, October 4, 2005
(STAR) By Marvin Sy and Paolo Romero - Senate President Franklin Drilon said yesterday he is open to a dialogue with Malacañang if that is what it would take to break the standoff between the Senate and the Palace.

Malacañang, however, said the Senate should first release National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales from his detention with the Senate sergeant-at-arms.

Drilon, who has been at the center of attacks by the Executive branch on the chamber that he leads, said his openness to dialogue should be accompanied by a reciprocal response from Malacañang.

"I am always open to a dialogue but respect must be accorded to the Senate," he said.

Ten senators belonging to the majority bloc have appealed for a constructive dialogue among Malacañang, the Senate and the House of Representatives to end the standoff.

The senators who signed the appeal were Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, Manuel Roxas II, Juan Ponce Enrile, Ralph Recto, Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Juan Flavier, Pia Cayetano, Ramon Revilla Jr. Richard Gordon and Manuel Lapid Jr.

Senators Rodolfo Biazon and Miriam Defensor-Santiago have also agreed to sign the appeal.

Last week, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye accused Drilon of spearheading a campaign to remove President Arroyo from office. Bunye said it was Drilon who advised the President to make her public apology over the "Hello, Garci" tapes, after which he withdrew his support for her.

Santiago, Mrs. Arroyo’s staunchest ally in the Senate, said last Saturday that the investigations being conducted by the Senate on controversies involving the President are part of the "serial impeachment" initiated by Drilon.

The President was saved from impeachment when the House voted to junk all three complaints filed against her last Sept. 6.

After the complaints against Mrs. Arroyo were dismissed, the Senate decided to continue hearings focusing on the allegations that formed the basis of the impeachment complaints.

The Senate recently started hearings on the anomalies in the Venable LLP lobby contract, the "Hello, Garci" tapes and the North Rail project.

Drilon declined to say who should initiate the dialogue, but said the Senate hearings would continue.

"The Senate will continue with its function of (conducting) inquiries in aid of legislation, inquiries in aid of its oversight functions, inquiries for public information," he said, adding that there are efforts to divert the attention of the senators from the controversies.

Mrs. Arroyo herself has called for an end to the inquiries, which she said were not being conducted in aid of legislation but in aid of destabilization.

Bunye, when asked who should make the first move to repair the rift between Mrs. Arroyo and some senators, pointed out that "we still have our pending request (for Gonzales’ release) but there’s no action, we don’t see any sincere move on their part so I guess such moves might move departments closer if there had been actions taken."

Bunye maintained the Palace did not start the rift, saying Executive Order 464 — which bars any member of the executive branch from appearing before any congressional inquiry without the permission of the President — was issued in response to high-handed Senate inquiries that insulted executive officials and even led to Gonzales’ hospitalization.

"There’s a root cause for this EO and the solution is to remove that root cause," he said.

Gonzales was cited in contempt and ordered detained by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee on Sept. 21 for refusing to answer questions on the controversial lobby contract with Venable.

Gonzales was rushed to the Philippine Heart Center (PHC) the same day after complaining of high blood pressure and low blood sugar. Gonzales, a diabetic, remains at the PHC under the custody of the Senate sergeant-at-arms.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita wrote Sen. Joker Arroyo to reconsider his panel’s decision to detain Gonzales on Sept. 23. On Sept. 28, Mrs. Arroyo issued EO 464.

Asked whether the President would be willing to water down or withdraw the EO should Gonzales be released, Bunye said "the EO has been signed and for as long as this is not questioned by the courts, this will stay."

He said he is not aware of any efforts by the Palace to reach out to the Senate, noting that "at this time, that question is speculative. We have to find out how the other branch of government acts."

Bunye said the President’s main concern, as far as her relations with Congress is concerned, is the passage of urgent measures — many of which are pending in the Senate.

He said many of the vital bills are gathering dust in the Senate because of its numerous investigations "in aid of legislation."

Members of the House of Representatives have questioned the constitutionality of the EO before the Supreme Court.

"I support the petition. I hope the Supreme Court acts on it quickly so that we can have a resolution of this deadlock," Drilon said.

He added that if Executive branch officials are not available, "then the committees would have to resort to non-members of the Executive and we can continue with our work."

Pangilinan has also called for a ceasefire between the Senate and Malacañang and for an informal dialogue between the two branches to take place.

Roxas meanwhile defended the Senate inquiries and criticized EO 464.

"The function of the legislators to oversee dealings by the government is an essential tool to ensure an effective check and balance system, as mandated by the Constitution," he said.

Drilon denied he was involved in moves to dislodge Mrs. Arroyo, saying "with a clear conscience" that he has not talked with any of her political opponents except for former social welfare secretary Corazon Soliman and former education secretary Florencio Abad.

He said he would oppose any unconstitutional means to oust Mrs. Arroyo, and that he is not interested in being president or vice president should she be ousted from office.

"I do not lust for that position," he said, adding that he would even turn down a seat in a military junta "even if it is offered to me."

Drilon also downplayed the statements made by Liberal Party (LP) chairman Manila Mayor Lito Atienza that the party may sanction him over his continued efforts to unseat Mrs. Arroyo.

"Atienza is speaking for himself. He cannot speak and does not speak for the Liberal Party. As president of the party, I am the chief executive officer of the party," Drilon said.

He expressed confidence that he still has the party’s full support, and that there are no factions within the LP. — With Christina Mendez

Drilon facing  ouster  from  LP? (STAR) 10/03/2005

Senate President Franklin Drilon is facing possible ouster from the Liberal Party (LP), of which he is president, because of "bad leadership" and his efforts to topple President Arroyo from office, Manila Mayor Lito Atienza said yesterday.

Atienza, LP national chairman, said party members could no longer delay taking action against Drilon, who was drafted as party president in 2003 after being recruited from the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino.

"We are already talking about it (his ouster) within the party because he (Drilon) continues to violate rules of the party, which we do not countenance," Atienza told reporters covering Malacañang. "Drilon never ceases to throw mud, raise allegations against our President, against our government and the Liberal Party is already worried over the kind of politics he is advocating."

According to Atienza, Drilon leads only a small faction of the LP, but a majority of its members remain supportive of Mrs. Arroyo. Atienza said the LP is not part of any "Drilon plot or conspiracy" nor is it condoning Drilon’s moves to destabilize the government. — Paolo Romero

Palace welcomes challenge against EO 464 before Supreme Court 10/03 5:49:29 PM

Malacañang Monday welcomed the suit filed by groups critical of President Gloria Arroyo's Executive Order 464 with the Supreme Court.

Pres. Arroyo's EO 464 bans government officials from appearing before the Senate without her permission in reaction to the upper chamber's holding in contempt of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales.

In a statement, Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye said, "We stand pat on our view that the Executive Order’s (464) legitimacy can be defended in any forum."

"We therefore welcome the filing of a challenge before the Supreme Court," Bunye said.

He added, "This will further enlighten the nation on the separation of powers and the inherent authority of the Chief Executive."

"Meantime, E.O. 464 remains in effect and shall be enforced," the presidential spokesperson reiterated.

Pres. Arroyo's opponents had earlier asked the SC to scrap her order barring officials, police and military officers from testifying before Congress without her consent-- a decree critics say undermines corruption probes.

A marine general and another officer were dismissed from the Philippine Military Academy last week after testifying without her permission before a Senate committee investigating vote-rigging allegations against her. The two appeared Monday before the military provost marshall, who will investigate them for defying the president.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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