Philippines' Enrile Quits as Senate President, Blasts Colleagues

The Philippine Senate's Marathon Man, Juan Ponce Enrile, had been expected to be ousted from his post as Senate president after the May 13 election when forces aligned with President Benigno S. Aquino III became a majority. But probably nobody expected the 89-year-old lawmaker to go out with such an astonishing burst of acrimony, comparing himself to Jesus Christ being "crucified" by his enemies.

Enrile resigned the post yesterday after attacking colleagues who he said had conducted a hate campaign against him that eroded public trust in the chamber and affected the Senatorial bid of his son, Rep Jack Enrile, who finished out of the money in the polls.

"Old age may have physically impaired my vision," he said in a prepared statement. "But let me assure all of you: I can still see and read clearly the handwriting on the wall. I need not be told by anyone when it is time for me to go."

As a spending controversy enveloped the body last December, Enrile said, "The rest of the senators kept their distance, "save for a few colleagues … as I was publicly pilloried and crucified."

Enrile could have waited to be ousted when the 16th Congress convenes in July. However, he chose to leave Wednesday, speaking to the Senate on a point of personal privilege. He still has three years to serve in the body and is expected to become leader of the opposition.

The octogenarian Enrile's departure helps clear the way for Aquino to begin the extensive reform agenda he has detailed at Malacanang Palace, including a freedom of information bill, customs reform, a comprehensive mining policy and completion of the proposed Bangsamoro political entity to give regional autonomy to Muslims in Mindanao.

Sen. Franklin Drilon of the Liberal Party is widely expected to be elected the next Senate president to help Aquino carry out that agenda. Only three senators from the opposition United Nationalist Alliance survived the Aquino election onslaught. Enrile, along with Vice President Jejomar Binay and former President Joseph Estrada, challenged the Aquino administration, which won nine of the 12 senate seats up for election. Interestingly, two of the UNA winners were Nancy Binay and JV Ejercito, the children of Binay and Estrada respectively.

Venom-filled speeches have been an Enrile trademark throughout his career.

"I recall when he left Cory's government it was a pretty amazing display," said a longtime political observer, "and when he quit Marcos's cabinet in 1986 he overthrew the government. He has an amazing temper and always attacks when he is attacked, scares the shit out of everybody. It was pretty impressive."

"I refuse to allow anybody, whether in or outside the halls of this Chamber, to just freely trample upon the name that my late father, Alfonso Ponce Enrile, had so kindly allowed me to carry with pride."

Enrile was born out of wedlock.

"As the child of the elder Enrile and a woman not his wife, he has always been a bit prickly about his name especially given the feudal aristocracy he managed to scratch his way into," the political observer said.

Enrile in particular singled out Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, without naming her, as the detractors who had succeeded in eroding the image of the Senate in their struggle to malign him, according to an account of the speech in The Inquirer.

"No less than the son of my former [law] partner, the late Sen. Renato L. Cayetano, would dare accuse me of being a thief or a scoundrel," Enrile said. "A noncandidate senator who fashions herself as my nemesis and who evidently delights in doing the job" was the other author of "virulent personal attacks against me," Enrile said, obviously referring to Santiago.

Enrile blasted lawmakers who complained earlier this year about his selective distribution of additional maintenance and other operating expenditures totaling P1.8 million and P250,000 (US$5,920) cash bonuses to 18 of the 24 senators in December. He didn't disburse funds to Santiago, Cayetano, Sen. Pia Cayetano, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Enrile himself, causing Santiago and Alan Cayetano to criticize Enrile's distribution of the largesse.

"I will leave each of my colleagues to explain directly to the people who elected them … to account for their own budgets as I have always been ready to account for my own. I can no longer speak for them. I refuse to be anyone's scapegoat and every one's whipping boy," Enrile read from a written statement. "I refuse to let any senator drag my name down to the gutter."

He said his son, a representative from Cagayan, may have lost the Senatorial election because of the accusations against him following the controversy over the disbursement of the funds, charging that the "common analysis of observers" showed Jack's candidacy "suffered from fallout and bitter criticism hurled against me by those I displeased" just as the senatorial campaign was about to take off early this year.

Other doubts might have surfaced, however, over the murder of Ernest Lucas Jr., who was shot in the head as a student in 1975. Although a security guard was named as the killer, there have been widespread accusations that it was Jack Enrile who did the shooting.

The uncle of murder victim Ernest Lucas Jr. insists there is basis to claims that Jack Enrile killed Lucas because there were witnesses to the shooting.

Enrile said he "endured in silence the pain of seeing my son suffer because of me. He carried on his shoulders the weight of all mud thrown at me as I stayed and watched quietly on the sidelines. My heart bled for him."

"With the cloud of doubt and suspicion that adversaries have successfully hoisted upon my person, my honor and leadership, it is not farfetched for them to make people believe I will expend resources of the Senate, the people's money and use of the powers of the Senate president just to hold on to this position," he explained.

"I say successfully because no matter how baseless and malicious those accusations are or were, the issues hurled against me and their implications not only on my own but on the Senate's integrity were never resolved," Enrile said.

He said his detractors not only succeeded in maligning him, the public's trust in the chamber suffered as well. Indeed, the Senate fund issue also opened up controversy over the elderly senator's reported indiscretion, which forced his longtime chief of staff Gigi Reyes to resign amid rumors of their extra-marital relations.

"I carried the whole brunt of the public's ire over the one-page certification—the prevailing system of liquidation of the budget of senators which was neither my creation nor my invention," Enrile said, referring to the requirement for all senators in liquidating their expense.

Aquino's office remained circumspect, with the palace issuing a statement saying it respected Enrile's resignation, even as it acknowledged his role in maintaining the Senate's independence and recognized his future role in the 16th Congress.

"For 1,661 days, or four years, six months and 19 days, Juan Ponce Enrile served as president of the Senate, the third-highest position in the Republic. Today, he irrevocably relinquished that position. We respect his decision," President Aquino's spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, said in a statement.

(With reporting from The Philippine Daily Inquirer)