Senate opens session minus jailed members
MANILA, Philippines—Far from the usual threats of change in leadership, the Senate on Monday opened the second regular session of the 16th Congress still reeling from a massive corruption scandal which has shocked the country.
Three senators were conspicuously absent when Senate President Franklin Drilon banged the gavel at exactly 10 a.m., signalling the opening of the session.
The three were Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revila Jr., who have been charged with plunder and graft for allegedly taking millions of pesos in kickback from illegally diverted congressional discretionary fund. They have been detained at the Camp Crame in Quezon City.
Except for Revilla, both Enrile and Estrada have been suspended from the chamber on orders of the Sandiganbayan.
Also notably absent during the opening of Congress was Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who has been on a sick leave. The feisty senator shocked the nation when she announced on July 2 that she has been battling lung cancer.
Sans the four senators, the 24-member upper chamber opened with only 20 members present – 16 from the majority bloc and four from the minority group.
The majority members present were Drilon, Senate Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Paolo Benigno “Bam’ Aquino IV, Pia Cayetano, Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Teofisto Guingona III, Lito Lapid, Loren Legarda, Ferdinand “Bong-Bong” Marcos Jr., Senator Sergio Osmena III, Aquilino Pimentel III, Grace Poe, Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV, and Cynthia Villar.
The four opposition members who attended the hearing were Senators Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Gregorio Honasan, Nanc Binay, and Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito.
Detained Enrile and Estrada belong to the minority group while Revilla and cancer-stricken Santiago are members of the majority bloc.
When the Senate adjourned sini die last month, no less than the Senate President himself admitted that the “pork” barrel scandal has cast a “long, dark shadow over the institution.”
“Since we opened the 16th Congress in July last year, it has been a difficult and challenging journey for the Senate,” Drilon said in a speech before he adjourned the session.
“I would like to thank the members of this august chamber for remaining composed and focused on our mandate despite the barrage of harsh and relentless criticisms directed at our beloved institution when the PDAF controversy surfaced last year,” he said.
PDAF is Priority Development Assistance Funds, also known as pork barrel funds.
The Philippine Congress abolished the PDAF even before the Supreme Court could declare it unconstitutional, and conducted its own inquiry on the alleged misuse of the “pork” barrel funds.
And as it tries to recover from the backlash of the scandal, another controversy hit the institution this time over its handling of the Senate hearing on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the presidential discretionary fund parts of which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The Senate was heavily criticized in the social media and even by various sectors of the society for being “too soft” on President Benigno Aquino’s men, led by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad when the committee on finance conducted the hearing on the DAP on July 24.
Critics said the Senate was “too soft” on Aquino’s men, led by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, who attended the hearing to defend the program.
Majority members of the Senate allegedly received funds from the presidential “pork”.
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