ILOILO CITY, Philippines –The battle lines at the Senate will be drawn today as to who would favor and dismiss the ethics charges filed against Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar Jr.
Villar, however, said he is not facing the Committee of the Whole before the plenary today even if the Senate getsa quorum that would allow the reporting of Committee Report 780–which recommends his censure over the controversial C-5 Road extension and directs him to return the P6.22 billion that the government might have lost due to changes in the project that supposedly benefited his properties in Las Piñas City.
“Why should I face them? I don’t see any relevance on the truth. I have answered the issues on the floor and I have granted more than a hundred interviews. It’s on the website, and I have also placed an advertisement regarding that,” Villar told The STAR in an interview.
“This has been dragging for two years. You know they are doing this to make me busy in answering the issue and so that I cannot go on campaigning,” Villar said before the start of the Dinagyang Festival here yesterday.
Villar maintained that the inquiry on his alleged involvement on the C-5 road project was biased because those who composed the panel are either presidential bets or senators who backed out from the presidential race and are instead running for lower posts or for re-election.
He was referring to Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen.Benigno Aquino III, his running mate Sen. Manuel Roxas, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senators Jamby Madrigal, Richard Gordon,Jinggoy Estrada, Panfilo Lacson and Francis Escudero.
Villar said he cannot be compelled to face the Senate committee which was formed primarily to derail his presidential bid.
“This is clearly about politics. They can’t force me to do what they want me to do,” Villar said, downplaying a threat coming from the Senate presidentthat senators who would continue to be absent without formal noticecan be forced to attend the session.
“I won’t answer,” Villar stressed.
Villar has opted not to recognize the legality of the convening and the composition of the committee of the whole from the start, saying it’s a kangaroo court formed only to prosecute him.
Villar’s running mate, Sen. Loren Legarda, who comes from the Nationalist People’s Coalition, now believes that the Senate inquiry was politicized.
“The whole thing smacks of political persecution with so many presidential bets ganging up on the leading presidential candidate. I find it unfair,” said Legarda, who also attended the Dinagyang Festival here.
Legarda admittedshe was among those who really wanted Villar to be investigated on the so-called C-5 road controversy until she became Villar’s running mate last year.
Legarda saidshe later learned that there was no evidence to prove that Villar may have committed any wrongdoing.
Legarda urged her colleagues to make good use of the remaining six session days to pass bills that “will help the poor and feed the people, and provide jobs.”
Sen. Joker Arroyo questioned yesterday the move of the committee of the whole to recommend censure as punishment for Villar over his alleged use of influence in connection with the C-5 road project.
Arroyo said there is no provision in the Constitution that would allow the imposition of “censure” to senators.
“Censure is not in the Constitution and in the Rules of the Senate. You either have to suspend or expel which requires two-thirds vote. The Constitution always makes it very, very difficult to remove an official. They invented censure then majority vote,” Arroyo said over radio dzBB.
Arroyo, a known Villar ally, said a senator has no obligation to face his colleagues at the Senate if he believes that the proceedings were not legal and fair.
Arroyo also warned his colleagues not to trifle with the Constitution and not to use the Senate as an instrument of oppression.
At the same time, Arroyo defended the move of the majority senators not to attend session last Tuesday, which he described as an expression of the senators’ opposition to the move of the committee of the whole to censure Villar.
Arroyo explained that not attending session has been an accepted parliamentary tactic, and should not be taken against the individual senators.
“It’s not a boycott. That’s a parliamentary maneuver since we did not have the numbers. They were all there the following day. It’s under their control, yet they did not calendar it,” Arroyo said.
Battle for justice
Sen. Richard Gordon, who attended the Mass and festivities here, maintained that the committee report should be discussed.
Gordon, who was with his vice-presidential candidate former Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Bayani Fernando,said he maintains his support for Committee Report 780.
“It will be a battle for justice,”Gordon said, adding that justice should not be compromised withthe number of senators who will sign in favor of or against the report.
In another interview, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who is on Villar’s side, said“battle lines were already drawn months ago.”
“(It is about) right versus wrong procedures,” he said.
Pimentel expects the Senate session today to be “interesting” or “boring” depending on the mood of the Senate President.
‘Stop making excuses’
The Liberal Party called on Villar and his allies to stop making excuses in trying to seek the ouster of Enrile and boycotting the sessions now that their own supporter, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago admitted they were all meant to block the report on the C-5 road mess.
Villar denied initiating a plot to unseat Enrile and boycotting the session on Tuesday to avoid discussion on the report at the plenary.
On Thursday, Villar said over radio dzMM that some senators thought of replacingEnrile because it would be better to have a senator whose term would be until 2013 in case of failure of elections.
Enrile’s term as senator ends on June 30 but he is seeking reelection.
Villar denied orchestrating the ouster of Enrile but said he agreed with some of his colleagues in the minority that the Senate President should not have an expired term just in case there would be a need for succession.
His allies, Pimentel and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, agreed with Villar.
Enrile accused Villar of wanting to kick him out to block the release of the committee of the whole’s report on the C-5 road controversy.
But Sen. Benigno Aquino III, however, said the timing of ousting Enrile should have been done after the C-5 report so that the motives would not have been suspect.
‘Why only Kiko?’
LP campaign manager Florencio “Butch” Abad said Villar should be more concerned about the damage to the credibility of the Senateas an institution, rather than the strain to his relationship with his colleagues, if the C-5 report would not get to the floor for deliberation.
Villar said he was hurt by the decision of Sen. Francis Pangilinan and Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada to sign the report.
“The position of the Liberal Party, to which Pangilinan adheres, is based on its commitment to responsible use of power, truth, transparency and accountability. The LP senators signed the report not to declare anyone guilty or play politics but mainly to ensure that the report reaches the floor of the Senate so that it can be publicly and freely debated on the floor. That should be a reasonable demand,” Abad said.
Meantime, Madrigal said calls by Cayetano and Pimentel for Enrile to resign border on the absurd and insane.
“Truth is, Villar wants to stop the Senate report censuring him for his role in the C-5 scam which may lead to plunder charges,” Madrigal said. – With Aurea Calica, Pia Lee-Brago