They come from two different generations.
On one side stood the patrician, the maestro who has survived 5 1/2 Presidents and countless political battles. On the other was the young gun, the upstart, the son of his former law partner.
Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Alan Peter Cayetano played out their differences on national television and, they accept, occasionally in the gutter. In a privilege speech, Cayetano questioned (a) the Senate President’s management style (b) the transparency in his handling of Senate funds and (c) his connections to former President GMA.
Cayetano decried JPE’s manner of allocating money, committee memberships, staff and physical space among Senators. Alan (or is it Peter?) was one of four Senators left out of the goodies last Christmas. He has asked for an independent audit of the Senate’s P1.5 billion budget and P600 million in “discretionary funds” of the Senate President.
Cayetano also took umbrage at the influence exerted by Gigi Reyes, Enrile’s Chief of Staff, in the running of the Senate. Reyes had earlier branded Cayetano as hypocritical and money-minded, with 1.6 million reasons for his behavior. Ms. Reyes has since nobly apologized for her comments (accepted) and resigned over the “stink” in the Senate (OK, guys, who broke air?) and over the failure of her boss’ colleagues in the majority to defend their leader. She has clearly underestimated the indomitable capacity of politicians for self preservation (“We are behind you, sir, way behind you”).
JPE claimed he has the right -confirmed by COA- to allocate Senate finances. The “gifts” to the Senators were a “realignment” of “savings” to help hard-working public servants with their Management and Operating Expenses and not an act of personal behest. He mentioned an unpaid debt of P 37 MM owed his law office by Cayetano’s father Rene.
The acrimony between the two gentlemen has gone nasty and illustrates that despite their high office and manicured image, our leaders are no different than you or I. We all react badly when our person and our loved ones are disrespected. This boundary was definitely crossed at various levels.
It also demonstrates how political power changes the essence of those to whom it is bestowed. What is it that makes elected officials believe they are bigger than their office?
There is good news in all of this. Just as the impeachment trial opened our eyes to the inner workings of the Supreme Court, so now are we learning about the secrets of that other opaque institution, the Senate of the Philippines.
The impeachment trial revealed the hidden power of the Chief Justice in judicial adjudication. Now we come to see the reach of a Senate President in shaping policy, politics and legislation. The CJ and the Senate President are not more equal than their peers, they are vastly more equal than their peers. The Senate President has the power of the purse, the authority to devote resources to particular issues and people, to set the legislative agenda and to allocate vital Committee chairmanships all of which have a bearing on the speed and quality of laws that affect the Filipino.
What is the collateral damage to this public washing of Senatorial dirty linen? How will it impact the JPE legacy? The impeachment trial -as we know it- brought out the best in the man. It was his swan song in a career that, by his own admission, has had its share of controversies. JPE is mindful of his historical footprint but unlike GMA and Corona he is not one to cling to power. He has defined Philippine politics for over 40 years and does not need the Senate presidency to define him. To prove this and to save the Senate (and his son Jack) from the controversy he could well honorably resign knowing he can probably reclaim his post after May. What must grate him is to be challenged by the children of his law partner who were mere toddlers when he was already a force in the Marcos years. And then there is the ingratitude on an unpaid ancestral debt.
The Senators are uneasy about the publicity and are desperate to dial down the noise. Politicians hate to be seen in any form of undress. Will they now have to subject themselves to an audit of their padded surroundings?
The Senators say the cat-fighting is bad for the Senate as an institution and for democracy. In fact we should welcome it. We are finally getting a glimpse of what truly happens in the sanctums of power even if it is smelly. The ouster of Corona and the indictment of GMA have given people a taste for blood and they are hungry for more. They are not in the mood for a whitewash.
No, Mr. Senators, we are not at all diminished by this matter. On the contrary, the nation is bigger and better for all of it.