Senators offended by DOT official for texting them to stop asking questions

(INQUIRER) MANILA, Philippines — Senators, who were up until the wee hours of Tuesday, were furious after a Department of Tourism (DOT) official told them to stop asking more questions to cut short the deliberation of the proposed 2024 budget of several agencies.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said that Cynthia Carrion, general manager of the Philippine Retirement Authority, a DOT-attached agency, texted several of his fellow senators to stop asking questions.

At one point, Zubiri said Carrion texted Sen. Risa Hontiveros, telling her to stop asking more questions to the officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources so the DOT would be the next in line with the deliberations.

“We are just doing our constitutional mandate of hearing all the budgets and asking diligently where the funds are being utilized,” Zubiri said during the deliberations of the DOT budget amounting to P3.3 billion.

“We have no right to stop any member of the Senate from asking questions, and as a Senate president 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 more insulting messages to Senator Risa Hontiveros. That is not proper, that is not appropriate,” he added.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said that Carrion told his colleagues that the DOT officials had been waiting in the Senate since 1 p.m. on Monday. But Estrada pointed out that the senators had been working since 9 a.m.

“To that department head: She has been here since one o’clock, waiting for the budget of their agency to be deliberated upon. And may I call the attention of Ms. Cynthia Carrion that we have been working here since nine o’clock in the morning,” Estrada said.

“We are doing our job and no one has the right to tell us to stop talking here. Who are you to ask us to stop asking questions?”

Incensed, Estrada stressed that the Senate could defer the DOT budget.

“Remember: if one of us tells [you] to defer the budget of the DOT, what will happen to you? You cannot do anything. If I move to defer your budget or slash the budget of the DOT because of your actuations towards my colleagues here, what will happen to the budget of the DOT?”

“Our colleagues, they deserve an apology from you,” Estrada said.

Hontiveros was also offended by Carrion’s remarks, but she said Carrion, along with Tourism Secretary Maria Christina Frasco, already apologized.

Frasco also revealed that Carrion approached her to demand that the DOT be placed first in the schedule of the Senate deliberations.

“To which, I immediately replied to her to say that we cannot do that because the senate is an independent body,” Frasco said.

“Imagine my shock and utter disappointment when I learned that she, in defiance of what I have been clear to her about, proceeded to send these inappropriate text messages,” Frasco said.

Hontiveros also thanked Frasco for her apology.

“I am a proud member of the minority, and I take offense if the Senate president of our institution is being texted with such messages,” Hontiveros said.

“Thank you very much to Secretary Frasco for her apology. I heard the apology of the person concerned, but moving forward, words must be followed by action. I hope things can be set right in the next days,” she added.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joel Villanueva also expressed his sentiments after the incident.