5 awkward moments that marked the Senate in 2016
MANILA, Philippines – While its main role is legislation, the Senate has conducted quite a number of inquiries in the latter half of the year. Among these were the highly controversial probes into the spate of extrajudicial killings under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte and the death of Albuera, Leyte, Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr.
These hearings, within 6 months since the 17th Congress opened, were defined by drama-filled hearings and awkward moments that showed – and tested – the senators’ characters.
1. Cayetano skips 1st session of 17th Congress
The opening of the 17th Congress, the first under Duterte, already gave a clue to the dynamics that would be at play in the chamber. Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, running mate of Duterte in the 2016 polls, skipped the opening session on July 25 – the same day that the Senate elected Duterte’s party mate, Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, as the new Senate president. (READ: Alan Cayetano no-show at Senate opening)
It must have been painful for Cayetano. Weeks before, he was positive that he had the numbers to become the chamber’s top leader.
In a Facebook post on the session's opening day, the senator said: "Today Mr President one of my dreams passed me by, I'm not Senate President. Yet I'm excited to hear your State of the Nation Address and be a part of the amazing change! This is our dream! Dream of all Filipinos! And this is more important!"
He expressed dismay over how his colleagues voted. Cayetano claimed two groups offered to support his Senate presidency, but that he declined it, hinting that the present composition would not be truly supportive of the President's agenda.
Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, however, said the real reason why most senators chose Pimentel over Cayetano was the latter’s imposition of restrictions on them as early as negotiations.
It took several days before a hurting Cayetano decided to join the majority and take on committee chairmanship roles. But Pimentel, even before this, had reserved the foreign relations committee for Cayetano. After all, the former running mate of the President is believed to be his next foreign affairs secretary.
Now, Cayetano is among the staunch defenders of the President in the Senate, even going against his former election lawyer, now Senator Leila de Lima, Duterte’s fiercest critic. (READ: Koko Pimentel, Alan Cayetano: From De Lima's clients to 'critics'?)
2. Trash talk and microphone
Who could forget the infamous catfight between party mates senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Alan Peter Cayetano over the testimony of witness Edgar Matobato against Duterte? The two senators, who were allies in probing the alleged corrupt practices of former Vice President Jejomar Binay and his family in the last Congress, now found themselves on the opposite sides of the political fence.
The fight led to Trillanes’ turning off Cayetano’s microphone – the video of which became viral instantly. (READ: Senators face off at probe into killings: 'Trash talk, out of order')
The petty fight started when Cayetano wanted Trillanes reprimanded for mocking him.
Trillanes turned off Cayetano's microphone while the latter was speaking, but Cayetano immediately turned it on to speak again.
Cayetano said, seeking help from Senator Leila de Lima, who was then the chairperson of the Senate justice committee:
"Madame chair, I am trying to ask questions. [But] he told me here, 'Di kita papapormahin,' and then he tells me here, 'Nabubuo pangarap mo, you are defending evil.' So, Madame chair, I'm trying to get to the bottom of this at kung totoo sinasabi, tatabihan 'nyo ko. Ita-trash talk 'nyo ko. I never did that to any of my colleagues."
(He told me here, "I won't let you show off," and then he tells me, "You're reaching your dream, you are defending evil." So, Madame chair, I'm trying to get to the bottom of this, then [he] would sit beside me and trash talk me. I never did that to any of my colleagues.)
De Lima suggested that Cayetano just transfer to another seat. But Cayetano responded, "I can move, but can you make sure he doesn't follow me?"
He asked De Lima, while putting the plastic nameplate between him and Trillanes: "Can Senator Trillanes stop talking to me? I don't want to talk to him, but he keeps talking to me. I will put this (nameplate) between us."
To this, De Lima said: "Senator Sonny, can you please transfer? Lipat na lang po. 'Wag na ho kayong magtabi (Please just move. Just don't sit beside each other)."
In the end, Cayetano transferred to another seat. The incident was highly criticized by the public and senators themselves for being marked by seeming juvenile outbursts.
To avoid possible ethics complaints, Trillanes apologized to Cayetano for his "uncalled for" act days after the incident.
3. Unli walkout?
Barely 6 months into office, Senator De Lima has been the subject of the ire of President Duterte and some of his senator-allies. During the first few months of her term, De Lima had the habit of walking out, so much so that the public had also taken notice of it.
She walked out when Cayetano delivered a privilege speech accusing her of leading a demolition job against Duterte. The speech, as it turned out, was part of the plan to oust her as justice panel chair. She walked out when Senator Richard Gordon castigated her for alleged “material concealment” of information about the kidnapping case of Senate witness Matobato. (READ: Matobato admitted kidnap case vs him – Senate transcript)
After drawing flak for her repeated walking out, De Lima apologized to the public, saying it was “the best expression of protest” at the time. She has so far not done it again.
4. Richard Gordon insists he is 'independent'
After making several moves favoring the administration, Senator Gordon denied being an “ally” of President Duterte, insisting he is an “independent” senator.
Gordon made sure this is known, as he reprimanded a reporter who tagged him as administration ally in a news story. (READ: Gordon reprimands reporter for calling him 'Duterte ally')
The senator called the attention of the reporter during an attempt to interview him.
“Why do you keep on saying I’m an ally of the President? Am I PDP-laban? Am I?” Gordon said, referring to Duterte's political party.
“Who’s the first one to attack Duterte? Me, right?” Gordon added, in an apparent reference to his criticism of the President’s “noisy” demeanor.
Asked if that means he was denying that he's a Duterte ally, Gordon said: "I'm a senator. I'm independent."
Gordon had replaced De Lima, as chairman of the committee on justice and human rights, but said he was “reluctant” about it.
After 6 hearings, Gordon terminated the probe into the extrajudicial killings, saying the committee found no proof that linked Duterte or the governmnt to the extrajudicial killings. He said there had been no evidence so far of the existence of the Davao Death Squad that was widely known to have been created by Duterte. (READ: Senate ends probe: Neither Duterte or state sanctioned extrajudicial killings)
Gordon also earlier proposed that Duterte be granted emergency powers, including the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which human rights advocates say is synonymous to declaring martial law.
5. Kerwin Espinosa and De Lima face-off
Talk about De Lima supposedly having links to drug lords had circulated for some time, but this was the first time she was accused of it straight to her face.
In front of De Lima and several other senators, alleged Eastern Visayas drug lord Kerwin Espinosa claimed he gave her a total of P8 million for her 2016 senatorial campaign through her former security aide and lover Ronnie Dayan.
De Lima, who was given the chance to rebut the allegations, delivered only a "final message" for Espinosa. (READ: De Lima to Kerwin Espinosa: 'I forgive you')
Instead of asking questions, De Lima made a brief manifestation, where she denied her alleged link to Espinosa.
De Lima, in her message, reiterated her denial of any connection to illegal drugs when she was justice secretary.
"Final message ko po kay (My final message to) Mr Kerwin Espinosa. I cannot talk to him directly, but may I just say this: may God forgive you for all your sins, and may God forgive you for all your lies about me. And I forgive you," she said at the hearing on November 23.
For Senator Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate committee on public order that's leading the probe, and for Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, it was a “lost” opportunity for De Lima.
Aguirre even saw this as proof that the witness was "telling the truth” and that De Lima was guilty as charged. – Rappler.com