Enrile, Cayetano word war gets dirty

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

MANILA (Updated) -- The hostilities between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano on Wednesday took a turn for the worse with both lawmakers hurling one personal brickbat against the other.

Cayetano turned the table against Enrile, whom he accused of giving him a hard time because of their political differences.

On top of that, he also claimed that Enrile has been giving his chief of staff, lawyer Gigi Reyes, a free hand in co-running the Senate that she was even allowed to attend and speak at senators-only caucuses.

This was apparently in retaliation to Enrile's privilege speech on Monday accusing Cayetano, his sister Pia Cayetano and Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Antonio Trillanes IV of plotting to oust him from his post after they were not included among the senators who received his grant of P1.6-million additional cash gifts last December.

Enrile referred to his critics as hypocrites and cowards for resorting to a coup plot, which was foiled when his allies in the Senate voted to reject his motion to declare his position vacant.

After a 40-minute caucus, Cayetano took the floor to remind fellow senators that the issue has brought embarrassment to the institution, especially that many people in some parts of the country are experiencing floods due to incessant rains.

In his privilege speech, Cayetano said that for every lie that Enrile would utter against him, he has "100 truths to tell" about Enrile and Reyes.

Cayetano also called for a private auditing firm to look into the finances of the Senate. Late in his speech, however, Cayetano lamented Enrile's supposed bad attitude toward him, particularly on the assignment of committees and his constant criticisms on former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Enrile had said that he and Arroyo are friends.

Also, Reyes was a close friend of Cayetano's political rivals in Taguig, where his wife Lani is the incumbent mayor.

The Senate leader shot back, recalling a misdeed of Cayetano's father, the late Senator Rene Cayetano, when they were still partners at the Ponce Enrile Cayetano Reyes Manalastas Law Offices (Pecabar) over 20 years ago.

Enrile said the late senator owed P37 million in their law office and that he worked hard to put up the firm to help feed Rene Cayetano's family.

But younger Cayetano rebutted Enrile's claims, saying he is not aware of any debt that his family owed Enrile.

"My father worked for every single centavo and it is unfair for you to bring that up. How can he explain when he's dead?" he said.

"Nung tumakbong senador and aking ama (When my father ran for Senate), he practically gave his life to you. Nung panahon ni (During the time of) Cory, siya ang katabi niyo (he was beside you). Nung Edsa (1986), siya ang katabi niyo (he was beside you)," Cayetano replied, pushing Enrile to ask him if he also owed something to the late lawmaker.

Cayetano then said that they availed of a bank loan to buy a house but Enrile surmised if the loan covered payments for the wood to be used in construction.

He said that the elder senator should just stick to the issue, but Enrile told him that Cayetano probably did not expect him to come prepared to battle it out with him.

Their heated exchange would have continued if not for the intervention of Senator Franklin Drilon, who moved to suspend the session.

At the resumption of the session, Enrile apologized to Cayetano and said that he should not have brought up the issue of his father's supposed financial debt. He said that they should just "let the Divine Spirit determine whose truth is the correct truth."

Rene Cayetano and Enrile became allies during the waning years of the Marcos dictatorship. In fact, the older Cayetano was Enrile's spokesperson when he was arrested for the charge of rebellion with murder in connection with the bloody coup attempt in December 1989 against then President Corazon Aquino.

Enrile won the case in the Supreme Court since such crime does not exist in the country's penal laws.

In his speech last Monday asking the Senate to accept his resignation as the chamber's head, Enrile asked if Cayetano and the rest of his critics--Senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Pia Cayetano would act differently had they gotten the P1.6 million extra funds for their maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).

"What would they have done if the funds were given to them? Would they have whined and complained? Or, as Senator Santiago herself suggested could be done - Would they have pocketed it instead of using it appropriately for the operation expenses of their own offices?" asked Enrile.

The Cayetano siblings found those statements offensive as Pia decided to donate the P250,000 "Christmas gift" also given by Enrile to the Department of Social and Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Meanwhile, the Commission on Audit (COA) reiterated that heads of government offices like Enrile can realign their respective budgets.

"Section 56, paragraph (2), of the GAA (General Appropriations Act) provides that departments, agencies, and offices are authorized to augment any item of expenditure within Personal Services and MOOE except confidential and intelligence funds which require prior approval of the President of the Philippines," said COA Chairperson Grace Tan in her reply to a query sent by Santiago last week.

She said the MOOE can never be discretionary or used as pork barrel for senators since this is allotted for general administration and support, legislative services, and operational requirements of about 35 congressional commissions and oversight committees.

"The GAA does not specify when the Senate President can or should exercise this authority (augmenting budgets through agency savings), nor does it prescribe a formula," said Tan.

Citing a report from the Senate resident auditor, Tan said Santiago's office received a total of P15,492,292 in additional MOOE on various dates in March, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December 2012.

On Santiago's request to itemize the earnings of senators and congressman, COA asked her to just refer to the 2011 Report on Salaries and Allowances (Rosa), which also contains compensation received by government officials from assistant secretaries to Cabinet secretaries, state corporations and even members of the High Court.

"We can only access payments to the aforesaid officials that are made from public funds. Any income that they receive from the private sector, if any, is beyond our jurisdiction; these are more properly within the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR)," said Tan.

Santiago was furnished a copy of the income report. (Virgil Lopez/JCV/Sunnex)

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