'The Senate stinks': Gigi Reyes, JPE's resigned chief of staff, apologizes, rants
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NOTE: Below is the statement of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile's resigned chief of staff, lawyer Jessica "Gigi" Gonzales Reyes, on the ongoing controversy hounding the chamber. The statement was emailed Friday morning by the Senate Public Relations and Information Bureau.
I profusely apologize to the Hon. Senator and Minority Floor Leader, Alan Peter Cayetano for my disrespectful and offensive statements and overbearing tenor as I was interviewed on DZMM Teleradyo last Monday, January 21, 2013. In particular:
1. I committed an act of disrespect in referring to His Honor as “Alan” and not addressing him properly as an elected Senator of the Republic. I do not mean this as an excuse for such unethical behaviour, but perhaps due to my long years of working in the Senate, almost all of 25 years, some of the younger Senators and I have come to call each other on a first-name basis. But that is when we are in private conversations. Therefore, it was highly inappropriate for me to refer to Senator Cayetano simply as “Alan”.
2. More importantly, I committed a serious ethical breach in making the remark: “They are hypocrites”. I am sorry that I was driven by my emotional state, as the Senate President and I viewed and listened while Ms. Karen Davila and Mr. Vic Lima were obviously aghast and scandalized at Sen. Cayetano’s allegations, apparently believing them to be the whole truth about the disposition of the Senate’s budget.
3. While I had the permission of the Senate President to contact Ms. Karen Davila and to refute the allegations of Sen. Cayetano live and on the air, when Ms. Davila asked me for my last words and I said “They are hypocrites”, such was MY OWN spontaneous reaction and it was not sanctioned by the Senate President. Actually, I was reacting to Sen. Alan Cayetano because as I stated, he had received similar checks from the Office of the Senate President in previous Christmases, and at that time, only Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago had returned the equivalent amount of P250,000. I therefore found his remarks that these were questionable and irregular very puzzling and yes, hypocritical. I really ought to have kept that feeling to myself.
Last Wednesday, January 23, 2013, I tendered my irrevocable resignation to the Senate President effective on even date. By its nature, the same need not await the Senate President’s acceptance and I have given instructions for my own copy to be filed with the Senate Secretary, who I expect will immediately turn over the same to the Senate’s Human Resource and Management Service.
My resignation is but proper because of the rightful indignation of Sen. Cayetano and perhaps some of the other Senators. I had no right to speak ill of any Senator while I served in the Senate. To be sure, I never once thought of myself as their EQUAL. I was also expected to do as I preached to the other staff members of the Senate - that we must accord all of the Senators the respect due them, regardless of disagreements, personal or otherwise, among our principals. While I have practiced and kept this in mind all these years, last Monday, I was carried away by my emotions and for that, I sincerely apologize to Senator Alan Cayetano, to the rest of the Senators, and the listening public whose sensibilities I had offended.
I am now being derisively called “the 25th Senator”- that used to be just a joke from some Senators every time they would kindly offer me to take a seat in meetings and caucuses. I never harboured any illusion or delusion that I am or will ever be their equal. I have tried to serve all of them and accommodate their needs and requests to the best of my ability and within the authority given by the Senate President, and ALWAYS in consultation with the Senate Secretariat officials.
I wish to disabuse the minds of the public that I enjoy any special privilege as the Senate President’s Chief of Staff. I only go to the Senators Lounge when and as needed by the Senate President, or when I am called by the other Senators. I do not butt in when the Senators are discussing in caucus, and I am not the only non-Senator present at these caucuses. I speak only when I am asked to give information or my inputs, and always respectfully.
It is also a total lie that nobody can go directly to the Senate President unless they pass through me or my brother as Sen. Cayetano alleges. The Senate President and I have our hands full with people to meet, tasks to attend to, and my desk overflows with administrative work. I don’t remember when I ever kept Sen. Cayetano’s Chief of Staff waiting and unattended to. My brother’s job is actually to attend to the numerous requests for medical assistance. Yet many people, especially Sen. Alan Cayetano’s and Sen. Trillanes’ own Chiefs of Staff would rather approach him to relay requests addressed to me or the Senate President. That is much added burden to him. In that respect, being my brother has become more of a curse, and definitely not a perk to him.
