Santiago-Enrile tiff roils Senate
The bitter exchange of accusations at the Senate plenary between Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Miriam Defensor-Santiago has raised serious concerns with their colleagues about the effect of such unparliamentary behavior on the chamber’s supposed image, particularly when future students of politics read the Senate’s journals.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III said he would move next week to have both privilege speeches expunged from the Senate records because of the unparliamentary language that the two lawmakers used in questioning the other’s integrity.
“We don’t tolerate unparliamentary language. It has nothing to do with the issue that is being debated. You want to keep a dignified Senate,” Osmeña said.
“Maybe we will just simplify it and move to delete both speeches from the records of the Senate,” he told reporters a day after Santiago stood up to answer what she said were “personal attacks” by Enrile with a speech littered with similar imputations.
Enrile last week denied Santiago’s allegations made outside the Senate that he was the mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly orchestrated by detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, that he wanted Napoles dead and that he was the financier of the Zamboanga siege by the Moro National Liberation Front.
But he went on to raise his own accusations, such as Santiago’s allegedly using Senate funds to rent space in her own building for her use as a satellite office; Santiago’s alleged use of a sports car seized by the Bureau of Customs many decades ago; Santiago’s alleged mental health problem; and the senator’s obtaining a supposedly low grade in the bar examinations.
Enrile, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, Sen. Ramon Revilla, Jr. and two former House members are facing plunder charges in connection with the pork barrel scam involving their priority development assistance fund (PDAF) entitlements.
The three senators have all denied any wrongdoing and have expressed willingness to face the charges.
On Wednesday, Santiago took her turn at the podium, reiterating her allegations that Enrile was the mastermind of the pork barrel scam, and bringing up other old issues like alleged culpability in human rights violations committed during martial law as the then defense minister, involvement in smuggling and gambling, and his alleged womanizing.
She also denied any culpability in the issues of propriety that Enrile had brought up against her.
Osmeña said the Senate should come to a collective decision not to allow similar speeches in the future.
He said he would talk to Senate President Franklin Drilon and the other senators to make a stand against using unparliamentary language even if lawmakers are “normally” given a wide latitude in delivering privilege speeches.
He questioned why Drilon allowed it to happen. “If I were Senate President, I would have said, ‘You’re out of order,’” Osmeña said.
“This was a situation where he should have intervened. Now, I don’t blame him for not intervening also. It might have made matters worse. But I would have banged the gavel…. I will not tolerate that sort of thing,” Osmeña said.
Any senator could have stood up to raise a point of order, he said.
Sen. Vicente Sotto III, who said he has discussed the issue with Osmeña, said he and his staff will study what portions of both speeches could be stricken off the record.
“When the scholars of the future look into the records of the journal, the 16th Congress will not be having such a good reputation,” said Sotto.
Another option would be to refer both speeches to the Senate committee on ethics, which will then find out what to do with them, he said.
“I’m both saddened and I find it unfortunate [that] the two members are throwing accusations against each other and hurling personal attacks against each other in the Senate floor,” said Sen. Francis Escudero, the chair of the Senate finance committee.
Escudero’s sponsorship of the 2014 budget had to wait in line until after the privilege speeches of Enrile and Santiago.
Drilon: No comment
Drilon wouldn’t comment on whether unparliamentary language was used on the Senate floor.
“I will leave that to the body to decide,” he told reporters.
On whether the allegedly unparliamentary remarks should be stricken off the record, Drilon said: “Somebody would have to move that. Somebody would have to move for the deletion of certain portions and that would have to be decided by the Senate as a body.”
“But having said that, what happened yesterday [Wednesday] was rather sad,” Drilon said.
He called for a Christmas truce between Enrile, his fraternity brother, and Santiago, a classmate at the UP College of Law and a fellow Ilonggo.
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