MANILA, Philippines - Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano maintained last night that it was not presidential ambition that prompted him to raise issues before the media about the pork barrel scam but his fight against corruption.
Cayetano challenged to a debate Sen. Jinggoy Estrada after the latter’s privilege speech insinuated that some senators with presidential ambition were taking advantage of the plight of their colleagues implicated in the pork barrel controversy.
“Let me start out by saying that this is not about Senator Jinggoy, this is not about Senator Cayetano. This is about the people’s money. Yung buong institution natin nadudurog, ang pagtingin ng tao ay nadududorg dahil ang tingin nila kung sino pang nagbabantay sa pera ng bayan ay nagbabantay salakay. (Our whole institution is crushed because people think that those who are supposed to guard their money are the ones stealing it),” Cayetano said.
Initially, Cayetano even joked about Estrada’s claims that he seemed envious of Technology Resource Center’s Dennis Cunanan for having a generous brother who loaned him the multimillion-peso worth house in White Plains, Quezon City.
Cayetano took the floor even if Estrada did not name names in his privilege speech.
Since he felt alluded to, Cayetano sought the permission of Senate President Franklin Drilon that he be allowed to speak.
“Obviously, the gentleman was referring to me and the tradition of the Senate is if the accused is a fellow member or you name him or even a blind item, obviously it was him, he should be given the opportunity to reply. If we suspend now, I would not be given opportunity to reply. I beg indulgence,” he said.
Cayetano at once objected to the recommendation of Sen. Vicente Sotto III to suspend proceedings after Estrada’s speech.
Drilon suspended the session temporarily for five minutes to allow Estrada to take a break.
When session resumed, Estrada and Cayetano exchanged words.
Estrada recalled their conflict earlier this year that led to an all senators’ caucus.
Cayetano insisted there should be no double standard in the way the Senate handles public hearings whether it be about the senators implicated in the scam or hearings on the Carlos Garcia case.
He referred to the Garcia case where Estrada sought questions on the retired military general’s properties here and abroad and those of then military comptroller Jacinto Ligot and the late defense chief Angelo Reyes.
Reyes committed suicide at the height of the Senate’s probe on supposed tradition of “pabaon” (sendoff money) at the military.
Estrada pointed out that he did not show any disrespect to any resource person at the Senate, adding that the past hearings were in aid of legislation and not in aid of persecution.
Prior to this, Estrada found it unfair that his colleagues had prejudged him.
“This is a glaring proof and an undeniable confirmation that he is just using this PDAF controversy to advance his own political agenda,” said Estrada.
In his speech, Estrada also slammed Cayetano for suggesting the creation of a special division of the Sandiganbayan to try the plunder complaints against him, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Bong Revilla.
The three senators are facing plunder complaint before the Ombudsman for supposedly funneling their pork barrel to fake non-government organizations linked to alleged pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.
“It is unfortunate that some senators have been using the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing on the PDAF to advance their own political agenda. They even participate in the trial by publicity by making irrresposnbi8le statements and unfounded conclusions,” he said.
Cayetano replied that the three accused senators were given all the chances to defend themselves by attending the hearing.
“Anytime, if they want to speak here. But they only speak lately. So the first question I would like to ask the gentleman from San Juan is – Did we ever treat you differently from how you treated the witnesses in the committees when you were asking them — ex-Gen. Reyes, Ligot… the witnesses in the VFA hearing when our OFWs were raped?” he said.
Cayetano said he was merely doing his job as senator and wanted the truth to come out. But he still considers Estrada a friend, he said.
“If I attend the hearing Blue Ribbon (hearing) and face witnesses against me, do you see that if they lie, can I cite them in contempt?” Estrada said.
“No, people will accused me of bullying the witnesses because I myself am involved in the so-called PDAF scam,” he said.