MANILA, Philippines - The word war between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, which has turned personal, has put the Senate on the losing end.
This is how Sen. Panfilo Lacson feels about the two senators' heated exchange on the Senate floor on Wednesday, when issues such as the debt of Cayetano's late father were brought up.
"The Senate is the loser. Nobody is the winner," Lacson told reporters on Thursday.
He said it would not be surprising if the public currently has a low regard for the Senate and its members.
"I don't know when we will be able to struggle back again para magkaroon ng trust uli yung ating mga kababayan," Lacson added. "Let's face it. Our well-being whether as an institution or individual senators largely depends on public perception, on our image."
The senator blamed Sen. Miriam Santiago for starting the controversy, which led to the events this week. Santiago criticized Enrile for distributing the Senate's savings to other senators allegedly as "cash gifts," although the Senate President had said it was for additional maintenance and other operating expenses.
On Monday, Enrile offered to resign but was overruled by a majority of senators. He lashed out at his critics, particularly the members of the minority, who then fired back at him at once.
"The moment Sen. Santiago started a sustained attack on the Senate and the senators, I knew the Senate would implode," Lacson said. "I could see it coming."
Lacson backs COA audit
Asked how the Senate could regain the people's trust and confidence, Lacson said it could be done if the chamber opens itself to an audit, the same proposal pushed by Senator Cayetano.
Unlike Cayetano, however, Lacson does not think a private auditing firm should do the job because of the cost of paying for one.
He believes the Commission on Audit (COA), the official government auditor, can conduct a "no-holds barred" check of the Senate's expenses.
Ping defends Gigi Reyes
Meanwhile, Lacson sees nothing wrong with Enrile's chief of staff joining closed-door caucuses and signing checks on Enrile's behalf.
Lacson said Atty. Jessica "Gigi" Reyes, who also figured in a word war with Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, can sign checks as long as Enrile authorized her.
"Kung upon instruction ni Senate President, the buck should stop on the Senate President," he said.
Lacson also explained that although only senators are allowed inside the senators' lounge during caucuses or executive sessions, the rule is not a hard and fast rule.
He said that aside from Reyes, other Senate officials like Senate Secretary Emma Lirio-Reyes and members of committee secretariats are sometimes invited to caucuses.
"May mga pagkakaton na 'yong mga senators nangangailangan din ng materials at resource persons kasi hindi naman namin alam lahat ang mga issues. Eh sila ang may hawak ng mga dokumento at sila rin ang nakakaalam ng ibang details. We have to consult them," Lacson said.
He added, however, that aside from the Senate President, very seldom do other senators allow their staff to join or even just observe closed-door meetings.
In his privilege speech on Wednesday, Cayetano took a swipe at Reyes for calling him a hypocrite. He said Reyes seems to be running the Senate with Enrile because of her presence at senators’ caucuses and authority to sign checks from the Office of the Senate President.