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Monday, May 04, 2009

Opening Statement of the Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile

Opening Statement of the Senate President

Hon. Juan Ponce Enrile

Chairman, Committee of the Whole

May 4, 2009, Monday, 8:00am


To place this morning's proceedings in the proper perspective, please allow the Chair to read into the Record of this Committee a brief background of the events which led to the convening of this Committee of the Whole.


On October 8, 2008, Proposed Senate Resolution No. 706, filed by Sen. Maria Ana Consuelo Madrigal, was referred to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges.  Submitted together with the resolution was a verified complaint-affidavit executed by the same Sen. against Sen. Manuel B. Villar, Jr. for "unconstitutional and unethical conduct highly unbecoming of a member of the Senate."


There was a reorganization of the Ethics Committee on  November 24, 2008 with the election of Sen. Panfilo Lacson, as Chairman, and four (4) members nominated by the Majority, namely, Sen. Richard Gordon as Vice Chairman, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, Sen. Loren Legarda, and Sen. Manuel Roxas.  To this date, however, the Minority has not, and has continuously refused to nominate its members who are supposed to represent the Minority in the said Committee.


On April 15, 2009, the Committee on Ethics and Privileges conducted a hearing on Proposed Senate Resolution No. 706, among other matters in their agenda.  During the session on the same day, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano took the floor to call attention to the alleged premature preparation and circulation for signature by members of the Ethics Committee of an Order directing Sen. Villar to respond to the complaint filed against him, which the Committee found to be sufficient in form and substance.  Sen. Cayetano further claimed that this act was in violation of the very Rules of the Ethics Committee.


In the ensuing debates on the matter, objections were likewise raised by the Minority Floor Leader with respect to the chairmanship and membership of the Ethics Committee.  The Minority Leader submitted:


a.)    That Sen. Lacson should inhibit himself from chairing the Committee on Ethics and Privileges;

b.)    That the Ethics Committee should be revamped to rid it of so-called "presidentiables" or presidential aspirants.


On April 27, 2009, towards the end of the privilege speech of Sen. Lacson clarifying "certain misleading statements made…in connection with the ethics complaint against a Member of this Chamber", the chair of the Ethics Committee moved for the following:


1)     That "the responsibility of the Committee on Ethics and Privileges pertinent to the case filed by Sen. Madrigal against Sen. Villar, Jr. be henceforth undertaken by all of us in the Senate, acting as a Committee of the Whole;"


2)     That  "the Senate President be the presiding officer of the Committee of the whole;"


3)     That "the proceedings be in accordance with the Rules of the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, as published in the Official Gazette last March 23, 2009."


This inquiry therefore is now being called pursuant to the above-mentioned motion of Sen. Lacson, which was approved by the Senate during its session of April 27, 2009.


I appeal to all my colleagues to exercise the civility, courtesy and sobriety expected of us as Senators. Let us act with strict adherence to the Rules to ensure that we respect the rights of both the accuser and the accused to be heard, to present their charges, evidence, rebuttals and defences, as well as the right of each member of this Committee to equal opportunity in participating in this process.

The Chair is far from impervious to the sensitivity of the task at hand. The sensitivity and gravity of the legal and moral responsibility we now carry, to sit in judgment of the conduct of our own colleague in this Chamber, is an responsibility which none of us, I am sure would take lightly nor comfortably. It is a duty, therefore, that exacts from us, and especially Chair, the utmost sense of fairness and impartiality.

As Chair of this committee of the Whole, I wish to convey my assurance, on my Oath as a Senator of the Republic and as Senate President, that I will do my part in performing this delicate task to see to it that justice is served, whatever the final outcome or verdict may be.

It is our duty to preserve the institutional credibility of this august Chamber and to show to the people who elected us into office that we will not shirk from the responsibility, no matter how painful it is, to call on any of our peers to account for his or her own acts when such is questioned on ethical grounds. It is our duty as well to give our colleague the full opportunity to defend himself and clear  his name and his integrity of any cloud of doubt resulting from the charges against him.

Any controversy or issue that merits a charge against any senator, if not judiciously and expeditiously resolved, taints the credibility and integrity not only of the member charged, but the entire Senate as well.

At this juncture, I will call on my Atty. Johnmuel D. Mendoza, legal counsel of the Committee of the Whole, to make a presentation on the procedure which this Committee will follow based on the Rules.

Thank you.


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