Miriam returns to work, walks out of CA hearing

Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) - September 11, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - In the midst of battling lung cancer, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago returned to work yesterday, but later walked out of a committee hearing she was presiding over after an argument with a colleague over Senate rules on quorum.

Triggering Santiago’s outburst was Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas’ questioning of the quorum during the Commission on Appointment (CA)’s foreign relations committee deliberation on the nomination of 48 foreign service officers.

“You are questioning my authority. I walk out of this meeting,” Santiago said as she tossed away the documents she was reading.

Before her verbal tussle with Fariñas, an irate Santiago also ordered a TV crewmember out of the room, allegedly for causing distraction in the chamber.

Fariñas reminded Santiago that a majority of the members of a CA committee must be present to satisfy the requirements of a quorum.

“Kailangan natin ng quorum e (We need a quorum),” Fariñas insisted.

Santiago then pointed to the direction of the door and said: “Eh dumarating na sila e. Maya-maya may quorum na (They’re coming. In a little while, there will be a quorum),” she said.

“But there is none yet. Without quorum, Ma’am, we cannot proceed,” Fariñas replied.

“You have no power to tell me what my quorum is,” Santiago said. “I am the quorum.”

Santiago argued that in the 10 years that she has been chairperson of the committee, it has always been the practice that the presence of the chairperson alone is enough to constitute a quorum and that nobody has ever questioned this.

When she asked committee members to show their support for her position by raising their hands, no one did, leaving her more enraged.

In an attempt to defuse the tension, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV called for a suspension of the hearing. But Santiago ignored him and banged the gavel to adjourn the hearing.

In a press briefing after the incident, Santiago said that the CA members should have questioned the procedure way back when she first started doing it.

“There is someone who is always Mr. Right. There is someone who is always Mr. Wrong. And there is always someone who is always never wrong. Yan ang problema natin dyan (That is our problem there),” said Santiago, who is still recovering from lung cancer.

She added that her anger was also triggered by the tardiness of her colleagues.

“I am only on partial recovery from lung cancer. I forced myself to come here, in order to avoid prejudice to some 50 nominees from the DFA. Now he wants all their majesties from the House of Representatives to come at their own sweet time and for all of us to wait at their pleasure. This is legislative abuse,” Santiago said.

“That would be a classic case of congressional arrogance,” she added.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez told reporters that the committee members supported the position of Fariñas, who was merely following the rules of the CA.

He explained that the practice of Santiago to conduct hearings even without a quorum was only allowed in the past because nobody questioned it.

Trillanes, vice chairman of the committee, tried to convince Santiago to go back and finish the hearing or at least, allow him to preside so as not to waste the time of the diplomats who were still waiting in the committee room for their confirmation.

Trillanes later told the nominees their confirmation would have to be rescheduled as Santiago was in a very bad mood.

2016 beckons

Earlier, Santiago voiced her intention to run for president in 2016 if her health improves.

She said she is considering Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, former Rep. Gilbert Teodoro or Sen. Grace Poe as her running mate.

In a press briefing at the Senate yesterday, Santiago said that she is setting a personal deadline for full recovery at the end of the year.

She said the controversies besetting the administration have made her think of taking another crack at the presidency.

“I also think that I should be president because it is now so difficult to be president of this, I will describe this as feckless or irresponsible country,” Santiago said.

“Everybody in this country who is holding high office or is in high power is feckless, meaning to say irresponsible, they don’t have any feeling that my brother is my responsibility,” she added. – Christina Mendez

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