CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – The legacy of Juan Ponce Enrile as Liberator and Philippine Senate president is already secure.
And even if he retires now at the age of 88 instead of waiting for June 2016 when he turns 92, nobody could take away his iconic contribution that galvanized the Filipino people to come to his aid against a military dictatorship in order to restore democracy.
Enrile has also presided over one of the riveting cases that captured the imagination of the Filipino people when he even-handedly disposed of the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona that canceled out any sign of criticism.
If Enrile were playing a basketball championship game, he was the team captain of a team that was routing the opposing team. But when Senator Enrile distributed 1.6-million pesos (US$38,095) Christmas gifts to all senators but four who do not see eye to eye with him, he was like a player who would still attempt a three pointer in the dying seconds of a game which goes against the unwritten rule of padding statistics even if the lead were already out of reach, instead of just dribbling the ball away.
Playing favorites is unbecoming of a senate president. Even if he gave the same amount to all the 23 senators, he might still not make his four colleagues happy. But he can still continue to be Senate President because he still commands the support of the super majority of 18. He only needs a simple majority of 13, including himself, to keep himself as Senate president.
As I said Enrile’s faux pas of playing favorites is not only a blunder and scandalous but unnecessary. By giving a mere 250,000 pesos (US$5,952) each to Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Antonio “Sonny” Trillianes IV and siblings Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano as crumbs, Enrile violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution of these senators. If you are a good father to a family, you divide equally whatever amount you have and give it to your children as gifts in equal amounts even if one child is an apple of your eye or another is a black sheep of the family.
WHO WILL PAY 30% NET GIFT TAX
By giving the P1.6-M gifts to the 18 senators, Enrile caused Senator Santiago to revisit Section 10 of Article VI of the Constitution, which says, “The salaries of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives shall be determined by law. No increase in said compensation shall take effect until after the expiration of the full term of all the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives approving such increase.”
I believe, the P1.6-M is definitely an increase of salary for a senator, who earns P485,100 (US$11,550) a year!
Is Senate President Enrile going to pay 30% of the “net gift” taxes because the beneficiaries are not his “(1) Brother, sister (whether by whole or half-blood), spouse, ancestor and lineal descendant; or (2) Relative by consanguinity in the collateral line within the fourth degree of relationship” as provided for by the tax code?
If not, then all Senators should return the P1.6-M and P250,000 and all the Congressmen should return the P500,000 to the National Treasury if they cannot show liquidating receipts in the past for the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).
If Senator Enrile or the House of Representatives or other government agencies had given away these gifts as “13th month pay or bonuses” for many years, they should be given away evenly, not selectively. And under Sec. 20 of Art. VI, “the books of accounts of Congress shall be open to public inspection and must be audited by the Commission on Audit. Moreover, every member of Congress’ itemized expenditures, including allowances, shall be published annually for the information of the people.”
May we see the itemized expenditures of the past MOOE?
As a matter of practice, salary increases passed by U.S. Congress do not benefit Congressmen or Senators, who crafted the law on salary increase.
In 1873, the U.S. Congress passed the Salary Grab Act that increased the salaries of the President, Congress and the Supreme Court.
When it passed on March 3, 1873, the Act was supposed to take effect the day before the second-term inauguration of President Ulysses S. Grant, to double the salary of the President (to $50,000) and the salaries of Supreme Court Justices. Hidden in the salary increases was also a 50% increase for members of Congress, retroactive to the beginning of their just-ending term.
U.S. RESCINDED THE CONGRESSIONAL SALARY INCREASE
A public outcry led Congress to rescind the congressional salary increase.
If the Senators and Congressmen do not return the Christmas gifts and could not show past liquidating receipts, then, Senator Santiago should go forward with her threat to take the matter to the Supreme Court, questioning Senate President Enrile, the House of Representatives and other heads of government for utilizing the savings of the their respective agencies for whatever purpose they see fit without showing liquidating receipts in violation of Sec. 20 of Art. VI of the Constitution.
Hello, get ready with “taxation without representation is tyranny” slogan?
Although, Senator Trillianes was talking about political alignment when he suggested that “the fate of Senate President Enrile will be decided in the next two weeks” by President Aquino, his statement sounded more legalistic, if not prophetic.
When President Aquino decided to eject Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia out of the provincial capitol, his line of reasoning can be handy to Senator Santiago. The president told Governor Garcia: “The alleged practice of Cebu Provincial Government that the governor could enter into contracts without a separate SP (Sangguniang Panlalawigan) resolution, no matter how long, cannot be given imprimatur as it is in direct violation of law. Continued practice does not justify an illegal act and no vested right can be acquired by administrative officials from an erroneous construction of the law.”
PNOY HAS TO TOE SANTIAGO’S LINE
Whether President Aquino likes it or not, it will force Mr. Aquino’s hand to be consistent in implementing his ruling in the Garcia case. He has no choice but to support the complaint of Senator Santiago when she hails Enrile and company to the Supreme Court as Santiago could invoke the “uniformity” clause of the constitution for Aquino and the Supreme Court to apply the law to everybody.
Both the Senate and House of Representatives are claiming that giving away Christmas gifts as MOOE has been observed by both Houses for a long time. But nobody has challenge them to show the liquidated receipts from the past MOOE by invoking Sec. 20 of Art. VI of the Constitution until Senate President Enrile gave away gifts last Christmas.
I believe the giving away of these Christmas gifts by Enrile was done in poor taste. Perhaps, the age of the octogenarian freedom fighter and brilliant legal mind is now taking a toll on his decision-making process.
Maybe it is now time for Manong Johnny to take a long rest and enjoy his retirement.
I hate to see the Supreme Court sustaining Senator Santiago, who could even elevate the matter to the international court of justice as Enrile challenged her to do so. Of course, taking this case to ICJ is a possibility if a non-government organization will pick up the cudgel for Senator Santiago.
I hope this will not come to a tragic end that could drag the illustrious and colorful career of Senator Enrile down the drain and can even install Senator Santiago as the favorite in the 2016 presidential elections! You read it here first.