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MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 7:35PM) Despite the threat of being ousted as Senate president, Juan Ponce Enrile on Monday remained steadfast in his stand against the Reproductive Health (RH) bill. "I have to beg off. I am not impeding, I have only one vote, I will render a negative vote," Enrile said in an interview before the session began.
This, as Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a supporter of the RH bill, rebuked colleagues for saying Enfrile could be ousted on teh basis of his RH bill position, stressing that as far as he is concerned, Enrile has been effectyive as Senate president and should stay on.
Lacson also does not see the 13 votes emerging to oust Enrile, even if the Liberal Party and the Nacionalista Party were to close ranks for the purpose of ousting Enrile.
According to Enrile, his vote against the RH bill isn't anchored on moral and religous grounds but on studies in other countries that implemented reproductive health measures.
“I don’t think I will change my mind because I think it (RH) will affect the future of the country. I am not basing my decision on this particular bill on a moral ground or religious ground, although those are important to me, and I confess I am a Catholic, I am a Christian. I believe in my faith. But in my own mind, maybe I am wrong, that’s fine, that is my decision...Enrile said.
Earlier, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said Enrile's stand against the proposed measure might cost him the top Senate post especially with the full support that President Benigno Aquino III had thrown behind the bill's passage.
"Pwede talagang ma-oust si JPE [JPE can be ousted]. It's just a question of timing because hindi naman s'ya kapartido ng Presidente [he is not a party-mate of the President], he belongs to UNA [United Nationalist Alliance] ," said Santiago in a redio interview.
But Enrile is unperturbed. “I have no Torrens title on my position as Senate president... anytime, they can replace me if they don’t agree with me... and if they have the number to oust or unseat me,” he said.
Not delaying deliberations
The Senate president also dismissed allegations that he was delaying the bill's deliberation.
“They are saying that we are delaying, my God, it has been debated for a few times here, we even gave them their desires for interpellation,” Enrile said.
If asked by Aquino to support the bill, Enrile said he "will beg off respectfully."
"I think he (Aquino) will understand,” the senator said.
“I always supported programs of the administration that I thought are good for the country, but also I have my own mind, and I have my own notion on what will be good for the country and I think this one of course is not among them,” he said.
Lacson: RH not basis to oust Enrile
Expressing his full support for the Senate chief, Senator Lacson on Monday rebuked colleagues for virtually declaring as imminent the ouster of Enrile as Senate President over his unbending position against the Reproductive Health bill.
“I don’t think it’s reason enough to oust SP (senate president) Enrile. I am against him in the sin tax debate; I’m against him in the RH bill, but I would not vote for his ouster. I would still support his leadership,” Lacson said in an interview at the session hall.
Lacson weighed in on the issue even as Enrile told reporters earlier Monday he was unfazed by remarks of Sen. Miriam Santiago that, in her view, Palace allies were just waiting for the “right timing” to oust him for his staunch opposition to the RH bill, based, he said, on his knowledge of the law and his personal convictions.
Enrile had won widespread acclaim for able steering the Senate through the umultuous four and a half months of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, stamping the proceedings and debates on the most critical constitutional issues with his deep knowledge of the law, extensive experience and political skills.
Lacson explained that ousting a leader in the Senate is not just based on a particular measure that failed to pass in the plenary but on a combination of issues, including leadership.
“You don’t need an RH bill or any other bill for that matter, as basis to remove an SP. It’s a combination of so many issues, most particularly leadership. If in our view he is no longer fit to be leader, then he will be replaced. You shouldn’t use an RH bill as ground for removal,” Lacson further explained.
On Sunday, Senator Santiago said in a radio interview the Palace is waiting for the right timing to have Enrile ousted in a manner that is acceptable to the electorate, in order not to create a backlash against administration candidates in the upcoming elections.
“There’s a saying, one swallow doesn’t make a summer. If there are disagreements over some particular measures being discussed, that’s no ground to remove Enrile as leader of the Senate. Those salivating to remove him will always look for the numbers to do so, RH or no RH. If they have the numbers, they could remove him anytime,” Lacson said.
13 votes need to oust Enrile
Lacson said if the members of both the Liberal Party of the administration and the Nacionalista Party of Sen. Manny Villar close ranks on the leadership issue, they will have 12 votes, but short of one vote to oust Enrile.
“The numbers aren’t there. Talk of a coup only gets stirred up whenever one senator speaks up. But the question is always, are there 13 votes? I don’t think so. If the NP and LP unite there will be 12 votes,” Lacson said.
“So they have to fish for someone who is at large, to cast the 13th vote. If LP and NP can’t unite on this and no one gets the blessing to run the Senate, the coup won’t prosper. That matter has long been in the grapevine, [but nothing has happened]. That means they can’t agree on it,” he added.
Lacson said he is committed to support Enrile because ousting a Senate president is a question of leadership, and he (Enrile) handles the chamber well. Even employees can attest to that observation, he noted.
“I was among those who voted to install him in the first place, so I will be consistent. There’s no question about his leadership. He handles the Senate well, and employees will say they’re happy with SP JPE. So just one RH bill is not enough ground to remove him,” Lacson concluded.