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MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Sunday brushed aside a new threat to oust him from the third highest position in the land for allegedly delaying the passage of the Reproductive Health bill. He also admitted returning the Christmas gift sent by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
“I’m at the disposal of my fellow senators. I have no Torrens title for the position. Kung may numero sila, ako (naman) ay magpapahinga, walang problema doon (If they have the numbers, I will simply rest, there’s no problem there),” Enrile said in a radio interview.
Earlier, Santiago hinted that Enrile will be ousted from the Senate presidency for his un-parliamentary and unethical action of returning her gifts.
“It is not personal, nabasa ko nga ang istorya, totoo iyon, na ipinasoli ko ang regalo (I read the story, it’s true, I had the gift returned),” Enrile said.
But said he returned the gift because he wouldn't accept a present from someone who does not consider him a friend and with whom he has a “cold as ice” relationship.
“First, if you remember, she said our relationship is ice cold. She was reminded that I am her godfather, but she said I was only her godfather as a matter of status. Meaning, she does not consider me a friend or someone close to her,” he said in Filipino.
“That’s why when I got her gift, I did not open it and saw there was a card addressed to me from Miriam. Every year, as senator, our staff does that for us, at least in my experience, so when I thought her staff made a mistake, I had it returned,” he said.
Enrile added that if Santiago considered him a close friend, she should have written him a personal note.
“There was no ‘Dear Ninong.’ If she does not consider us close friends, then I won’t force myself on her. I am used to being alone. Why should I get a gift from someone who’s not close to me,” Enrile said.
Rocky relationship history
Enrile said Santiago applied to be his assistant when he was justice secretary during Marcos’ time. He said that even while her Bar grades were low, he accepted her because he academic records were good.
Later, when she got married, Santiago asked him to be a godfather at her wedding.
“Maybe she got me because I was popular then, and I was close to, and a member, of that slightly notorious administration,” he said in Filipino.
However, Enrile denied that he tried to persuade Santiago to be his running mate in the 1992 presidential election, where Fidel Ramos won.
Santiago ran under her own party, People’s Reform Party (PRP), while Enrile was supposed to run under the Nacionalista Party (NP) but later withdrew.
“I never convinced anyone to run with me in 1992, no way. Maybe Boy Reyno talked to her. I never talked to anybody to run as my vice president. I withdrew because the Nacionalista Party was fragmented. They did not want to hold a convention. What was the reason for me to look for a vice president when I was not even sure I was going to run for president?” he said.
“It did not happen. I did not even know that she would run for president. How would I know? How can I talk to her to become my vice president when I opposed her confirmation as agrarian reform secretary?” Enrile added.
The Senate president said he opposed Santiago’s confirmation then because she refused to return the Toyota sports car owned by Pots Trinidad, former vice president of Philippine National Bank (PNB).
“I talked to Vic Abad Santos to talk to her,” he said.
Enrile also said he accepted Santiago’s membership in the Senate majority, even when she did not vote for him for the Senate presidency, at the behest of Senator Manny Villar.
He said he tried talking to Santiago many times in 2008, when he was eyeing the Senate presidency, but she had been evasive.
“I called her at her house and they would say she went to church. When I called again, they said she’s resting. I asked Jun (Santiago’s husband) if I could talk to her, he told me she’s resting,” Enrile said in Filipino.
Even with all these, Enrile said he does not hold a grudge against Santiago.
“Hindi ko siya hate. Hindi naman ako nagtatanim ng masamang kalooban kahit kanino, pero kung hindi ako gusto ng isang tao, hindi ko pinipilit ang aking sarili (I don’t hate her. I do not hold any grudge against anybody, but if the person does not like me, I do not force myself on that person),” he said.
On the gift he returned, he said there’s nothing unparliamentary or unethical with his action. He said people have the right to refuse gifts or friendships.
“Hayaan mo na lamang iyon. At kung inaakala niya na nainsulto siya o iniinsulto ko siya, problema na nya iyon. Alam nya ang gagawin nya, puwede nya akong idemanda sa ethics (Let it be, and if she thinks she’s insulted or I insulted her, that’s her problem. She knows what she can do, she can bring me before the ethics committee).”
“Walang dishonor doon eh. Kung ayaw kong tumanggap ng regalo ninuman, o ayaw kong maging kaibigan sinuman, eh bakit ipipilit nila na tatanggapin ko sila na kaibigan (There’s no dishonor there. If I don’t want to accept someone’s gift or be someone’s friend, why would they force me to become their friend),” he said.