded as well in placing this very institution… under a dark cloud of doubt and suspicion as a house of thieves.”
Enrile described Santiago his “most cantankerous critic.” She went public on the day the Inquirer broke the story about the additional MOOE and deplored Enrile’s leadership style of playing favorites. Santiago said she returned the P250,000 “cash gift” that Enrile gave her because he returned the cookies she gave him last Christmas.
Enrile chided Santiago for announcing she was sick and unavailable for interviews after Lacson called her a “crusading crook.”
“Her audacity in calling her colleagues my ‘cohorts’ and painting them as crooks is indeed mind-boggling. When it was her turn to be challenged regarding her own integrity and to be called ‘crusading crook’ and ‘hypocrite par excellence,’ it seems that alone was enough to pose a danger to her own health and whatever remains of her equanimity and sanity,” Enrile said.
He said that Pia Cayetano’s office “kept following up with my office and the Senate budget office about the release of her additional MOOE last December.”
Enrile said that when the four senators apparently confirmed among themselves that they were not among those who got the second and third tranches, “Senator Santiago started whining. She even cited the equal protection clause of the Constitution, a very silly argument indeed.”
“Senator Alan Peter Cayetano and [Trillanes] swiftly followed with their own attacks and accusations and Senator Pia Cayetano, who was following up her additional MOOE, was conspicuously silent,” he noted.
“What could have they done if the funds were given to them? Would they have whined and complained? Or as… Santiago herself suggested… would they have pocketed it instead of using it appropriately for operational expenses of their own offices?” Enrile asked.
Enrile recalled a portion of an interview that Santiago gave to Radyo Inquirer, where the senator accused some colleagues of taking a percentage (10 percent on the average) of their Priority Development Assistance Fund, or pork barrel.
“I wonder… is she speaking from her own experience or field of expertise? I never bribed anyone to gain support for myself… I did not enter into any unholy deal or plot to assume this position of leadership twice or to cling to it like a leech,” he stressed.
Enrile said he had endured “countless acts of betrayal and ingratitude and the most vicious and virulent attacks on my character in my 46 years in politics and public service. This wave of systematic demolition is really nothing new to me.”
He then took another dig at Trillanes. “On my own, I have fought many battles alone. I do not run away like those who make a show of it in plush hotels and run away like a dog with his tail… behind [his] hind.”
Enrile said the offer of resignation was his way of sparing the chamber from “the rapacity and the sly cunning and ruinous machinations of some people among us here who only have their political ambitions and self-interest in mind.”
Referring again to Trillanes, Enrile said one senator “is so desperate that he has repeatedly and shamelessly invoked and sought Malacañang’s involvement and intervention just to get enough support to oust me.”
Enrile said he has had enough of coup rumors in the Senate.
“I am way too old to be threatened by anyone, least of all by cowards and hypocrites,” he huffed.
“Replacing me does not have to take so much effort, planning or plotting. I am tired of plots. And I don’t advertise plots… That’s only the work of braggarts,” Enrile added.