MANILA, Philippines – Senators who stayed up until the wee hours of Tuesday morning were furious when a Department of Tourism (DOT) official told them to stop asking more questions to shorten several agencies’ deliberations on the proposed 2024 budget.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said Cynthia Carrion, CEO of the Philippine Pension Service, a DOT-affiliated agency, sent text messages to several of her fellow senators to stop asking questions.
Zubiri claims that at one point Carrion texted Senator Risa Hontiveros asking her to stop asking more questions of Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials so that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources would be next in line to make arrangements.
“We are simply following our constitutional mandate to listen to all budgets and ask urgently what the funds are being used for,” Zubiri said during deliberations on DOT’s P3.3 billion budget.
“We have no right to stop any member of the Senate from asking questions, and as president of the Senate, I will never do that to any of you,” Zubiri said.
“If it was just me, I would just let it go. But when I heard that you were texting other members of the Senate, particularly offensive messages to Senator Risa Hontiveros. This is not right, this is not right,” he added.
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Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said Carrion told his colleagues that DOT officials were waiting in the Senate from 1 p.m. on Monday. Estrada, however, pointed out that senators work from 9 a.m
“To this department head: She’s been here since 1 a.m. waiting for their agency’s budget to be processed. And I would like to point out to Ms. Cynthia Carrion that we have been working here since nine in the morning,” Estrada said.
“We are doing what we have to do and no one has the right to tell us to stop talking here. Who are you to ask us to stop asking questions?”
An outraged Estrada stressed that the Senate could defer the DOT budget.
“Remember: If one of us says [you] DOT budget deferral, what will happen to you? You can not do anything. If I decide to defer your budget or cut the DOT budget because of your actions against my colleagues, what will happen to the DOT budget?”
“Our colleagues deserve an apology,” Estrada said.
Hontiveros also took offense to Carrion’s remarks, but said Carrion, along with Tourism Secretary Maria Christina Frasco, had already apologized.
Frasco also revealed that Carrion had approached her to demand that DOT be placed first on the Senate agenda.
“I immediately replied to her that we couldn’t do that because the senate is an independent body,” Frasco said.
“Imagine my shock and utter disappointment when I learned that she had started sending these inappropriate text messages despite what I had clearly told her,” Frasco said.
Hontiveros also thanked Frasco for his apology.
“I am a proud member of the minority and I feel offended when the president of the Senate of our institution receives text messages with such messages,” Hontiveros said.
“Thank you very much to Secretary Frasco for his apology. I heard an apology from the person concerned, but moving forward, words must be followed by actions. I hope that everything will become clear in the coming days,” she added.
Meanwhile, Senator Joel Villanueva also expressed his feelings after the incident.
“I have not received any text messages from this certain agency head, but I just want to place on record my utmost disgust, dismay and disappointment, especially from a government official,” Villanueva said.
“I am offended that I am a member of this institution,” he added.