JPE, Manny and Kiko

THE rather sudden leadership change in the Senate, described as a “coup” by the Inquirer, gives President Macapagal-Arroyo a firmer hold on the political processes of the country. Now, administration allies lead both houses of Congress.

Juan Ponce Enrile. However, I think it would be a mistake to assume that the Upper House would ipso facto obey every wish of the President. Historically, the Senate has always been independent. Having been elected by a national constituency as extensive as that of the President, most senators have always politically equated themselves with the Chief Executive. They have acted freely and autonomously regardless of the presidential agenda.

Though supportive of GMA, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile cannot by a mile be said to be her lackey. Intellectually gifted and perhaps the most experienced of our current elected leaders, he can never be a blind partisan of GMA or of anyone.

True, for a long time, he was loyal to Ferdinand Marcos who gave him his first crack at public service as undersecretary of finance, commissioner of customs, secretary of justice and secretary of national defense. For occupying the latter post from 1970 to 1986, his critics label him the “martial law enforcer.”

But even during the heady days of Marcos, he quietly maintained some links with the opposition and the so-called “mosquito” press. While he publicly supported the dictator, he nonetheless stood by his personal convictions, privately battling when necessary some of the power figures of that lamented era. In the end, it was he—together with Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos—who ignited the peaceful People Power revolution of 1986.

Though instrumental in the ascent of President Corazon C. Aquino, he nevertheless resigned on Nov. 23, 1986 from (media reports said he was “relieved” of) his position as her first secretary of national defense due to policy differences. In the elections on May 11, 1987, he ran and won as senator, even against Mrs. Aquino’s wishes.

Despite his closeness to Marcos, JPE has never been charged with amassing ill-gotten wealth. In his best seller, “Presidential Plunder” (2000), Dr. Jovito R. Salonga wrote (p. 119) that “we had not found any evidence against him that would stand up in court.” The book detailed how JPE had in fact cooperated with the Presidential Commission on Good Government not only in clearing his name but also in helping the PCGG track down the Marcos billions.

I met JPE while I was still a law student at Far Eastern University where he, along with several other Ivy League graduates, were recruited by then-Dean Salonga to beef up the law faculty. Since then, I have monitored his checkered career. Now at the sunset of his life, JPE may still be a perplexity to many. However, I believe he will strive to preserve his legacy and to serve with honor and fortitude, beholden to no one but his conscience and intellect. He rose against FM and Cory. He could do so against GMA.

Manuel B. Villar Jr. JPE’s elevation to the third highest position in our officialdom on Nov. 17 presaged Manny Villar’s descent. About the same day eight years ago, on Nov. 13, 2000, he was also stripped of the speakership of the House of Representatives by the minions of then-President Joseph Ejercito Estrada whose impeachment he led.

But he strategically used his fall from the headship of the Lower House to win a seat in the Upper House in the elections the next year, 2001. I think he would likewise try to use his fall from the Senate presidency to ascend to the highest position in the country come the 2010 elections. After all, all credible poll surveys place him second only to Vice President Noli de Castro in the presidential popularity derby.

Manny, who will turn 60 this Dec. 13, should however be wary of what happened to Sen. Jovito R. Salonga, who was deposed from the Senate presidency on Dec. 11, 1991 in the aftermath of the Senate’s rejection of the extension of the American bases in the Philippines. Although Salonga consistently topped the poll surveys, his ratings declined steeply after his ouster. President Aquino opposed him and the business community, which favored the American bases, withdrew its financial support. As a result, he lost the presidential election in 1992.

In contrast, President Diosdado Macapagal failed to depose then-Senate President Ferdinand Marcos. Result: Marcos bested Macapagal during the 1965 presidential contest.

But Villar can finance his own campaign. He was rated by Forbes magazine in 2007 as the 5th richest Filipino with a net worth of $940 million. Can he win the presidency sans the perks of the Senate top post?

Francis N. Pangilinan. I hope that the leadership change in the Senate will not decapitate the Bantay Korte Suprema (BKS), a broad coalition calling for greater transparency and accountability in the selection of seven new Supreme Court justices next year.

BKS is the brainchild of Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, the Senate’s representative to the Judicial and Bar Council. The Senate coup cost him his post as majority leader. Nonetheless, I trust that he would retain his seat as the Senate’s voice in the JBC so he can continue his gung-ho BKS initiatives.

As a consultant of BKS (to retain my objectivity, I have declined BKS membership), I—along with retired Justice Vicente V. Mendoza and others—support its goal to promote the constitutional “policy of full public disclosure of all transactions involving public interest.”

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