‘Courtesy a victim in Senate row’By Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Broken tradition, broken vows.
The controversy that resulted in the Senate’s loss of two of its top leaders appears to have also claimed a long-standing tradition of the majority and the minority smoking the peace pipe as a session of Congress bows out with its sine die adjournment.
While both the majority and the minority in the House of Representatives showered Speaker Feliciano Belmonte with credit at the close of the 15th Congress, senators didn’t even have resigned Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile preside over the upper chamber’s adjournment.
“The Senate before was a picture of courtesy. That is a long-standing tradition—the minority leader praising the Senate leadership,” said Sen. Joker Arroyo, who attended what could be his last session as a senator on Thursday.
“I think that tradition has been shattered,” added the 86-year-old Arroyo, who served two consecutive six-year terms in the chamber.
The closest thing to a celebration of the Senate’s achievements was made by Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III when he placed on record the number of laws, bills and resolutions passed by the chamber in the 15th Congress, which he did when there were just nine senators on the floor.
Sotto said the Senate passed 42 nationally significant bills while 42 other measures were awaiting President Aquino’s signature. He said the Senate committee on rules sent to the floor more than 700 bills while the Senate processed 145 resolutions.
Shortly after, Sotto informed the Senate of his resignation as majority floor leader effective on June 30.
“Collateral damage,” said Sen. Francis Pangilinan, when asked how he finds the absence of congratulatory resolutions for the productivity and performance of the Senate leadership and individual senators in the past three years.
Pangilinan is also bowing out of the 15th Congress after serving 12 years, covering two consecutive terms in the Senate.
“Yes, it’s a time-honored tradition in the Senate, which I observed as majority leader for some five years. Although, if you ask me, no one really bothers to read these resolutions anyway,” Pangilinan said.
Enrile presided over the Senate when it tackled and passed 42 laws of national significance, including the controversial yet historic reproductive health law, sin tax reform law and the amendments to the antimoney laundering law and the juvenile justice act.
Enrile resigned on Wednesday, still hurting from the questions of impropriety raised by some senators over his release over the Christmas season last year of millions of pesos for the upkeep of the offices of selected senators and as gifts for all his colleagues.
He ended his Senate presidency by calling on each senator to account for the millions of pesos given to their respective offices and committees. He also opened himself to public scrutiny.
Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, who questioned Enrile’s release of the P250,000 per senator supposedly as Christmas gifts before the congressional break on December 2012, failed to attend the last session.
Cayetano, on Wednesday, said Enrile need not resign to explain how the Senate funds are spent and liquidated.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, the acting Senate President, and Sen. Gregorio Honasan took on the presiding chores on Wednesday and Thursday.
Among the measures that became enrolled bills waiting for President Aquino’s signature during the two so-called “lame duck sessions” this week were the amendments to the juvenile justice act, the modernization of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration and the bill seeking to require schools to take steps to prevent bullying.
The Senate, however, failed to ratify the country’s extradition treaties with Spain, India and the United Kingdom after only 15 senators showed up on the last session day. A treaty needs 16 votes or two-thirds of the chamber’s membership to be ratified.
“It’s rather embarrassing not only to Malacañang but also to the diplomatic corps because of the treaties,” said Sotto, who acted on the remaining measures before resigning his leadership of the majority.
“Our countrymen should have a list of those who rarely show up,” Sotto said.
The senators present on the last session day of the 15th Congress were Estrada, Sotto, Arroyo, Pangilinan, Honasan, Loren Legarda, Pia Cayetano, Edgardo Angara, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Teofisto Guingona III, Sergio Osmeña III, Manuel Villar, Aquilino Pimentel III, Antonio Trillanes IV and Panfilo Lacson.