• Irreplaceable Enrile


    herreraSenators allied with the administration are already salivating at the juicy positions they are likely to get once the 16th Congress opens in July.

    The juiciest of them all, of course, is the Senate presidency, which will likely go to a senator belonging to the majority bloc, because of the 9-3 Team PNoy victory in the senatorial race. That senator would most likely be Frank Drilon, the Liberal Party chairman and campaign manager of the administration slate.

    That’s politics. The Senate presidency is the country’s third-highest post, at times considered more than the Vice Presidency as a springboard to the Presidency. Every senator thinks he or she is good enough to become President and as head of the upper chamber is the first among equals.

    Each new Congress elects its own Senate president. If the Senate president is replaced, the entire Senate gets reconstructed, from the Senate president pro tempore down to the committee chairmanships. A new committee chairman may very well have a totally different set of priorities than his or her predecessor.

    Naturally, there is a lot of infighting among senators for the post, at times to the detriment of actual legislative work. I myself never liked disruptive Senate reorganizations when I was a senator for 12 years.

    But, like I said, every senator is a potential presidential or vice presidential candidate. This is why the Senate presidency is particularly vulnerable to squabbling.

    At this point in his political life, Enrile probably doesn’t care anymore if he is replaced. But the one who replaces him certainly has very big shoes to fill.

    Enrile may not be perfect, and he certainly has his share of critics and detractors, myself included. I have had my share of disagreements with the man. But I think of him as a very good Senate president, perhaps the best and most beloved, if you ask Senate employees and staff.

    Much has already been prin­ted about his faults. Senators Trillanes, Santiago, Cayetano have all said mouthfuls.

    But whether they care to admit to or not, the man has the competence, dedication, gravitas—and I would even say the delicadeza—to be Senate president.

    Not many know that before the campaign period began, he refused to sign any and all new appointments to the Senate, saying he was leaving the matter to the incoming Senate leadership.

    You may think this is not a big deal, but Senate insiders know it is. Past occupants of the post appointed their own people to permanent posts to ensure their continuing influence long after they stepped down.

    Enrile would have none of this. In fact, Enrile appointed very few of his own people in the Senate, not even his fraternity brothers at the University of the Philippines.

    Trillanes was perhaps his most vocal critic. But not many know that Enrile took care of Trillanes’s employees. When the coup plotter was in jail and the Commission on Audit moved for his Senate office budget to be dissolved, Enrile farmed out his employees into other Senate offices.

    Enrile helped Trillanes get out of jail during the Arroyo presidency. Trillanes then got back all his staff.

    How many of the senators now could have presided over the Corona impeachment trial masterfully the way Enrile did? I don’t think anyone of them could have.

    Senate Resolution No. 89 cited Enrile’s “deep, extensive knowledge of the law, the rules and procedures on impeachment trials, the rules of evidence and the rules of court” which “enabled him to distil arguments and issues in the impeachment trial patiently but resolutely, liberally but with impartiality.”

    The resolution added that Enrile deftly presided over the impeachment trial “with proper decorum, diligence and wisdom.”

    No one can disagree.

    Senate employees love Enrile because of his concern for them, and for the benefits they have received during his term. Enrile doesn’t have a cordon sanitaire like most senators. They could approach him directly.

    Enrile prioritized the needs of Senate employees and granted them the maximum benefits allowable under the Senate’s budgetary savings.

    I served in the Senate, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and in the House.

    I therefore know that when Enrile became president in 2008, Senate employees were getting less than what employees of the House of Representatives were making. He raised the salaries of the employees. Even so, the employees are still getting less than what other government agencies and branches are receiving.

    But Enrile was no spendthrift. He refused to renew the service contracts of around 200 casual employees, at the same time ordering all the regular employees detailed in other offices back to their mother units.

    He did so to streamline a bloated bureaucracy. A lot of the Senate offices hired casuals supposedly because they were undermanned. And yet they detailed their staff to the office of senators and to other government agencies. So he ordered the recall.

    Under the new political reality, the man may be on the way out. But let’s face it, in many ways, Enrile is irreplaceable.


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