It was supposed to be an hourlong sympathy rally of Senate employees for the chamber’s beleaguered chief, Juan Ponce Enrile.Strangely, there were more placards with messages of support for the Senate President’s resigned chief of staff, Jessica “Gigi” Gonzales-Reyes.Scores of employees gathered in front of the Senate building at around lunchtime Wednesday, many of them screaming “JPE! JPE!” and “Manong Johnny!” JPE is Enrile’s initials while Johnny is how close friends call him.
“We thought of holding this for Senate President Enrile because he seems so alone at this point. We want him to know that the employees, or most of us at least, are behind him,” said lawyer Simeon Garcia Jr., who has been employed in the Senate since 2004.Garcia said another reason the employees gathered outside the building was because Enrile “brought honor and integrity to the Senate” as presiding officer in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.Allies’ employeesGarcia is the chief of staff of Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada who, along with Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Assistant Majority Leader Gregorio Honasan, has joined Enrile in the so-called “macho bloc” in the chamber.Observers noted that many of those who joined the gathering were employees of the four senators, although members of the staff of Senators Ralph Recto of the Liberal Party and Ramon Revilla Jr. of Lakas-CMD were also seen in the crowd.Enrile was not around when the rally was held. One source said he attended the opening of the 5th Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption at the nearby Philippine International Convention Center. Another said he was being interviewed live on television. Under fireEnrile is under fire following reports that he realigned the Senate’s savings for 2012 and converted these into a fund called additional maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).The move displeased four senators who were not given additional MOOE, which lawmakers could liquidate through a mere certification. Social networking sites also went into overdrive denouncing the discriminate distribution of the fund.Many of the Senate employees at the rally also expressed fears that Enrile’s stay at the rostrum was under threat despite a majority vote of 11-3 during a plenary session last week rejecting his motion to declare vacant the position of Senate President.One placard said, “Happy Kami sa Iyo, Manong Johnny!” while another read “No More Fighting! Save The Senate!”However, a cursory inspection of the placards at the site showed more messages meant for Enrile’s former chief of staff, Reyes, who irrevocably resigned last week after rumors linking her romantically to the Senate President spread.This was after Reyes called Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and his allies “hypocrites” during a radio interview after Enrile’s motion was rejected.Be strongOne pro-Reyes placard read: “Please do not leave us, Atty. Reyes!”
Another said, “Ma’am Gigi, please be strong for us!”
A third declared, “We believe in you, Atty. Reyes!” and still one said, “No to resignation of Atty. Gigi.”
While Enrile said he would convince Reyes to stay, the Senate President’s staff confirmed earlier this week that the erstwhile chief of staff had already sent for her belongings on the sixth floor where Enrile’s office is located.Most of the placards were made of Manila paper although some of the better designed ones were more carefully constructed using “cartolina” and other art materials.Garcia said the rally was not planned at length.
“We just talked among ourselves just before going down to the entrance. This was purely word of mouth,” he noted.Most generousSenate employees were quick to confirm that Enrile was one of the “most generous” Senate Presidents since Congress reopened after the fall of the Marcos regime.Many of them said that Enrile was the only Senate President who had given hefty bonuses to employees during the holiday season.Last December, Senate employees reportedly received bonuses up to P120,000 each. In previous years, there were stories of bonuses that reached P100,000 since Enrile became Senate President in 2008. Peachy Urquiola, a member of Honasan’s staff, said she did not recall another rally that expressed support for a troubled Senate President since the chamber moved to its current location in Pasay City in 1996.
“We are going out on a limb for Senate President Enrile. If it were another Senate President, I doubt whether this would happen,” she told Philippine Daily the Inquirer amid shouts of support from all around.SelectiveWhile the Commission on Audit said the Senate President was allowed by law to do this, one senator cried foul after Enrile refused to give additional MOOE worth P1.6 million to each of his four critics in the chamber.Enrile allegedly selected only 18 senators who got the additional MOOE.In lieu of the MOOE, the four senators—Minority Leader Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Antonio Trillanes IV—got only a “cash gift” of P250,000 each. ‘One of the best’
Garcia said the rally did not mean the Senate employees would not welcome a replacement for Enrile.
“We will also love him (Enrile’s successor) if he shows love too. Regardless of the personality concerned, whoever will be the head of the Senate, definitely we will also respect and love him,” he said.However, Garcia said the employees could not be blamed for showing sympathy for the incumbent Senate chief.”We pity him, it appears that he has no company in the Senate. Most of us feel that if (Enrile) is not the best, he is one of the best Senate Presidents,” he said.