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January 20, 2013 / emmanintheworld

The Fall of the Senate

When you reach the top, the only way to go is down.

After reaching highs on its approval ratings for impeaching former Chief Justice Renato Corona,  the Senate of the Philippines has lost most of what it has gained because of in-fighting and debates on controversial bills.

The Senate during 2012 presented two contrasting images of itself to the public. In the first half of the year, it was an impressive and respectable institution which made sure that due process was followed in the Corona impeachment trial. Disagreements were resolved in the privacy of caucuses and the senator-judges defended each other in front of the media. Under the leadership of Senate President Enrile, the institution was nothing but united, giving it the same prestige it had when legendary senators such as Jovito Salonga, Eulogio Rodriguez, and Ninoy Aquino walked down its halls.

That all changed in the second half of 2012 when the senators fought with each other in public. In contrast with the respectable image it portrayed before, the Senate during this time was not much different than the showbiz industry where every dirty laundry and petty rivalries were done in front of the media. Legitimate debates about the future of the country devolved into tit-for-tat fights for political mileage.

The first major fight between senators was between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Sonny Trillanes. Contesting the creation of Nueva Camarines, Trillanes accused Enrile of railroading the bill and being a puppet of former President Gloria Arroyo, whose son will benefit from the creation of the new province. Enrile responded by denying Trillanes’ accusation and by exposing his role as the backdoor negotiator of the Philippines during the tensions with China over the Scarborough Shoal. He further said that Trillanes’ role in the negotiations did more harm than good and threatened to release the ‘Brady notes’ which detailed Trillanes’ activities in the negotiations.

This rivalry sparked again, three weeks later, when Enrile declared that he will expose Trillanes during the campaign period so that he would lose votes in the 2013 elections. There was also an argument on who really created the Philippine Archipelagic Baselines Law, with Enrile claiming that Trillanes simply copied the draft that Solicitor-General Estelito Mendoza made for the Senate President. Trillanes responded by saying that the veteran senator should attend a public policy seminar because there is no copying with regards to bills filed in the Congress since refiling is common.

Another prominent fight was between Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto and Senator Pia Cayetano. They argued over the former’s alleged attempts to delay the Reproductive Health Bill. Sotto, a fiercely anti-RH senator, was seen by the public as a big factor for the bill’s slow pace in the legislative process.Frustrated by the pace of the bill in the Senate floor and Enrile’s pronouncements that the vote for the bill would happen in 2013, Cayetano questioned Enrile’s objective to interpellate  Sotto’s turno en contra speech, saying that there’s not point for the interpellation since both are anti-RH anyway.

Sotto also made headlines when his turno en contra speech was revealed to be plagiarized from multiple blog posts. The issue intensified when he looked down on the plagiarism issue, calling it a non-issue, and refused to apologize. Outraged, the public criticized Senator Sotto and his nonchalant attitude towards plagiarism. Further scrutiny of his next speech also showed another case of plagiarism when he used former US President Kennedy’s famous “ask what you can do for your country” quote without citation. He defended himself by saying that his translation of the quote to Filipino removes the need for citation.

December was a particularly cold month in the Senate when the Reproductive Health Bill debates turned personal. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago took offense when Enrile returned her Christmas gift. Enrile returned the gift, citing the “ice-cold” relationship he has with Miriam over the past few months as his reason.

The headlines on Senate in-fighting also spilled over to 2013 when it was revealed in January that Enrile gave out a “Christmas gift” of P1.6 million, billed as Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses, to 18 senators. In contrast, he only allocated P250,000 for the same expense to Senators Santiago, Trillanes, and the two Cayetanos. The senators, especially Santiago were quick to denounce the unequal allocation of funds by Enrile, calling the move “unethical” and “unconstitutional”. Feeling slighted, Senator Santiago criticized Enrile in different fora, from university speeches to on-air interviews.

Her criticisms of Enrile sparked a fight between her and Senator Lacson, who she described as Enrile’s attack dog. Lacson responded by calling  Santiago as a “crusading crook” and a “hypocrite”. A day after his tussle with Santiago, Lacson revealed in a radio interview that the Commission of Audit should investigate a senator for using Senate funds to pay groceries, maid’s salaries, and the rental of a satellite office owned by the senator.

After the Christmas gift controversy,  the media reported that Enrile recalled key employees of Trillanes and Senator Alan Peter Cayetano. Defending his move, Enrile told the press that his recall order was made in early December and was done without malice. Cayetano, however, said that the timing was suspicious and questioned why Trillanes and himself were singled out.

Maybe it’s just in the nature of politicians to fight with each  other when elections are near but it’s still disheartening to see supposedly exemplary men and women resort to calling each other names and throwing coup threats like it’s nothing.

Isn’t the impeachment trial and the exemplary way the Senate handled it a testament to the growing political maturity of the Philippines? How can Filipinos ever be politically mature when our legislators act like petty children?

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