Senate to host int’l antigraft conferenceBy Cathy C. Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Realizing the irony, some senators on Monday called for a ceasefire on the bitter exchange of words over their chamber’s realigned funds as the Philippines prepares to host a global anticorruption conference that begins Tuesday.
Sen. Edgardo Angara likened the global conference to a dinner where the neighbors have been invited.
“You and your wife could not throw plates at each other while they are around because that would look bad. Why not resume the hostilities after the party as a courtesy to guests? It’s more seemly and proper, the decent thing to do among reasonable people,” Angara said.
Angara, vice chairman of the 5th Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (Gopac) executive committee, said it would be awkward if 429 legislators from 76 countries landed on local shores and witnessed senators bickering over the selective distribution of additional maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile appeared relieved at the suggestion.
“I have stopped talking and I don’t want to talk anymore. It’s better to stop all discussions and concentrate on the work of legislation because we have only six days left and there is so much to do,” Enrile said before Monday afternoon’s session.
Adjournment next week
Congress will be in session until next week. It will adjourn on Feb. 9 to give way to the campaign period leading to the national elections in May.
The battle-weary Enrile had an exchange of bitter words with Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano who deplored the Senate President’s decision to give additional MOOE to his 18 other colleagues just before Christmas.
Apart from Cayetano, those who did not receive the additional MOOE were Senators Pia Cayetano, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Antonio Trillanes IV.
The verbal joust between Enrile and Cayetano led to the irrevocable resignation of Gigi Reyes, the Senate President’s chief of staff, who earlier called Cayetano a “hypocrite.”
It was Reyes who signed the letter on behalf of Enrile instructing the release of P1.6 million in additional MOOE to each 18 senators but not to four senators, who each got only P250,000 in cash gift. All the other senators also received the cash gift just before Christmas.
Santiago has questioned the legal basis of realigning the Senate’s excess funds, euphemistically called savings, into “gifts” and “bonuses.”
Angara told reporters before the session started that he would propose the ceasefire during the caucus right after the roll call.
The caucus was called specifically to discuss whether senators would agree to a scrutiny by the Commission on Audit of how they spent their MOOE or pass the responsibility to a private auditing firm.
Angara, himself a former Senate President, stressed that the Philippine Senate was chosen “precisely because of the country’s flagship program on anticorruption.”
“Would it not be awkward?” Angara asked after noting that the fight among senators would coincide with the Gopac meeting.
Angara said he was not dismissing the MOOE issue but he believed it could wait until the guests finished their meal, or in this case after the Gopac summit, which would run from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2.
Angara’s office issued a press release Monday quoting him as saying that the Gopac summit would be “the chance to show the world that we are seriously doing our part in cleaning up our government, in keeping with President Aquino’s thrust of a straight path.”
Mr. Aquino is set to deliver the keynote speech of the conference.
Angara said he hoped senators would wait until the Monday after the conference to resume their exchange.
“Monday (Feb. 4) is another session day. ‘Sige, magbangayan na tayo (We can squabble by then),’” he suggested.
“We show we are acting on (the MOOE issue) but washing our dirty linen publicly on the occasion of an international conference is something else. That requires some discretion and a little good sense so I would propose (a ceasefire) to them,” he explained.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada readily agreed.
Lacson vs Santiago
Lacson, in an interview hours before the session, said he thought of “issuing a unilateral ceasefire or moratorium” on the MOOE issue because so many harsh words had been exchanged” and “blood was flowing in the session hall.”
Lacson himself is embroiled in a word war with Santiago, an offshoot of the selective MOOE distribution.
Lacson called Santiago a “crusading crook” after Santiago tagged senators whom she believed to be Enrile’s supporters as “attack dogs.”
While Lacson favored the ceasefire, he said efforts of his office to investigate Santiago’s alleged use of MOOE for the rent of a satellite office in a building her husband owns continued.
Estrada, meanwhile, said a ceasefire was in order since “the public suspects all of us as corrupt. We have been investigating anomalies in the government and then it appears we ourselves are involved in an anomaly.”