I have had the honor and privilege of the personal friendship of some Senators and Congressmen in the course of my long years in the Senate, and to closely and freely interact with them. That, I consider, is one of the few rewards of an otherwise punishing and oftentimes thankless job. Yet, I never abused their kindness and friendship. I was therefore surprised when I heard Sen. Alan Cayetano say that I can go in and out of their offices. I have gone into Sen. Cayetano’s office only once, and that was to ask him for a chance for my niece who is an SK member in Taguig to pay a courtesy call to him. When Senators say they want to see me, I always offer to be the one to go to their offices. I never go to their offices uninvited. If I need to discuss any matter with any one of them, I ask first for permission to see them.
If Senator Alan Cayetano or the other Senators resent my presence at the lounge or at their caucuses, I am sorry for that as well. The Senate President, as he explained before, is suffering from both vision and hearing impairment. I, together with my legislative staff and his aide, assist him just to make things a bit easy for our boss who is almost 89 years old with age-related macular degeneration and high blood pressure problems. Most of the time, the Senators themselves call me to go down when they see that the Senate President is not feeling well.
As to my authority to sign checks, two of us in the staff were authorized in writing by the Senate President to sign the voluminous checks, payrolls and other administrative documents coming from the Secretariat on his behalf. This is not an unusual practice even with the past Senate Presidents. It is purely administrative, and I never signed any Senate check without first the signatures of the heads of the offices involved in the process of disbursement AND without the signature of the Senate Secretary.
I and my Deputy Chief of Staff, Atty. Carole Quirolgico, were also the designated signatories of the Land Bank checking account of the “Office of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile”. This is different from the Senate checks drawn against the Senate’s Land Bank account. Hence, I was the one who signed the checks for P250,000 each which were ordered by the Senate President to be prepared and given to all the Senators. This is also the same practice adopted by other Senators who have chosen to designate their check signatories for their offices’ accounts.
My resignation is also due to an honest difference of opinion with my principal, the Hon. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, on how to respond to all these mad and baseless accusations of public fund misuse.
I had prepared and submitted to him at noon of January 23, 2013 a detailed response to the allegation that more than P500M of the Senate’s budget is under the sole disposition of the Senate President and the insinuation that the Senate President is misusing or benefiting from such funds. I asked him to consider delivering it as a privilege speech after Sen. Cayetano’s speech.
The said amount of almost P600M actually represents the MOOE of the entire Senate Secretariat, and contrary to the allegations, all expenses charged to that account are covered by supporting documents and vouchers which are available for all in the Senate to see. In fact, these expenses pass through several departments before reaching the Secretary of the Senate who then submits them to the OSP for approval/signature. Senator Cayetano claimed that only the Office of the Senate President has access to these vouchers. That is not true.
The Senate President did not agree to deliver the speech, understandably concerned that with the prevailing howl over the media, the Senate and his colleagues may be unduly placed in a bad light- in particular, with respect to the budgets of the oversight committees that are locally funded by the Senate.
The draft speech also contained details of the delicate balancing act we have had to do just to accommodate many of the Senator’s requests - extra office space, hiring or promotion of their recommendees, detail of Senate personnel, and requests for additional travel funds. But the Senate President did not want to embarrass his colleagues. It also recalls the history of the current system of liquidation of the MOOE of the Senator’s offices and the Senate President’s own position, as relayed to the COA Chair, that he has no objection to reverting to the old system if the Senators and the House of Representatives agreed. Also, he had not yet consulted and gotten the consensus of his colleagues on the matter.
As it happened, Senator Alan Cayetano went on the attack, mainly aimed against me and my role as Chief of Staff, and insinuating something else on the side. As I watched the events on the floor from my monitor in the office, I saw that the Senate President was visibly angered - angered enough to fall into the trap of drawing him to the gutter, as he spontaneously drew out the document regarding the unpaid loan of the late Senator Rene Cayetano. That was very unfortunate indeed. But I also understand the depth of the Senate President’s personal hurt involving Senators Alan and Pia Cayetano which the public will never know and understand I guess. It is quite deeply rooted, and by the way, it is not related to the RH bill itself, much less, to local politics in Taguig.
