On Feb. 2, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, delivered a speech on the Senate floor calling on the Office of the Ombudsman and the Civil Service Commission to promptly file administrative and criminal cases against Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi, for approving the sale of the 45% participating interest of Chevron Malampaya LLC Philippines to UC Malampaya, an indirect subsidiary of Udenna Corporation.
He alleged that Cusi and his subordinates are liable for gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct in evaluating and approving the transaction. Pursuant to the Revised Administrative Code of 1987, those found guilty will face dismissal from public service. He further claimed that Cusi, as the final approving authority, is also criminally liable under a provision of the RA 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, for knowingly granting the privilege of a participating interest in Service Contract 38 to UC Malampaya — an entity that is clearly not qualified to own it.
In the plenary session on that day, the Senate adopted Gatchalian’s resolution “Expressing the sense of the Senate to file the appropriate criminal and administrative charges before the Office of the Ombudsman and the Civil Service Commission against Secretary Alfonso Cusi and other DoE officials for approving and recommending approval of the Chevron Philippines-UC Malampaya transaction contrary to law and regulation.”
Senate Majority Leader Mig Zubiri, Senators Bong Revilla, Bato dela Rosa, and Francis Tolentino abstained from signing the resolution.
On Feb. 4, Gatchalian personally filed the resolution, which, according to him, bears the signature of 18 senators, with the Office of the Ombudsman.
At about the same time, circulating among the same members of the Senate was the 113-page report of Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers, better known as the Blue-Ribbon Committee, on the investigation into the government’s use of pandemic funds and its transactions with Pharmally. The report recommends the filing of plunder, graft, and other criminal charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque, other former government officials, Chinese businessman Michael Yang, and Pharmally executives.
The report also says that at some point after his term of office, charges must be considered against President Rodrigo Duterte because he “betrayed the public trust” when he appointed Yang as his economic adviser and allowed him to help Pharmally, a newly created undercapitalized firm, bag a P10-billion contract with the government. The report further says Duterte betrayed public trust when he sought to discredit not just the Senate but also the Commission on Audit whose state auditors first reported on the anomalies in the Pharmally deals.
In contrast to the speed with which the senators endorsed Gatchalian’s resolution on the Malampaya case to the Office of the Ombudsman is the sluggishness with which the same senators are handling Gordon’s report. Only seven senators other than Gordon have signed the report. They are Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon, Senators Ping Lacson, Manny Pacquiao, Koko Pimentel, Kiko Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, and Leila de Lima.
The report requires the signatures of at least 11 of the 20 members of the endorsing committee to be accepted as an official committee report before it can be submitted for plenary deliberation. So, the signatures of three more senators are needed for the report to be referred to the plenary. Senate sources indicated that other senators want to read the entire report first before signing it.
The difference between the speedy treatment of the Gatchalian resolution and the sluggish handling of the Gordon report lies in the inclusion of President Duterte among those to be charged in the Gordon narrative. Senators Bong Go, Bato dela Rosa, and Francis Tolentino are not expected to sign the report as they owe their membership in the Senate to the President.
Senators Gatchalian, Migz Zubiri, and Joel Villanueva are running for re-election. Signing the Gordon report could alienate the Duterte diehards among the voters, an eventuality they certainly want to avoid. Imee Marcos’ brother Bongbong is running for president. Cynthia Villar’s son Mark and Pia Cayetano’s brother Alan Peter are also running for the Senate. President Duterte endorsed the senatorial bids of Imee, Cynthia, and Pia in the 2019 elections. Their signing the Gordon report could draw the ire of the President, who would likely exhort his rabid followers not to vote for Bongbong, Mark, and Alan Peter.
Senators Sonny Angara, Bong Revilla, and Lito Lapid were also endorsed by President Duterte in their run for the Senate in 2019. They owe him a debt of gratitude. Their signing the report would be a betrayal of their patron.
Considering that all the 18 hearings of the committee were televised, exposing to the electorate the apparent anomalous transactions of Pharmally and the obvious attempts of the President to disrupt the investigation and to shield certain officials from being interrogated, a senator not signing the report could be taken by civil society to mean he or she would dismiss the Blue Ribbon Committee’s report of massive graft and corruption in order not to alienate the President and his rabid followers.
However, the senators’ servility to President Duterte could backfire on them. The electorate might repudiate Gatchalian, Zubiri, Villanueva, Mark Villar, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Bongbong on Election Day.
This brings to mind the Craven Eleven. During the impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada in 2001, his allies in the Senate tried to block the opening of an envelope believed to contain evidence that Estrada received bribes in the tens of millions.
Those who voted “No” to the opening of the envelope were Senators Blas Ople, Juan Ponce Enrile, Nikki Coseteng, Gregorio Honasan, Robert Jaworski, Tess Oreta, John Osmeña, Ramon Revilla, Miriam Santiago, Tito Sotto, and Francisco Tatad. The press branded them the Craven Eleven. The 16 senators who have not signed the Gordon report might go down in history as the Servile Sixteen.
Tatad, Honasan, Jaworski, Osmeña, and Santiago all lost in their bids for re-election. Coseteng, having reached her term limit as senator, ran for representative of her congressional district, but lost ignominiously. Oreta deemed it wise not to run for office again. She instead fielded her daughter as a candidate for representative of the Oreta political bailiwick. She lost. Ople and Revilla decided to retire from politics.
Tatad, Jaworski, Osmeña, Coseteng, Oreta, Ople, and Revilla only voted against opening an envelope believed to contain evidence incriminating President Estrada. That one simple act ended their political careers. Those who vote “No” to the Gordon report might meet the same fate as those who voted “No” to the opening of an envelope in the Estrada impeachment trial.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.