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Senate opens session minus jailed members

By: - Reporter / @MAgerINQ
/ 10:00 AM July 28, 2014

The Senate formally opens the second regular session of Congress on Monday with only 20 out of 24 members present. Maila Ager/INQUIRER.net

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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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TAGS: 16th Congress, Benigno Aquino, Bong Revilla, Congress, Franklin Drilon, Graft and Corruption, Jinggoy Estrada, Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, Pork barrel, Pork barrel scandal, Ramon Revilla Jr., Senate, Sona, Sona 2014
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