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Zubiri’s resignation, two impeachment complaints top events in Senate in 2011

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The resignation of Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri amid allegations of 2007 poll fraud and the two impeachment complaints filed against former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona topped the events in the Philippine Senate in 2011.

Zubiri became the first member of the Philippine Senate to quit even as he vehemently denied alleged electoral fraud, saying: “I’m falsely accused without mercy and compassion.”

The resignation shocked his colleagues in the Senate, including Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile who described him as hardworking lawmaker. During the 14th Congress, Zubiri sponsored, principally authored, co-sponsored or authored 432 laws.

Zubiri decided to step down last Aug. 3, ahead of the decision of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) in connection with the electoral protest of his closest rival Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, because he and his family were already hurt by personal attacks hurled against him. He said he also wanted to protect the Senate as an institution.

Zubiri, who was a member of the senatorial line of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2007 election, denied any involvement in the massive election cheating allegedly orchestrated by the Ampatuans in favor of the administration candidates in Maguindanao province.

In 2007 election, Zubiri was declared the 12th senator with 11,005,866 votes, edging Pimentel with 10,987,347 but based on the SET decision, Pimentel garnered 10,898,786 votes as compared to Zubiri’s 10,640,620 votes.

Pimentel was finally proclaimed the 12th senator of the 2007 senatorial election last Aug. 12, vowing to push for legislation that would reform the election system in the country. He was given the Senate committee on electoral reforms.

Aside from Pimentel, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV won the 2007 senatorial race but attended his first Senate session only in January this year after spending seven years in coup attempts charges.
Trillanes spearheaded a failed Oakwood mutiny in 2003 as protest for alleged rampant corruption in the Arroyo administration and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in particular. While in prison, he was able to file more than 300 bills, 19 of which were passed into law.

Described by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago as most handsome senator, Trillanes was straightforward when he confronted his former superior, former Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, in the Senate blue ribbon committee which looked into the alleged massive graft and corruption in the military on January 28.

The confrontation was the first and last for the former graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) as Reyes committed suicide using his 45-caliber on top of his mother’s tomb at the Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina.

Reyes was accused by his former budget officer Lt. Colonel Rabusa of allegedly getting at least P150 million as "pabaon" when he retired as AFP Chief of Staff. Reyes has denied the allegations.

The Senate inquiry into the alleged graft and corruption in the military triggered by the probe on the plunder case involving former AFP comptroller Carlos Garcia, who amassed P303.27 million in ill-gotten while he was still in active service.

The blue ribbon committee also investigated the Office of the Ombudsman under former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez for alleged failure to file cases against Garcia.

Seven days after the House of Representatives impeached Gutierrez on March 22, the Senate blue ribbon committee recommended an impeachment for Gutierrez, forcing the Ombudsman to resign 10 days before the Senate’s actual impeachment trial.

Gutierrez, an appointee of former President Arroyo, has been accused of betrayal of public trust.

Aside from alleged massive graft and corruption in the military, the Senate blue ribbon also investigated other controversial cases like the alleged anomalous purchase of overpriced, second-hand helicopters of the Philippine National Police in 2009 and the elections cheating in 2004 and 2007.

The Senate blue ribbon committee has endorsed to the Office of the Ombudsman a copy of the report containing the summary of the Senate inquiry. which finds former First Gentleman Arroyo and several PNP members liable for violation of Anti-Graft and Corruption Practices Act.

With Senate committee on banks, the Senate blue ribbon panel is also investigating the so-called behest loans amounting to P660-million that the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) gave former Trade Minister Roberto Ongpin to buy 50 million Philex shares at P12.75 each which he then sold to businessman Manny V. Pangilinan at P21 per share.

Senator Panfilo Lacson also grabbed the limelight in 2011 when he returned to work after more than one year of hiding outside the country for his implication in the killing of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in November 2000.

Lacson, one of the staunch critics of former President Arroyo and former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, accused the former administration of using the Dacer-Corobito case to send him in jail.

Lacson resurfaced last March after the Court of Appeals lifted the warrant of arrest and dismissed the case against him in connection with the Dacer-Corbito double murder.

