In the wake of the recent deaths of 19 wildland firefighters in the mountains of Northern Arizona, many have asked what it’s like to be in a forest fire. Here’s my experience:
Thirty years ago, I and my best friend Carlos, a dubiously dynamic duo of a sort, joined a U.S. Forest Service contract firecrew based near the Monterey Bay, as middle-class college grads in our mid-20s, lean and fit, comfortable in the outdoors, itching for adventure, good pay, and minimal BS.
“It’s time to call a spade a spade,” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said Wednesday in response to an Inquirer report in which a colleague described as “unconscionable and unconstitutional” his decision to grant last Christmas P1.6 million in additional maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) to each of 18 senators.
Four senators with whom Enrile does not see eye to eye on matters both professional and personal each received only P250,000.
Enrile invoked the exercise of his sole discretion in his refusal to give P1.6 million to the four senators—Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, his sister Pia, and Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Antonio Trillanes IV.
The Senate President said what he gave to his colleagues was not bribe money.
“Those senators who think that I am bribing anyone with additional budgets in order to keep my post as Senate President must have a very low opinion of their own colleagues,” Enrile said.
He said he was elected Senate President twice and could look at anyone straight in the eye in saying that “I did not buy this position. Not one single centavo of the people’s money is spent just to enable me to cling to this office.”
The senator, who disclosed the unequal Christmas cash “gifts” from Enrile and asked not to be named, said the P1.6 million could be interpreted as a bribe to prevent a Senate reorganization when Congress resumes its sessions on Jan. 21.
In a press statement, Enrile explained that the Cayetanos, Santiago and Trillanes were not totally left out of the picture when the additional MOOE was given to senators.
Enrile said the four received the first installment of P600,000 in additional MOOE that was released by the Senate budget office in November 2012.
The confusion apparently began when Enrile instructed his chief of staff, Jessica “Gigi” Reyes, to exclude him and the four senators “in the succeeding releases of any further additional MOOE.”
This meant the four senators did not receive the second installment of P1.3 million and the final installment of P318,000—amounts that Enrile said were released before the Christmas break.
Enrile said a request by the Senate budget office made him approve “the use of the amounts that I waived and those that I did not authorize to be released to the four senators to be used by the Senate for its other expenditures. This is all on record.”
Enrile wondered why the issuance of additional MOOEs suddenly became an issue. He said he had been giving the MOOEs to senators since he was chosen Senate President in 2008.
These included the P1 million for each senator in 2008 as a second tranche to the P500,000 earlier released by then Senate President Manuel Villar; P1 million each in 2009; two tranches—P1.316 million and P318,000—in 2010; and three tranches—P500,000, P1.3 million and P318,000 in 2011.
“All the senators, including those now complaining or calling it ‘unconscionable’ and ‘unconstitutional’ received these amounts. Yet they never said anything nor questioned it before,” Enrile said.
Nearly P2 million
It was Santiago who clarified in an interview with Radyo Inquirer Wednesday that the P250,000 in cash gift that Enrile gave to all senators for Christmas was different from the P1.6 million given to each of the 18 senators.
They were Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto, Panfilo Lacson, Manuel Villar, Joker Arroyo, Edgardo Angara, Franklin Drilon, Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Sergio Osmeña III, Teofisto Guingona III, Manuel “Lito” Lapid, Ramon Revilla Jr., Francis Pangilinan, Gregorio Honasan, Aquilino Pimentel III, Ralph Recto and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Santiago said this meant that the 18 got “nearly P2 million each as Christmas gift, ha? Sarap ng senador!”
‘Personal cash gift’
In her case, Santiago said she ordered her staff to return the P250,000 that the Office of the Senate President’s staff described as “JPE’s (Enrile’s initials) personal cash gift” on Jan. 4.
“He returned my biscuits, so I returned his cash,” Santiago explained, referring to the baked goodies from Panaderia de Molo of Iloilo that she gave to Enrile for Christmas.
She said her staff automatically deposited the check but when she learned about it, she promptly ordered the money returned to Enrile.
The Senate President confirmed he sent back the biscuits and cited his strained relations with Santiago as the reason for returning them.
Enrile said he learned that Santiago gave back the P250,000 on Monday.
“I was told that Senator Santiago sent me back a check for the same amount of P250,000 with a letter from her chief of staff explaining that the check I gave was inadvertently deposited. So Senator Santiago gave back my gift, as I gave back hers. Fair enough,” he said.
Issue: Unequal amounts
Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. told the Inquirer that there was nothing irregular in Enrile’s issuance of additional MOOE.
“But honestly speaking, while (Enrile) has the discretion (to issue additional MOOE), it’s obvious that the issue at hand is why senators were given unequal amounts. So a disgruntled senator approached media,” Pimentel said in a phone interview.
Estrada and Lacson were the first to confirm publicly Wednesday that they received the additional MOOE from the Office of the Senate President.
Both, however, insisted that Enrile had the authority to realign unspent funds and convert these to MOOE.
Estrada said his office was using this type of fund from the Senate President’s office “to aid calamity victims” such as those from a recent fire in his bailiwick, San Juan City, and Typhoon “Pablo” victims in Compostela Valley.
Lacson said in a text message that “all the monies are with my finance officer and are (being) disbursed for their intended purposes.” (inquirer.net)