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MANILA, Philippines – Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said Monday that she heeded the supposed advice of actress Heart Evangelista, her “surrogate” daughter, not to attend the Senate sessions to protect her health. At the same time, however, the senator admitted it was a form of revenge for the no-show of most colleagues, except for two, at the controversial hearing she called motu propio last Friday on resigned DILG Undersecretary Rico E. Puno.
In an apparent playful mood, Santiago said earlier Monday she is avoiding going to the Senate so as not to be exposed to stress that might push up her blood pressure.
“Heart Evangelista called me early today to say that I should no longer go to the Senate if I will only lose my temper,” Santiago said, laughing.
She said she received a similar request from her only surviving child, Archie Santiago.
“Last Saturday evening, my son invited my husband and me to dinner at Greenhills. It turned out that he brought his entire family, including my grandkids so that they could all admonish me not to jeopardize my health. So I am under interdiction,” she said.
Santiago said she will be absent this week, to show that she resents the “snub” shown to her during her committee hearing last Friday.
‘Tit for tat: they snub me, I snub them’
“Tit for tat. If they snub my hearing, I will snub their session,” Santiago said.
However, Senators Edgardo Angara and Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III denied there was a conspiracy between the Senate and Malacanang to snub the hearing on Puno last Friday.
They echoed the assertion made by Sen. Panfilo Lacson---who earlier admonished Sanago to simply follow Senate rules on the holding of inquiries---that framing the senators’ absence from her hearing as the result of calls from Malacanang smacked of an “insult” to the senators.
Lacson said Sunday it was unfair of her to simply paint her peers as Palace stooges sans any proof, considering the hearing was called on short notice and questions were raised because she called an inquiry motu propio---without any privilege speech or any referral, as is the practice.
Even if he wanted to attend the hearing, Lacson added, he and Sen. Gregorio Honasan had a commitment to the PNP Foundation which had an out-of-town event that had been set months ago.
Despite the questions over Senate rules, Santiago pushed through with the hearing, which mustered a quorum with the appearance of Sens. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Alan Peter Cayetano. Santiago said she had asked the two senators to attend her hearing, but in a radio interview on Sunday, she said they attended because, after all, the hearing was aired live on national television and “they are reelectionists.”
On Monday, other senators also took issue with Santiago’s having painted them as Palace stooges for not attending her hearing.
“I am not in the country, I just arrived---how I can attend the hearing? But If I were here in the country, I’d certainly attend the hearing,” said Angara, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws that Santiago chairs.
For his part, Sotto, ex-officio member of the committee, said there was no conspiracy to snub Santiago’s hearing since two senators attended to constitute a quorum.
“Hindi ako makaka-attend, eh. Kahit ano pa ang katuwiran ng kahit sino. Meron ka na bang nakitang hearing dito na humigit sa dalawa ang dumalo? Kaya walang snub,” Sotto said.
Sotto added that any decision by Santiago to snub the last session days before the break on Monday is “her call” because as long as there is a quorum, the functions of the Senate will continue.
“We don’t have to name names as long as we have 13 (senators), we don’t care who is present or absent, as long as we have a quorum,” Sotto explained.
Santiago said it was obvious that there was a conspiracy between the Cabinet and certain senators, because in the excuse letter sent by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, he raised exactly the same questions raised by certain senators about the legality of Santiago’s committee hearing.
“The Malacañang letter raises the issue of a lack of resolution passed by the plenary session. This is exactly the same issue raised by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Panfilo Lacson. I have already pointed out, for their education, that several provisions in the Senate Rules and the Senate rules concerning inquiries in aid of legislation strongly imply that there is no need for a formal resolution, if the committee has competent jurisdiction,” she said.