MANILA, Philippines – The resigned chief of staff of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Friday issued a public apology for calling Senator Alan Peter Cayetano and other senators "hypocrites."
Jessica "Gigi" Reyes, the chief of staff of Enrile who resigned from her post amid the spat between her boss and some senators, said she is sorry for calling Cayetano "hypocrite" in a recent radio DZMM interview.
"I profusely apologize to the Hon. Senator and Minority Floor Leader, Alan Peter Cayetano for my disrespectful and offensive statements and overbearing tenor as I was interviewed on DZMM Teleradyo last Monday, January 21, 2013," Reyes said in a statement.
"I committed an act of disrespect in referring to His Honor as 'Alan' and not addressing him properly as an elected Senator of the Republic. I do not mean this as an excuse for such unethical behaviour, but perhaps due to my long years of working in the Senate, almost all of 25 years, some of the younger Senators and I have come to call each other on a first-name basis. But that is when we are in private conversations. Therefore, it was highly inappropriate for me to refer to Senator Cayetano simply as 'Alan.'"
Reyes said she made the remark after Cayetano continued to criticize her boss for not giving 4 senators P1.6 million each in additional funds. She noted that Cayetano had previously received checks from the Office of the Senate President but never returned them.
"I therefore found his remarks that these were questionable and irregular very puzzling and yes, hypocritical. I really ought to have kept that feeling to myself," she said.
The resigned aide said she committed "an act of disrespect" and "a serious ethical breach" when she said "they are hypocrites" against senators who are criticizing her boss.
She clarified that Enrile did not give her any order to give such statements.
"I had no right to speak ill of any Senator while I served in the Senate. To be sure, I never once thought of myself as their EQUAL. I was also expected to do as I preached to the other staff members of the Senate- that we must accord all of the Senators the respect due them, regardless of disagreements, personal or otherwise, among our principals," she said.
"While I have practiced and kept this in mind all these years, last Monday, I was carried away by my emotions and for that, I sincerely apologize to Senator Alan Cayetano, to the rest of the Senators, and the listening public whose sensibilities I had offended."
The Cayetano-Reyes tiff stemmed from the Senate President's release of P1.6 million as additional "maintenance and other operating expenditures" (MOOE) to 18 colleagues from "savings" of the chamber in 2012, excluding the young senator and his sister Pia, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Antonio Trillanes IV.
Enrile only released P250,000 to the four senators. Prior to this, all senators had received P600,000 in November as the first tranche of the total P2.2 million MOOE. Santiago, and later on Cayetano, questioned the distribution of funds and tagged them as "cash gifts" from Enrile.
In her DZMM interview, Reyes called Cayetano a hypocrite for not returning, unlike Santiago, the additional funds of P250,000 he received last year.
No illicit affair, special privileges
Reyes also defended the supposed "special privileges" being accorded to her in the Senate. This, after Cayetano noted her alleged clout in the Upper Chamber.
She belied Cayetano's claim that nobody can go directly to Enrile unless they pass through her or her brother. She said she does not remember ever keeping Cayetano's chief of staff waiting and unattended to. She said the chiefs of staff of Senators Cayetano and Trillanes always go directly to the Senate President despite his busy schedule.
"I am now being derisively called "the 25th Senator"- that used to be just a joke from some Senators every time they would kindly offer me to take a seat in meetings and caucuses. I never harboured any illusion or delusion that I am or will ever be their equal. I have tried to serve all of them and accommodate their needs and requests to the best of my ability and within the authority given by the Senate President, and ALWAYS in consultation with the Senate Secretariat officials," she said.
"I wish to disabuse the minds of the public that I enjoy any special privilege as the Senate President's Chief of Staff. I only go to the Senators Lounge when and as needed by the Senate President, or when I am called by the other Senators. I do not butt in when the Senators are discussing in caucus, and I am not the only non-Senator present at these caucuses. I speak only when I am asked to give information or my inputs, and always respectfully."
Enrile did not accept the resignation of Reyes, saying he needs her in doing his functions as the Senate President. This is amid rumors that the two had an illicit affair.
Reyes said her resignation is irrevocable.
"The Senate President, as he explained before, is suffering from both vision and hearing impairment. I, together with my legislative staff and his aide, assist him just to make things a bit easy for our boss who is almost 89 years old with age-related macular degeneration and high blood pressure problems. Most of the time, the Senators themselves call me to go down when they see that the Senate President is not feeling well," she said.
"My resignation is also due to an honest difference of opinion with my principal, the Hon. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, on how to respond to all these mad and baseless accusations of public fund misuse."
She also lamented that only a "handful" of senators in the majority spoke up on the issue and defended the Senate President.
She said she had a serious disagreement with Senate Secretary Emma Lirio Reyes, over the latter's refusal to state the name of the Minority Leader as the one calling for a private audit of the Senate's funds in the press statement that Enrile asked her to prepare detailing the Senate's budget so that the public can be enlightened.
She also scored Senator Trillanes for saying that the Enrile might use the funds of the Senate for the campaign of the United Nationalist Alliance.
Answering allegations of an illicit affair with Enrile, Reyes said: "It may be wishful thinking, but I still wish that the Senate President's family and my own family could be spared from the hurt brought about by malicious insinuations and imputations regarding my personal relationship with the Senate President- just to whet and feed the public's appetite for gossip, to gain political points, and to inflict more pain as if the pain and ugliness we have all witnessed and suffered were not already enough.
"My family, especially my mother and my children, continue to suffer in silence the horrible and distasteful comments they read and hear about me in the media and all over the internet."
'Enrile almost resigned irrevocably'
Reyes also revealed that she had prepared a January 23 speech announcing Enrile's irrevocable resignation, but decided against using it to avoid "falling into the trap laid by his (Enrile) detractors."
This was after Enrile, on January 21, made a motion to vacate his position, a move that was rejected overwhelmingly by his colleagues.
"Perhaps, if Senator Cayetano stuck to the real issue, Sen. Trillanes would be really happy by now as he would not have to sweat it out just to unseat the Senate President," she said.
Reyes said the undelivered January 23 speech also contained the supposed answers to the nagging questions surrounding the Senate's finances, particularly the nearly P600 million MOOE funds.
Reyes said Enrile decided against using the speech in order not to put the Senate in bad light, since it would detail senators' financial requests.
In her apology, Reyes explained that being Enrile's chief of staff, she was designated signatory of the Land Bank checking account of the "Office of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile". This explains why she was the one who signed the checks for P250,000.
" This is also the same practice adopted by other Senators who have chosen to designate their check signatories for their offices' accounts," she said.
Why Reyes bears grudge vs Cayetano
In a privilege speech on Wednesday, Cayetano said he had long been maligned by Enrile and Reyes whom he accused of having a personal grudge against him. He said both Enrile and Reyes are close to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her husband, Mike Arroyo.
The senator said Enrile always defended Mrs. Arroyo when her projects were the subject of investigation by the Senate blue ribbon committee, which Cayetano headed.
Cayetano said Reyes took away an office reserved for the Senate minority leader and refused to face his chief of staff.
He also noted that Reyes took away 2 technical staff assigned to his office due to a mere "report" that they were allegedly being assigned to Taguig, and not the Senate minority leader's office.
The lawmaker said 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 said it was Reyes who signed several memos that did not allow the disbursement of additional MOOE funds to 4 senators.
The senator 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
Click here for the full text of Gigi Reyes' public apology