MANILA— A Senate panel on Thursday kicked out PDP-Laban Secretary-General Melvin Matibag from a hearing for raising his voice and calling the proceedings political.
This, after he was questioned for his supposed links with "syndicates" running in the Department of Energy (DOE). Lawmakers from the other PDP-Laban faction, Senator Manny Pacquiao and Aquilino Pimentel III, were present at the hearing.
The Senate Finance Subcommittee was questioning Matibag, head of the National Transmission Corporation (TransCo), for his alleged connections with the Independent Electricity Market Operator of the Philippines (EIMOP).
Pacquiao said EIMOP is also behind operations of the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) that is supposedly responsible for "hidden charges" when it comes to electricity bills.
Pacquiao and Matibag, officials of rival PDP-Laban factions, are currently locked in a powerplay for the party's control amid the upcoming national elections.
Matibag's faction is led by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, who defended EIMOP's role in his agency's market operations at the Senate hearing.
"EIMOP is not part of DOE budget... As I have said, yes, EIMOP has the experience. The people of EIMOP has the accumulated experience to do the market operations, and they did it in accordance to the EPIRA Law, we follow the article of incorporation and by-laws were followed and it was done by election, by the industry stakeholders," Cusi explained during the hearing.
EIMOP was established by the DOE in 2018.
Because his name was dragged at the hearing, Matibag, who attended virtually, asked permission to explain his side and accused Pacquiao of politicizing the proceedings.
"Alam niyo let's call a spade a spade dito sa hearing na ito... This is all political Sen. Pacquiao, alam naman natin ito. Ito 'yung pinapasabi mo noong bago ka umalis eh. Noong umalis ka na sinasabi mo meron kang pasabog… 'wag tayong magmalinis dito," he explained.
(Let's call a spade a spade in this hearing... This is all political Sen. Pacquiao, we all know this. This is what you've were saying before you left. When you left you said you had a bombshell... Let's not pretend here.)
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the committee, did not like Matibag's response and manner of speaking.
The lawmaker said Matibag was out of order and had him removed from the hybrid hearing.
"This is my committee. and you have no right to call this hearing a political hearing. This is a budget hearing. The senators are entitled to ask policy questions... so you have no right to call this a political hearing," Gatchalian said, as Matibag continued to try to speak over a muted mic.
"You are out of order. You are no longer recognized. We’ve given you a chance to answer the policy question but instead, you insulted this committee by calling this a political hearing?" said Gatchalian.
In a statement, Matibag apologized to the public for his temperament and said he respects the Senate.
He also described the hearing as "unfair."
"I truly respect the Senate of the Philippines as an institution. However, in recent months, Senator Manny Pacquiao and his political allies has (sic) been using the Senate as an apparatus to spew out propaganda to paint us black and hide under the cover of parliamentary immunity to make sure they can’t be held accountable for the misinformation that they foment," Matibag said.
He also said he "has never transacted with" the firms in the energy sector.
"Senator Manny Pacquiao was allowed to make a presentation which appeared to associate my name in alleged corruption in private corporations in the energy sector of which TransCo, the government corporation I head, has never transacted with," he added.
Pacquiao had fallen out with the ruling party after he was appointed as party president without the knowledge of President Rodrigo Duterte, the party's chairman then, according to Cusi.
Pacquiao was supposedly ousted as acting president of PDP-Laban following the election of Cusi, the party's vice chair, during the ruling party's national assembly in Pampanga in July.
Once a close ally, Pacquiao had criticized Duterte over the last few months for the latter's stand on the West Philippine Sea and alleged corruption in government.
The Comelec has yet to resolve the factions' battle for control of PDP-Laban.
— reports from Robert Mano and Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News