TIRED after days and long hours of hearing budget presentations of different government agencies in plenary sessions, senators were suddenly energized at past 1 a.m. on Tuesday and took turns lambasting a newly-appointed tourism official for what they described as “inappropriate” text messages.
Before discussing the proposed P3.4-billion budget of the Department of Tourism (DOT) sponsored by Committee on Tourism chair Senator Nancy Binay, Senator Jinggoy Estrada took to the floor to reveal how Cynthia Carrion, general manager of the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA), has been texting senators, complaining that Deputy Minority Leader Senator Risa Hontiveros’s interpellations of budget sponsors of government agencies, had been holding up the hearing of DOT’s own budget.
“No one has the right to tell us to stop talking here,” roared Estrada. “It is our duty and our job to [hear the budgets]. Imagine, telling the Senate President [Juan Miguel Zubiri], ‘We’ve been here since 1 pm (on Monday) waiting for DOT’s budget to be heard.’ We’ve (Senators) been working since last week deliberating on the budgets of all the departments here, then [you’re] telling the Deputy Minority Leader to stop asking questions …. Who are you to tell us to stop asking questions? Remember, if one of us tells the sponsor to defer the budget of DOT, what will happen to you?”
For his part, Zubiri, who said Carrion was a family friend, stressed “when I heard you had been texting other members of the Senate, particularly insulting messages to Senator Hontiveros to stop asking questions of the budget of the DENR because you want DOT to be next in line, that is not proper, that is inappropriate. And the sad part about it is, she doesn’t know you from Adam.” Other senators texted were Senators Cynthia Villar and Pia Cayetano.
This is not the first time that Carrion, a former aerobics instructor and classmate of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has attracted undue attention. In January 2003, she was transferred to the then Philippine Visitors and Conventions Corp., after her colleagues at the Philippine Sports Commission complained to Arroyo about Carrion’s alleged arrogant behavior, and after her name was dragged in alleged anomalous transactions. Under the last administration, Carrion was head of the Corregidor Foundation Inc., which the Commission on Audit flagged for “unauthorized” payments to personnel from 2018 to 2022 amounting to some P61.7 million.
Hontiveros thanked her fellow senators for having her back and said government agencies should have no “sense of entitlement” regarding the hearing of their respective budgets.
Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco publicly apologized to the senators on behalf of her department and revealed that Carrion also approached her and “demanded” that the DOT budget be prioritized in the hearing. Later, informed about Carrion’s texts to senators, Frasco demanded the latter “issue an immediate and personal apology to all of the senators, including the good Senate President for having acted at the height of impropriety, and also to make very clear that she acted on her own, and without the imprimatur of the Department of Tourism, or any other attached agency or official of the DOT. That being said, Mr. Senate President, she earlier apologized personally to the Senators.”
The DOT chief said Carrion would be investigated for her actions and would receive “the appropriate penalty that is appropriate to the impropriety of her actions.” Malacañang announced the appointment of Carrion to the PRA board in September.
Image credits: Bibo Nueva España/Senate PRIB