SOME may dismiss the ongoing word war between Senators Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE) and Miriam Defensor Santiago as mere “geriatric outbursts.” Whatever it may be, it definitely makes the Senate of the 16th Congress more colorful and more fun. Boy, I could hardly wait for Wednesday when Senator Miriam will take the floor to answer JPE’s diatribes! If JPE would be present that day and interpellate her, that session would produce the biggest fireworks in post-EDSA Senate since JPE tangled with Sen. Nene Pimentel in May 2009.
A fully aroused JPE could throw civility and parliamentary decorum off the window, as shown in his verbal jousts with Nene. That incident took place after Nene had criticized before the press JPE’s handling of the ethics proceedings against Sen. Manny Villar as “dictatorial and authoritarian, reminiscent of his days as administrator of martial law.” Nene also filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking to stop the Villar case and questioning the “unabashed display of dictatorial tendencies” by the Chair (JPE) of the Committee of the Whole, “abetted by a majority of its members.”
Name-calling par for the course?
“Hipokrito ka! Nagkukunwari ka na kaibigan mo ako ngunit pag wala ka na sa harap ko, sinasaksak mo ako. Hindi ka lalaking makipag-usap. May pagka-traidor ka!” JPE riled at Nene in a speech on personal and collective privilege.
Nene fired back, saying there were already many forums available “unlike the time of Mr. Enrile who, when somebody spoke, could be silenced forever.” To which JPE retorted: “Assuming that in his perception, I am a gunslinger, which I am not, I will not waste a bullet on him. A bullet is too expensive for a coward!”
Of course, the fighting legislator from Cagayan de Oro City wouldn’t allow such tirades to be left unanswered. He said that JPE had ordered his arrest three times during martial law and not once did he run away and never did he kneel before JPE.
“I stood my ground during martial law and I am not one who would run away now
that martial law is no longer here. Hypocrite? The biggest hypocrite is the one who faked his ambush to justify the imposition of martial law,” Nene retorted.
JPE also tangled with Senators Jamby Madrigal, whom he drove to tears, Teofisto Guingona Jr. (remember the “glaring” dare?) and Antonio Trillanes 4th, whom he once called “a coward.” However, his ongoing feud with Senator Miriam could prove to be his most challenging ever.
Venom in her tongue
The venom in Senator Miriam’s tongue is evident in her description of then-Rep. Benigno Aquino 3rd of Tarlac as a “sorry excuse for the scion of a great man” whom she would want to educate “if he is educable.
“Your colleagues in the House snicker behind your back because of your overbearing attitude that is not supported by any significant achievement in lower house legislation,” she said of the man who would later become senator and president.
Her description of a congressman from Laguna as “mongoose-faced” was one of the reasons why he lost in a succeeding election. She once delivered a privileged speech naming then Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson of Ilocos Sur as operator of jueteng, an illegal numbers game. When Singson went to court against her, she cited Singson’s alleged tendency to violence that scares a lot of people.
“I wish I could challenge him to a duel but that is a crime under the Penal Code. So instead, I challenge him to a debate on any of the major TV channels,” she said.
Of course, that debate never took place.
While Senator Miriam was never at a loss of uncomplimentary description of her foes, she hates to be so described. When then-Rep. Etta Rosales of Akbayan accused her of rumor-mongering and calling her a gossiper for claiming that there was an assassination plot against then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, she said:
“Congresswoman Rosales, did you ever take and pass English 101? You should have learned that in public debate, name-calling is prohibited since it is the last refuge of the pathetically uninformed.”
Actually, the word war between JPE and Senator Miriam wouldn’t have taken place had she been true to her word in 2007 to resign from the Senate in protest against overspending by would-be senatorial candidates. She said she wouldn’t want any of those personalities to be her colleagues in the Senate. She never carried out her threat to resign, just like her earlier threats to jump off an airplane or to shoot herself at the session hall.