Congress opens; Enrile, Estrada still in Senate roll

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Monday, July 28, 2014

MANILA -- Detained Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada were only marked absent in the opening of the second regular session of the 16th Congress on Monday as their suspension from office in relation to the pork barrel scam is not yet final.

Responding to a query by Senator Vicente Sotto III on the membership status of Enrile and Estrada, Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said the Sandiganbayan order is still subject to appeal.

The 90-day preventive suspension was handed down by two separate divisions of the Sandiganbayan to bar Enrile and Estrada from using their position to influence the prosecution of the plunder and graft cases lodged against them.

The Sandiganbayan first division, meanwhile, has yet to decide on the Office of the Ombudsman's motion seeking to suspend Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., who is also detained on the same charges for diverting the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to fake non-government organizations (NGOs) of businesswoman Janet Napoles.

 Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada
Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago also skipped the session opener due to her ongoing battle with lung cancer, leaving only 20 senators present.

Meanwhile, Senate President Franklin Drilon asked his colleagues to set aside 2016 elections and focus on restoring the people's faith in the institution by passing legislation on economic expansion, jobs creation, workers' welfare and anti-graft and corruption.

"Let us set aside 2016 and work hand in hand for the rebirth of the Senate," he said in a speech during the session.

Drilon, however, said recovering public support may be difficult as criticisms "may have succeeded in reducing the worth and the weight of the Senate in the minds and lives of the people."

"Though not within reach, I believe with hard work and perseverance we would in time walk past the difficult path ahead," he said, as he asked the public to support the Senate's goal of instituting reforms to create a "better society."

As a constitutional body, the Senate leader said the institution deserves to be respected even if some of its members may have been found to have erred through their individual acts.

"I recognize that as public servants we must remain receptive to and tolerant of criticism. But should we as individuals and as a collegial body allow the Senate to continue to be casually scorned?" asked Drilon, adding his colleagues must defend the Senate from "falsehoods."

Drilon assured that the Senate would not waive its constitutional mandate over the 2015 national budget following the Supreme Court (SC) decision against the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which was declared unconstitutional for funding projects not authorized by Congress and implementing inter-branch transfer of appropriations, among others.

"We shall wield our power of the purse. We shall craft a budget focused on spending on the right priorities and with measurable results, keeping in mind our goal for inclusive growth," said Drilon.

He added that the Senate is committed to work on the Malacanang-sponsored Bangsamoro Basic Law that will put an end to the decades-old conflict in Mindanao.

The bill is considered a priority once it reaches Congress. (Sunnex)

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