By Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com | 01/31/2013 9:15 PM
Says Senate tussle all about the money and unequal distribution
MANILA - Senator Francis Escudero said money - and its unequal distribution - is the root cause of the recent tussle in the Senate.
In an interview with ANC on Thursday, the reelectionist senator said that during the privilege speech of Senator Alan Peter Cayetano lambasting Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on the use of the chamber’s savings as “Christmas gifts”, nobody even said anything about it being an act of corruption.
“Dun naman nagsimula, di ba? That’s where all started. In fact, everyone was in agreement that there was nothing wrong with it. Even [Senator Antonio Trillanes IV] said there’s nothing wrong with it. Sen. Cayetano said there’s nothing wrong with it,” he said.
Before the Christmas break, Enrile said he gave P1.6 million each as additional operating expenses to all senators except himself and the Cayetano siblings, Trillanes and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago. The four received only P250,000 each.
Escudero explained that the funds allocated to senators and their committees are really not equal. “There are some committees na mas maraming oversight committees kaysa sa iba. So sa chairman, automatic chairman ng oversight, so mas may budget sila para doon. So at the end of the day, it’s not really equal.”
He said that if one breaks it all down, the tiff is all about the money. “If you break it down to the essentials, ang bangayang ito tungkol sa pera na hindi talaga maganda sa panlasa.”
He said he himself did not complain when former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo did not release his pork barrel when he was still a member of the House of Representatives or even when he entered the Senate under her term.
“Hindi naman kami nagreklamo noon, in fact, hindi ako nagtatanong kung magkano ang tinatanggap ng iba. It’s the Senate President, whoever he may be or she may be, who would know how much each one is receiving…Hindi naman talaga pantay-pantay,” he said.
Chief of staff
Escudero also defended the work of Enrile’s chief of staff, lawyer Jessica “Gigi” Reyes.
Cayetano had said Reyes signs checks by the millions on behalf of Enrile and even allows her presence in the exclusive Senate lounge. Cayetano also twitted Reyes after the latter criticized the four senators in a dzMM show as “hypocrites.”
Escudero said Reyes’ work for Enrile is no different from that of his own chief of staff. “She’s the chief of staff of the Senate president. She has been with him for quite some time. Yung pagpirma ng cheke, chief of staff ko rin naman ang gumagawa nun eh…Hindi ko rin pinapakialaman ang accounting ng opisina dahil hindi ako accountant. It’s my chief of staff also who does that for me.”
He said Reyes should be forgiven for calling some senators “hypocrites.”
He said Cayetano’s only issue is being called one. “Ganon na daw ba ang Senado ngayon? Para sa akin, bakit hindi? Bakit kapwa senador lang ba ang tumatawag sa kapwa senador ng pangalan? Presidente lang ba ang pwedeng mamintas sa senador na pag tayong senador, hindi tayo pwedeng pintasan ng ordinaryong tao? Chief of staff man, staff man o tricycle driver o jeepney driver may kalayaang sabihin kung ano ang gustong sabihin sa akin.”
In this case, Reyes acted like an ordinary person – someone who has the right to speak her mind and criticize those in public office, he said.
He himself has received numerous criticisms, even cuss words, from the public.
“Ilang beses na ako halos minumura sa Twitter o pinipintasan o sinasabi kung anu-ano sa Twitter, may sinasabi ba akong: ‘Hoy ano ba trabaho mo? Sino ka ba at ano ang karapatan mong sabihin sa akin ito?’ To my mind, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, we as public officers and officials should be open to that kind of criticism in a democracy…and in a country where there’s a right or freedom of speech.”