At Large

A national drama

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When news got out about the “Christmas gift” that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile bestowed on senators, though four of his colleagues received a lot less than the others, little did the public know the news would soon develop into a  “telenovela.” And what drama has been generated by the news!

Already, we have been “treated” to the washing of very dirty linen in public, including exposés of how money matters in the Senate are handled, sins and offenses of the past dug up and given an airing, the existence of a so-called “24th senator” who has been dubbed the “power behind the throne,” and private affairs exposed for the delectation of a public who may just be abandoning its favorite TV drama serials in favor of this real-life melodrama involving very real (and very powerful) personages.

Caught in the middle of two battling elephants—Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate Minority Floor Leader Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano—is a woman: Gigi Gonzales-Reyes, Enrile’s chief of staff. She is alleged by Cayetano to be acting as if she were herself a member of the Senate, mingling among them at the exclusive Senate lounge, and signing checks and disbursing cash to senators who must, he disclosed, go through her or her brother Patrick before they can see Enrile in person.

Cayetano’s focus on Reyes revives rumors that the relationship between the octogenarian senator and the fiftyish lawyer goes beyond work and official duties. Once again reports that Enrile’s wife Cristina walked out of the family home after finding out about the liaison between her husband and his chief of staff have surfaced, and so has speculation about just how “powerful” Gigi has become in the Senate. The Enriles seem to have ironed out their differences and are once again living under the same roof (or in the same compound), with Cristina even giving an interview some years back in which she said that she wakes up every morning “thanking God for my husband.”

Gigi, the daughter of the late journalist-editor Pat Gonzales, has likewise managed to weather the tempest, keeping a relatively low profile until she gave an interview on radio in which she sounded off about the “hypocrites” in the Senate denouncing the yearend cash allotment when they have been receiving such amounts for the past years without so much as a peep of protest.

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Apparently, it was Gigi’s outspoken denunciation that provoked Cayetano, who was moved enough to lay before an avid audience the inner and secret workings of the Senate, especially where money matters are concerned.

In turn, Enrile took the floor to respond to Cayetano’s charges, but only after disclosing that Cayetano’s late father, Sen. Rene “Compañero” Cayetano, left their law firm with millions of pesos in debt. This struck me, for one, as being terribly unfair, since the late “Compañero” is no longer around to refute the charges, and since Enrile, granting that his accusation is true, has had more than a decade to go after the late senator or his family if he so wished. And what did the senior Cayetano’s debt have to do with the question at hand? This is diversion at best, an attempt to elude the charges aired by the fuming minority leader.

As for Ms Gigi, I can remember quite clearly the response of Jack Enrile, the congressman from Cagayan who is running for the Senate, when in a lunch with media women he was asked about Gigi’s role in his father’s life. “I am very thankful to her because she has made my father into the man he is today,” Jack Enrile declared. The response stunned us not just for its honesty but also for the ringing endorsement he seemed to be issuing in favor of the relationship. And indeed, he added, his being “friends” with Gigi has led to an estrangement between him and his mother and his sister Katrina.

And speaking of Jack, he recently issued a statement in response to chatter on social media that he was withdrawing from the Senate race. “I have not withdrawn or contemplated the idea of withdrawing from the May 2013 senatorial race,” he said. “I have no reason to withdraw when the race has not even started,” he added, noting that the truth is that “I have stepped up my resolve to see this electoral exercise to its very end, win or lose.”

Who has lost and who has won in this Senate melodrama? As in any TV drama, who will walk off when the final credits roll with smiles on their faces or with tears streaming down their cheeks?

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Still on the younger Enrile, who was one of the original authors of the “Kasambahay bill,” he must be jumping for joy with the recent signing into law of this piece of legislation that seeks to protect the rights and promote the welfare of domestic workers.

Another party elated by this new law is the Visayan Forum, an NGO devoted to protecting the rights of domestic workers here and abroad and preventing human trafficking within and without our shores.

The Forum said it is grateful to P-Noy for signing the bill into law and to the bill’s sponsors and champions: Vice President Jojo Binay, Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Loren Legarda, and Representatives Enrile and Emil Ong, who, together with VF, its NGO partners and supporters, worked for 18 years to pass the bill into law.

Among its features, the “Kasambahay Law” sets a minimum wage for domestic workers, requires membership in the “social benefit systems” of government such as SSS and PhilHealth, and protects them by means of a contract of employment.

One of the bill’s signal accomplishments even before enactment, though, was to transform the image of domestic workers from “househelp” to “house members,” workers who are also part of the family.

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