PALACE-SENATE RIFT CAN PARALYZE GOVT

MANILA
, October 3, 2005
(STAR) By Jess Diaz - Allies of President Arroyo in the House of Representatives warned the nation yesterday that the standoff between her and the Senate could lead to a government paralysis.

"This crisis can cause a paralysis in the bureaucracy. It has to be resolved to the satisfaction of both the feuding executive and legislative branches soon," said Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III.

Senators, on the other hand, said the row between Mrs. Arroyo and Senate President Franklin Drilon should be limited between the two personalities and not spill over into the two institutions of the government.

"It is a fight between Drilon and the President, not the entire Senate," a veteran senator told The STAR yesterday.

Albano said while the President has the right to require executive officials to get prior clearance from her before appearing in congressional inquiries, the Senate has the prerogative to insist that officers other than Cabinet members do not need such presidential consent or approval.

"As I understand it, it is only members of the Cabinet, specifically heads of departments, who are required to obtain presidential consent before appearing in congressional investigations," he said.

He suggested that limiting the coverage of the controversial Executive Order 464 to Cabinet members could be one way out of the present Malacañang-Senate standoff.

Albano pointed out that senators, other than challenging EO 464 before the Supreme Court, are not exactly powerless to force the Palace to agree, even partially, to allowing executive officers to testify in Senate inquiries.

He said the Senate can sit on the national budget and on Cabinet appointments and major promotions in the military and the diplomatic service that need confirmation by the Commission on Appointments, which is chaired by Drilon.

"It is thus in the interest of everybody that this matter be threshed out soon," he said.

He added that the stalemate is also adding to the sense of listlessness prevailing in many sectors of society, including the business community.

Albano, however, appealed to the Senate not to convert itself into a kangaroo court as charged by Mrs. Arroyo, and to focus its inquiries on issues that could aid legislation.

"The opposition-inspired move to impeach the President has been killed in the House by overwhelming vote. It cannot be resurrected in the Senate," he said.

He said in issuing EO 464, the Palace did not intend to suppress Senate investigation but merely wanted to "harmonized and coordinate" its position on raging issues.

"The experience of Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye in the ‘Hello, Garci’ inquiry served as a lesson to the executive to coordinate the efforts of its officials in clarifying issues," he said.

The Isabela congressman belongs to the Kabalikat ng Mamamayang Pilipino, the political party Mrs. Arroyo founded in 1997 when she was a senator. Kampi is now headed by Antipolo City Rep. Ronaldo Puno.

Another administration ally, Rep. Abraham Mitra of Palawan, called for an end to the "uncivil war" between Malacañang and the Senate.

"Leaders of the two branches should sit down and thresh out their differences, and if these are irreconcilable, at least they should agree on civilized ground rules that would not interrupt the delivery of services to the people," he said.

He said a ceasefire between the feuding branches is necessary since "they are now hitting each other below the belt. What is happening is no longer check-and-balance, but search and destroy."

Mitra said with each passing day, angry words are exchanged "and these serve no purpose but just deepen the wounds."

"What’s happening is that the Senate attacks, then Malacañang retaliates, and vice versa. If these go on and on, soon we will have a full-blown constitutional crisis that extremist groups might take advantage of," he added.

He reminded the protagonists that they are not rivals for power, "but partners for progress."

"There are no winners in this fight. Both lose, and their employers — the Filipino people are not amused," he said.

Mitra belongs to the Liberal Party, which is headed by Drilon. Last July 8, the LP joined former President Corazon Aquino and the Hyatt 10 group of resigned Arroyo Cabinet members in calling on Mrs. Arroyo to step down.

He and several LP members, however, have remained Arroyo loyalists. More than 10 party members led by Deputy Speaker Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III supported the failed impeach-Mrs. Arroyo initiative.

Don’t Drag Us Down

The senator, who said the war was limited to Drilon and Mrs. Arroyo, requested anonymity and criticized his colleagues for dragging the entire institution into the controversy when most of them just want to settle the issue so that attention can be given to priority bills.

Except for members of the opposition, and the faction led by the Senate president, there are other senators who opted to remain quiet despite the circumstances.

Senators Manny Villar, Joker Arroyo, Mar Roxas, Ralph Recto, Bong Revilla, Pia Cayetano, Lito Lapid and Senate President pro-tempore

Juan Flavier are among the senators who have opted to keep quiet or refused to issue statements on the impasse between Malacañang and the Senate.

Although Cayetano and Flavier are perceived to be pro-Drilon, they have not issued official statements. On Drilon’s side are Senate majority leader Francis Pangilinan and Rodolfo Biazon - members of the Drilon-led Liberal Party which called for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation last July 8.

Only Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago seemed to be on the defense of Malacañang. She revealed last weekend a supposed plot by Drilon and former President Corazon Aquino to oust Mrs. Arroyo.

Opposition senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Serge Osmeña, Jinggoy Estrada, Luisa Ejercito, Panfilo Lacson and Jamby Madrigal have closed ranks to ensure that they attend all Senate inquiries perceived to be "anti-Arroyo." They played key roles and had outstanding attendance during the juetengate scandal, San Mateo raid inquiry and recently the North Rail project probe.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who has declared himself as an independent, and Sen. Richard Gordon both alternately criticized and defended Mrs. Arroyo.

Before Santiago launched her explosive revelation on the Aquino-Drilon plot, she also attacked Executive Order 464 and the North Railway project.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, ousted from the opposition by the Lacson bloc, has not been vocal. He was reported to have called for a stop to the series of inquiries, and asked his colleagues to buckle down to work.

Sen. Ramon Magsaysay said he fully stands by Drilon and former president Aquino, calling the allegations of Santiago as "impossible."

"The circumstances would all indicate that it is a pure smear campaign against Aquino and Drilon. The public must be vigilant, wary of incredible pronouncements such as this plot. The people must check the credibility of individuals as regards telling the truth," Magsaysay said.

Attacks and counterattacks stepped up yesterday after Drilon and a number of his sympathizers within the Liberal Party have doubled efforts in issuing press statements to defend the beleaguered Senate president.

"Why single out the Senate?" asked Pangilinan, who noted that several agencies of the government have been divided over several issues since the Arroyo administration was rocked by crisis.

"To single out the Senate as an entity that has underperformed because of the political crisis is obviously unfair (as) the entire nation has been affected by the leadership crisis. The church, business groups, civil society groups all have been gripped by the recent turn of events in our politics," Pangilinan said.

Describing Malacañang as in a state of paranoia, Pangilinan said he and his colleagues are doing their best to work on certain measures despite the abnormal conditions.

"While we concede that the performance of the Senate has been affected by the political crisis, we venture to ask what entity or sector has not been affected adversely by the political crisis?" he said.

Pangilinan belied reports that there was a Senate plot to oust the President.

"What we have is the time-honored tradition of an independent Senate exercising its constitutional duty to act as check and balance of the executive branch. It would be for the best interest of the nation if Malacañang sees it this way instead of seeing specters and ghosts where there aren’t any," he said, denouncing the apparent smear campaign against his Senate and party leader. — With Christina Mendez


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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