By Marvin Sy
Saying he had seen the handwriting on the wall, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile resigned yesterday as Senate president, ending a leadership marked both by brilliance and turbulence.
With just two days left in the calendar for the 15th Congress, Enrile tendered his irrevocable resignation as Senate president “as a matter of personal honor and dignity.” Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada took over Enrile’s post for the day.
“Old age may have physically impaired my vision. But let me assure all of you, I can still see and read clearly the handwriting on the wall. I need not be told by anyone when it is time for me to go,” Enrile said. He opened the second to the last plenary session of the Senate with a privilege speech in which he voiced his grief over the failed Senate bid of his son Cagayan Rep. Jack Enrile.
The elder Enrile said incessant attacks against him by detractors – including some of his colleagues – contributed to his son’s loss in the senatorial race. “The common analysis of political observers was that my son’s candidacy suffered from the fallout of the bitter criticisms and accusations hurled against me by some people in this chamber who I had displeased, just as we were entering the political campaign season,” Enrile said.
“As a father, I endured in silence the pain of seeing my son suffer because of me. He carried on his shoulders the weight of all the mud thrown against me. As I stayed and watched quietly by the sidelines, my heart bled for him,” he added.
He cited a statement from Budget Secretary Florencio Abad – issued even before all the winning senators had been proclaimed – that the first order of the day when Congress opens in July is to replace Enrile as Senate president and to re-elect Feliciano Belmonte Jr. as speaker of the House.
“That statement did not surprise me at all. I am sure that those who are eager to replace me have been assembling and gathering the numbers, if they haven’t already sealed the deal, so to speak. As a politician, that is all par for the course for me,” Enrile said.
The attacks on Enrile came as early as September last year when Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV delivered a privilege speech accusing Enrile of railroading certain bills to his advantage. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago followed suit with an accusation that he was misusing the funds of the Senate as shown by his unequal distribution of cash gifts to the senators last December.
Santiago argued that it was highly irregular for Enrile to realign the savings of the Senate to the maintenance and other operating expenditures (MOOE) budgets of some senators. Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano came next, also with allegations that the Senate president had misused the chamber’s funds. It was not the first time that Enrile offered to resign.
Last Jan. 21, Enrile moved to declare the position of Senate president vacant in response to the criticisms regarding the distribution of the MOOE.
“As I said when I made a motion to declare this position vacant a few months ago, I did not wish to endanger the trust that the public has reposed upon the Senate as an institution just because of the viciousness and self-righteousness of some people,” Enrile said.
“They were only against me, after all. But in their desire to undermine me, they invariably brought the other members of the Senate and the image of the Senate itself to disrepute,” he added.
Issues not forgotten
According to Enrile, the issues of propriety, transparency and accountability of the Senate should not be forgotten just because the 15th Congress is adjourning.
“After all that howl and rage, I now ask: Must all these issues of propriety, transparency and accountability be forgotten? Have all these issues suddenly become irrelevant? Can we just move on as they say, and just bury these issues in the dustbin of the Philippine Senate’s history? My answer is no,” he said.
“No, the Senate neither begins nor ends with Juan Ponce Enrile. This chamber has its own honor to uphold, and its institutional integrity in the end means more to the people than all of us combined,” he added. Enrile became emotional as he cited his performance as a public servant, which he said would be all up for the nation to judge.
Enrile said he wanted to lay claim to nothing else but his right to vindicate his “sullied name.”
“I refuse to be anyone’s scapegoat and everyone’s whipping boy. I refuse to let any senator drag my name down the gutter with her. I refuse to stand idly by when no less than the son of my former partner, the late Senator Renato L. Cayetano, would dare accuse me of being a thief or a scoundrel,” Enrile said.
“I refuse to lend my hard-earned name as a convenient refuge to those who cannot face the public and defend their own honor. I refuse to allow any body, whether in or outside the halls of this chamber, to just freely trample upon the name that my late father, Alfonso Ponce Enrile, had so kindly allowed me to carry with pride,” he added.
Enrile said that he had no intention of clinging to power or of using the position of Senate president to influence or impede a “no-holds barred audit of the Senate’s and the senators’ budgets and expenditures.”
“Let us all be men and women worthy of being called ‘honorable senators.’ And let the chips fall where they may,” Enrile said.
Estrada said Enrile had manifested to him his wish of becoming a minority leader under a new Senate leadership. Estrada said it is unlikely that he and those allied with Enrile will be joining the majority – including Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III himself.
Estrada said it’s getting clearer that Sen. Franklin Drilon may bag the top Senate post. He said the majority is now on the side of Drilon and the Nacionalista Party bloc headed by Sen. Manny Villar. Meanwhile, Sen. Pia Cayetano is aspiring to be Senate majority leader, replacing Sotto. Her brother Alan Cayetano is reportedly hoping to become Senate president pro-tempore.
Sen. Loren Legarda rejected insinuations that she is being considered as Senate president pro-tempore or majority leader. “Been there, done that. I am not interested,” Legarda said. The likelihood of Cayetano siblings occupying the top two and three posts at the Senate had raised eyebrows. “It is not proper. Just one is okay. One should give in to the other,” a source told The STAR.
Estrada said the new minority bloc will likely be composed of Enrile, Sotto, Senators Gregorio Honasan, Nancy Binay and JV Ejercito. He said he cannot speak on behalf of Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., who is now reportedly joining Drilon’s group.
Palace hails Enrile
Malacañang hailed Enrile for supporting “on the whole” the passage of the administration’s priority bills, and said it “respected” his decision to resign. The Palace noted that in the 1,661 days, or four years, six months, and 19 days that Enrile headed the Senate, “he strove to live up to the Senate’s tradition of independence and oversight.”
“Conscious of the long and distinguished history of the Senate and the office he held, Senator Enrile approached the constitution functions of the Senate in our bicameral legislative system with the utmost seriousness,” the Palace declared.
“As one of the veteran members of the Senate, his voice, views, and expertise in the legislative process will continue to contribute to the crafting of laws and the deliberations of the upper house.” Manila Mayor-elect Joseph Estrada said Enrile’s resignation is a big loss to the Senate.
“We all witnessed his stellar performance during the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona where he led with wisdom, eloquence, impartiality and above all, unquestionable integrity,” Estrada said. “He is a man not only of competence but of excellence. I believe there has never been nor is there any senator in the Senate today who can match the level of leadership of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile,” Estrada added. Estrada said that he hopes the next Senate chief will not be beholden to the President.
“The senators should choose for Senate president someone who will ensure the independence of the Senate and also someone who is most determined to make the people regain their trust in the Senate as an institution. I believe there is still no other person better for the job than JPE,” Estrada said.