MANILA – Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano on Wednesday again called for an independent audit of the Senate’s finances amid a continuing word war between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and his critics in the upper house.
In a privilege speech, Cayetano again urged Enrile to allow private auditing firms to look at the finances of the Senate after the latter was attacked for giving P1.6 million each to 18 senators last December and P250,000 to 4 senators.
In response, Enrile said he poses no objection to any independent body “that will investigate this Senate not only the Office of the Senate President but the entire Senate because I believe the Senate is a single office headed by a Senate President although it is divided by committees.”
In his speech, Cayetano said he wanted an investigation on nearly P600 million in discretionary funds allegedly used by Enrile and his office.
“I was told a big part of this is liquidated by certification. Is it P100 million? Is it P200 million? Is it P300 million? The people have the right to demand of all of us an accounting of every single peso of taxpayers’ money entrusted to us,” he said.
He added: “Hindi natin tinatantanan ang korupsyon kaya hindi tayo dapat mabahiran din ng korupsyon. We cannot survive and continue under a cloud of doubt.”
Cayetano said he had tried to keep silent on the issue, shunning media interviews and even defending the senators’ practice of using certifications to liquidate funds given to their office. He said that as a member of the minority for nearly 4 years, he is used to not getting funds from the Senate leadership.
He said he decided to speak up when Enrile and his chief of staff, Gigi Reyes, started attacking him and his sister, Sen. Pia Cayetano, in media interviews and press statements.
Cayetano accused Enrile and Reyes of bearing a grudge against him, noting that the root of the enmity is personal.
“Bakit ba kayo galit sa akin personally? Sapagkat napakalapit niyo ni Atty. Gigi kay dating Pangulong GMA at First Gentleman Arroyo. Kasama naman talaga kayo nun di ba sa planning group,” he said.
He also said that Reyes’ best friend is the wife of Associate Justice Dante Tinga, who is the political nemesis of Cayetano’s wife, Lani, in the mayoral race of Taguig.
He said Reyes’ sister-in-law is a councilor of Taguig and is the number one critic of Mayor Cayetano.
Cayetano also pointed out that Reyes is allowed to join the senators’ caucuses, which other chiefs of staff are barred from doing.
“We allow her not just to join but to speak when there is a caucus. She can freely discuss with the senators as if she is also a senator. Tinanggap ko po yun. We all accepted it out of courtesy and respect,” he said.
He said that from the very start, Reyes refused to give him a small office reserved for the Senate minority leader. He said Reyes also refused to talk to his chief of staff.
He said Enrile also would not give him some committees despite an earlier agreement.
Cayetano particularly attacked Reyes for calling senators “hypocrites” for complaining that they did not get additional funds from Enrile.
“This is the first time that a chief of staff of a senator had the gall to call a senator a hypocrite. Ito na ba ang bagong asal sa Senado under the Enrile Senate presidency?” he asked.
He noted that under the Arroyo presidency, he was refused nearly P1 billion in pork barrel because of his stand against the president. “And now, for a paltry P1.6 million pinapalabas ni Mam Gigi na mukhang pera kami,” he said.
He also said that when he was chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, he was told many times he could have earned P100 million- P200 million if he had made things harder for some businessmen who were facing investigation.
He also noted that his wife’s intel fund of P5 million remains intact.
Cayetano said it was Reyes who signed several memos that did not allow the disbursement of additional MOOE funds to 4 senators.
He also castigated Reyes for recalling two of his technical staff members back to the Senate secretariat. He said the usual practice in the Senate is that assignments are renewed by a simple phone call.
The senator noted that in Reyes’ media interview, the chief of staff said Enrile decided to recall Cayetano’s staff because of a report that they were doing work in Taguig.
Cayetano said the “report” could have been verified by checking the CCTV footage in the Senate.
He admitted though that he has projects in Taguig, which necessitates that he send staff members there. “I also have projects in Cebu and I send staff there. Is that bad?”