On the final session day of the Senate last March 14, the Senate convened as impeachment court to embattled Supreme Court (SC) chief Justice Renato Corona, who was impeached by the House of Representatives for betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the Constitution and alleged graft and corruption.

Unlike Gutierrez, Corona, however, vowed to face his detractors in the Senate impeachment trial even as he sought for “outright dismissal” of the impeachment complaint filed against him by the House of Representatives.

Corona’s lawyers claimed the impeachment complaint does not have any basis and is borne out of the “bias against [Corona] and the predisposition to destroy him by associating him with the unpopular former President Arroyo and by misinterpreting his concurrence to certain Supreme Court decisions as protecting former President Arroyo.”

”More serious and challenging work lies ahead when we welcome the new year. The Senate will then have to be convened as an impeachment court, pursuant to our mandate under Article XI of the Constitution, to act on the said complaint transmitted to us. We will be more than ready to do so when we convene in January next year,” Enrile said.

Despite the unforeseen events, the Senate has performed well in its legislative duty as it approved the ahead of time the General Appropriations Act of 2012 after long debates and periods of committee and individual amendments.

On Nov. 22, the proposed national budget was approved by the Senate on second and third readings, and on Nov. 29, it ratified the conference committee report on the proposed P1.816-trillion budget.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile commended his colleague for the early passage of the 2012 national budget which is “vital to the national development.”

”My distinguished colleagues, when we commenced the Second Regular Session last July, I challenged this Chamber to enact legislation that would improve the nation's fiscal and economic capabilities,” Enrile said in his adjournment speech last Dec. 14.

”Our passage of the proposed GAA for 2012 last month is even earlier than our last year's approval of the budget. Looking back, I can proudly say that our hard work for the past six months, especially the Senate's very early passage of the national budget for 2012, is our best gift to our people,” he said.

The intention to pass ahead of schedule the national budget showed no effect to the other measures, including the controversial Reproductive Health bill, one of the priority measures of the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

Senator Pia Cayetano did her job well in defending the bill in the ongoing plenary debates, vowing to work for its passage next year despite the upcoming impeachment trial that forced the Senate to do morning committee hearings and sessions to accommodate the impeachment trial in the afternoon.

”There are more Senate and House bills in stages of interpellations and amendments, one of which is Reproductive Health Bill. Let me just include them in a more comprehensive report which I will submit for the record. But I am very sure we can pass them on second and third reading when we resume sessions next year,” Enrile said.

During the second regular session that started last July, the Senate approved on third and final reading Senate Bill 2869 prescribing fixed terms for the Chief of Staff of the major service commanders of the AFP; SB 2946 conferring upon members of the Sangguniang Bayan, Sangguniang Panlungsod, and Sangguniang Panlalawigan, the appropriate civil service eligibility under certain circumstances; SB 2486 or an Act to strengthen and propagate Foster Care for Abused, Abandoned, Neglected and Other Children with special needs; and, SB 2811, establishing the People's Survival Fund.

”Indeed, lawmaking is a painstaking task. For we, as legislators, do not aim to pass laws that will affect or influence not only this present generation but the coming generations as well. There is a saying that whatever we sow, we reap,” Enrile said.

Another bill pending in the conference committee is SB 2802 recognizing the Early Years from Zero (0) to Six (6) as the First Cycle of Educational Development and for this Purpose Strengthening the Early Childhood Care and Development Council, Renaming the Day Care Center as Child Development Center.
”Also, we concurred in the ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in August this year,” Enrile said.

This year, the senators hailed the election of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago as a judge in the ICC, making her the Filipino and a female judge from a developing Asian country to get elected to the prestigious international court.

In order to address specific concerns of our people and make committee work more efficient, the Senate amended its Rules and created a Committee on Electoral Reforms and People's Participation, and divided into two separate standing committees the Committee on Games, Amusement and Sports into the Committee on Games and Amusement, and the Committee on Amateur Sports Competitiveness.

Enrile promised to work hard despite persistent rumors of a move to unseat him as Senate President.

”I did not ask for this position. My colleagues gave it to me. I’m not clinging to this position. I more than willing to give it to those who wanted to take it,” Enrile said.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada as well as Lacson said the leadership of Enrile is strong, adding the Senate President enjoys the support of the majority.

By Jelly F. Musico




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