November 18, 2009
MANILA, Philippines — After a heated debate, senators agreed on Tuesday to defer action on a resolution signed by 12 senators seeking the dismissal of the ethics case filed against Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. in connection with the C-5 Road extension project.
Senate Resolution No. 1472 has been referred to the committee on rules. It will be tackled only upon the completion of the report by the committee of the whole, which had been looking into the matter since last year.
The inquiry stemmed from allegations by Sen. Jamby Madrigal that Villar had ordered the double funding of P200 million for the C-5 Road extension project and that he had diverted the road to benefit his real estate empire.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile fired the first salvo in the debate by saying the five-page resolution was “out of order” because “in effect [it] tends to discharge the committee of the whole and bring back the issue to the plenary.”
According to Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Enrile was “badly hurt” by the resolution that expresses “the sense of the Senate to dismiss, as it hereby dismisses the complaint against … Villar, and clear, as it hereby clears him of alleged acts of disorderly behavior.”
“The committee of the whole is still in the process of completing its report [on Villar’s ethics case] and it has not relinquished its performance of its functions, and therefore to discharge it is not in order,” Enrile said.
‘Affront’ to Enrile
In seeking the dismissal of the case against Villar, the resolution named four witnesses in the Senate hearings as testifying on the regularity of the C-5 extension project.
It also declared that the senators looked at the evidence provided in the hearings and found nothing with which to hold Villar liable for disorderly behavior. But there was no discussion on the evidence studied.
Before the resolution was tackled on the floor, Lacson told reporters that he had spoken with Enrile and that the latter thought of resigning as Senate president early Tuesday because of the purported “affront” to his leadership.
“His impression was that with the 12 signatures, it was one signature away from ousting the Senate president,” Lacson said.
A Senate president needs the vote of confidence of 13 of the 23 senators.
Enrile thought of resigning instead of being ousted, according to Lacson.
But Enrile changed his mind after the majority senators—both those who signed the resolution and who did not—went to see him and made it clear that what had happened was not intended to question his leadership, Lacson said.
Still, Lacson said, “there was deception that happened.” He said some of the senators who signed the resolution did so after being told that it had Enrile’s blessings.
Lacson, who has no love lost for Villar, also said he had heard that one of the signatories would withdraw his signature because what had happened was a “subversion” of the Senate rules and an “unparliamentary” act.
Lacson demanded to know how some senators who had not attended the hearings could clear Villar, the standard-bearer of the Nacionalista Party.
“What was wrong here is that even the respondent cleared himself,” he said.
Villar was the 12th senator to sign the resolution.
Zubiri echoed Lacson’s comments, saying that some majority senators who had signed the resolution did so on the understanding that it would not be released earlier than the report of the committee of the whole.
“It looks like they were duped. That is a sign of bad faith,” Zubiri said.
He added that the committee report would be released this week or when senators return after a two-week break ending on Dec. 1.
‘On equal footing’
But on the floor, no one rose to withdraw his or her signature from the resolution.
The debate ensued after Enrile ruled the resolution as out of order and referred it to the committee on rules.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano—who, like Villar, belongs to the minority bloc—took the floor to say that the resolution was drawn up because it was “important for the people to know this” before the Dec. 1 deadline of the filing of candidacies, and so that “everyone’s on equal footing.”
Enrile reiterated that the resolution would in effect discharge the committee of the whole, which had been “laboring for several months” without the presence or assistance of the minority bloc.
“As chair of the committee, I should have been accorded some degree of respect before you filed this resolution. Did I fail you in any way?” Enrile said.
He noted that the signatories had said they were taking into account the testimonies provided in the hearings. And yet, he said, the “voluminous” documentary evidence was not taken into consideration.
“Witnesses lie, but not documentary evidence,” he said.
12 senators’ view
Sen. Joker Arroyo pushed for deferment of action on the resolution, and Lacson rose to seek a vote on Enrile’s ruling.
But Enrile sought first to know the purpose of the resolution, and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. explained that he and his colleagues did not want to discharge the functions of the committee of the whole.
“It’s just that 12 senators have decided to express a view on the matter,” Pimentel said.
Enrile insisted that it was not a “mere” resolution but “a subtle way of clearing the respondent without having to wait for the committee report.”
After hearing Enrile reiterate that the resolution and committee report would be tackled at the same time, Pimentel said the group “can go along with that.”
“To make my position clear, I have no objection of our resolution being referred to the committee on rules with the supposition that the committee report will be presented side by side so that these can be compared by the people and we can debate on the substance of the resolution. We only hope there is a timetable,” Pimentel said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan stood by his action backing the resolution. He said it was Villar who had sought his support.
According to Pangilinan, he is just being consistent because the minority to which he belongs has always viewed the Senate investigation of Villar as politically motivated.
Pangilinan, a member of the Liberal Party of which Sen. Benigno Aquino III is the standard-bearer, said he had explained to the latter the reason behind his support of the resolution, and that the latter understood his position.
He called on the other senators not to use the Senate for political purposes, citing reports that an ethics case would also be filed against Aquino, this time for purported involvement in the Subic-Clark Tarlac Expressway controversy.
Pangilinan also expressed surprise that Sen. Loren Legarda, who had earlier been against Villar in the C-5 Road case, also signed the resolution.
For her part, Madrigal slammed the resolution, saying she would “not subscribe to political prostitution when the country’s interest is at stake.”
Madrigal also said she was congratulating Villar for “his fantastic lobbying in turning Sen. Loren Legarda, who was rabidly against him, into his girl Friday.”
Villar on Tuesday announced that Legarda would be his running mate in the 2010 presidential election.
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