THE DRAFT SPEECH I PREPARED ALSO CONTAINED A STATEMENT TOWARDS THE END THAT HE WAS RESIGNING IRREVOCABLY AS SENATE PRESIDENT, SOMETHING THAT HE HAD BEEN CONTEMPLATING SINCE MONDAY WHEN HIS MOTION TO DECLARE THE POSITION OF SENATE PRESIDENT VACANT WAS DEFEATED. Perhaps, if Senator Cayetano stuck to the real issue, Sen. Trillanes would be really happy by now as he would not have to sweat it out just to unseat the Senate President.
In my humble opinion, letting the public know the whole truth about the Senate’s and the Senators’ budgets would have more clearly shed light on the issues being heaped solely against the Senate President, and it would have settled the issue of his leadership once and for all. But the Senate President believed that to do so would be falling into the trap laid by his detractors. I thought otherwise.
I arrived at this purely personal conviction to convince the Senate President to resign irrevocably for several reasons:
It saddened me that only a handful of the Senators in the majority spoke up about the issue which, as things unravelled, already went beyond the unequal distribution of the additional MOOE. Not only was the exercise of discretion by the Senate President in question- it was the budget of the Senate itself. I had expected the other Senators not so much to defend their own leader, but to clarify, explain and defend their own honor and the honor of the Senate. The systematic disinformation and the malevolent attacks raged on, fuelled by Sen. Trillanes’ tireless pronouncements that a change in leadership was in the offing. I did not know what to make of the conspicuous silence of the other members of the majority. I grant that some of them just did not want to be embroiled in the fray.
I had a serious disagreement last Tuesday night with the Senate Secretary, Atty. Emma Lirio Reyes, over her refusal to state the name of the Minority Leader as the one calling for a private audit of the Senate’s funds (which was actually the MOOE of the Secretariat) in the press statement that the Senate President asked her to prepare detailing the Senate’s budget so that the public can be enlightened. She explained that she did not want it to appear that she was defending the Senate President. What? Even the Senate Secretary who serves under and at the pleasure of the Senate President was hesitant to set the record straight and confront the issue, fearing that she would be perceived as defending the Senate President?
Sen. Trillanes the next morning (Wednesday) on ANC stated that the Senate President might use the funds of the Senate for the campaign of the UNA; hence he should be removed right away.
As all these percolated in my mind, I thought that there was no point for the Senate President to continue to stick his neck out defending himself and his colleagues while the others except for very few would rather just watch. We had not been deluded by the so-called “vote of confidence” he gained when his motion was voted down, with 16 Senators in attendance. It was not a moro-moro. He was ready to step down, and so he manifested that he will reiterate his motion when the others, especially all his detractors were present.
I asked myself: Why are the others silent when the Senate President is being accused of being a thief? Is the Senate President supposed to be left alone to explain how the Senate’s budget is spent? Does he have control over the expenditures of the Senators and their committees? Was it he who invented the controversial “one page certification” system of liquidating the Senators’ budgets for MOOE?
As a mere subordinate, I always bow to the wisdom of my principal, and no matter how some people tend to overrate me, my role and my supposed “influence”, I cannot substitute, nor can I impose, my analysis and opinion over his own. They give me too much credit and they seem to think the Senate President is a fool. They are grossly mistaken.
In matters such as this which involves many complex considerations, and where no less than his honor and integrity are at stake, I know that he alone can and will make the better judgment.
It may be wishful thinking, but I still wish that the Senate President’s family and my own family could be spared from the hurt brought about by malicious insinuations and imputations regarding my personal relationship with the Senate President- just to whet and feed the public’s appetite for gossip, to gain political points, and to inflict more pain as if the pain and ugliness we have all witnessed and suffered were not already enough. My family, especially my mother and my children, continue to suffer in silence the horrible and distasteful comments they read and hear about me in the media and all over the Internet.
I believe what the public really hungers for is the truth about the officials they elected and how their money is spent or wasted. The people now believe that the Senate stinks…It is sad but I so agree. It is time to look for where the stink is actually coming from.
ATTY. JESSICA GONZALES REYES, January 25, 2013