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Bracing for a Super Majority at the Senate in the 18th Congress.

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

With their apparent win in the senatorial race, more allies of President Duterte are expected to flank the Senate come the 18th Congress.

None of the senatorial candidates from the opposition was able to clinch a spot in the "Magic 12", according to the partial and unofficial results of midterm elections. Reelectionist and Otso Diretso bet Senator Paolo "Bam" Aquino IV was closest, but he was at 14th place as of 1:53 p.m. Tuesday.

Possibly winning were reelectionist Sen. Cynthia Villar, Sen. Grace Poe, former presidential assistant Christopher "Bong" Go, Taguig City Rep. Pia Cayetano, ex-police general Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, Sen. Sonny Angara, former senator Lito Lapid, Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, former presidential political adviser Francis Tolentino, former senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, and Sen. Nancy Binay. Reelectionist Sen. JV Ejercito ranked 13th, so far.

Of those in the winning circle, four are members of the ruling Partido Demokratiko ng Pilipinas-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) chaired by President Duterte: Go, Dela Rosa, Pimentel, Tolentino. While they belong to different political parties, Villar, Cayetano, Angara, Lapid, Marcos, Revilla, and Ejercito were also endorsed by either the PDP-Laban and the Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

Meanwhile, Poe, an independent candidate, and Binay, of the United Nationalist Alliance, are members of the Senate majority bloc.

Super majority

When 12 of these candidates are proclaimed, they will add up to the already-significant number of senators in the Senate's majority bloc.

Eight of the 12 incumbent senators who have continuing terms in the 18th Congress can be considered allied with the President, despite opposing, or having had remained silent on some of Duterte's policies. They are Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senators Panfilo Lacson, Richard Gordon, Sherwin Gatchalian, Manny Pacquiao, and Joel Villanueva.

Altogether, they will obviously outnumber the four remaining senators in the minority bloc: Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Sens. Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, and Leila de Lima, who is detained and cannot participate in committee hearings nor plenary debates, or vote on pieces of legislation.

Sens. Francis Escudero, Gregorio Honasan, Loren Legarda, and staunch Duterte critic Antonio Trillanes IV will finish their term limit on July.

But Sotto, in various press briefings, had repeatedly assured the Senate "independence" even with administration allies dominating its ranks.

"I am sure the Senate will remain independent and I will endeavor to keep it that way if our leadership remains intact. I believe the incoming senators will be aware of this importance," Sotto reiterated to the Manila Bulletin in a text message Tuesday.

This assurance, however, will only stand if Sotto remains the Senate's leader in the next Congress. The possibility of a new Senate leader being elected is always in the offing at the start of every Congress.

And Sotto said he was willing to step down if his peers say so.

Drilon, for his part, vowed that the minority bloc will continue to examine and criticize constructively the measures and policies pushed by the majority.

"The people have spoken. I respect it (the results of the May 13 polls)," the former Senate president said in a statement.

"For the opposition, there may be less in numbers now, but we will continue to fiscalize in the Senate," he added.

Criticism

Sotto said differing opinions and criticisms from the minority bloc are important in the Senate's legislative processes.

"Mahalaga din 'yon (That also important). Although sometimes there were times in the past na may members of the majority na kumokontra din (also oppose)...Kung tutuusin, merong mga kontra sa majority (In fact, not all members of the majority are yes-men) but to answer your question, most of the time, we find a common ground. Usually," the Senate chief said in a recent press briefing.

Sotto said that under his leadership, the majority and the minority senators have been "very friendly" with each other. He said the minority, despite its criticisms, have been "constructive most of the time."

"If there are issues that the minority are not supportive of, what we do is we talk to former Senate President Drilon who is the minority leader, and we see eye to eye most of the time," Sotto said, calling Drilon a "good friend."

Poe, for her part, said electing independent-minded senators was important.

"Oposisyon man o administrasyon, ang importante ay may sariling isip. Kung ano ang kanilang paniniwala, 'yun dapat ang kanilang sundin dahil ang kanilang utang na loob ay hindi dapat sa partido kundi sa ating mga kababayan," she said last Friday.

"Kahit na anong komposisyon, 'pag galing sa isang kampo lamang, baka naman maging sunud-sunuran sa iisang grupo lang, hindi tama 'yon. Lalung-lalo na ang Senado na lang ang tinitingala na parang nagkakaroon pa ng konting diskurso para maging balanse," she added.

For Poe, being a member of the majority does not equate to being supportive, not to President Duterte's administration, but to the Senate leadership.

"Naniniwala ako sa liderato ng Senado, the Senate President. Kasi kung mapapansin niyo, kahit 'yung majority ngayon, marami kaming sinusuportahan na panukala ng administrasyon pero may mga bagay na hindi rin kami sang-ayon. At nirerespeto 'yon ng aming Senate President ngayon. Ngayon, kung mag-iiba ang Senate President, ibang usapan 'yon, kung sino 'yon," Poe said.

The independent reelectionist said she will remain with the Senate majority bloc if Sotto will continue to lead the chamber in the 18th Congress.

Admin policies in full swing?

With more Duterte-backed senators on board, will the Senate pursue more of the administration's priority legislation?

This does not appear to be the scenario, according to Pimentel. At the MB Hot Seat interview last May 2, Pimentel said President Duterte has not and will never meddle with the Senate's work.

He also said that the victory of administration allies will not guarantee that Duterte-backed measures will gain ground in Senate, for example, the transition to a federal government.

"I cannot say that pro-Duterte administration candidates winning means the strengthening of the federalism movement...Some of them are even against it," Pimentel said.

Lacson, in a tweet over the weekend, also assured that the Senate will not allow attempts to rush deliberations on Charter change and federalism.

"We crossed party lines to resist and fight all attempts by the HOR (House of Representatives) to employ all the tricks and threats in their arsenal to railroad Charter change. We succeeded. There is no reason why we will fail in the 18th Congress," Lacson said, disagreeing to De Lima's concern that the checks and balances in the Senate would be "decimated" once Duterte allies assume majority of its seats.

Federalism proposals were placed in the backburner after incumbent senators expressed their reservations in revising the 1987 Constitution.

Like the proposed federal shift, death penalty bills have also languished in Senate as senators remain cold to the proposal. Some of them only want capital punishment for certain crimes, such high-level drug trafficking.

The Senate, last year, also shelved discussions on the second tranche of the Duterte government's tax reform program, or TRAIN 2, after economic managers failed to convince senators that it will not be detrimental to employment. Instead, they proposed replacement measure for TRAIN 2, such as the lowering of value-added tax imposed on goods and services.

Committees

Come the 18th Congress, the Senate is also expected to make changes in the committee leaderships.

As in past Congresses, the Senate majority gets to decide which committee will be given for the minority to lead.

Some reelectionists expressed their intention to continue their chairmanship in certain committees, but for minority senators, this will be up to the majority.

Pangilinan, for instance, chairs the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, which tackles proposals to revise the Constitution, including the federalism shift.

Trillanes is also expected to vacate his chairmanship of the Committee on Civil Service and Government Reorganization, which discusses measures relating to the status and other affairs of government officials and employees. Trillanes also leads the Social Justice committee for De Lima, who was designated as its chairman before her detention.

Hontiveros chairs the Committee on Women, Family Relations and Gender Equality.

Should one or two of Aquino, Ejercito, or Binay fail to win, the chairmanships of the committees on Science and Technology; Urban Planning, Housing and Resettlement; Health and Demography; Tourism; Cultural Communities will be up for grabs.

The committees on Education; National Defense and Security; Peace, Unification, and Reconciliation; Foreign Relations; and most importantly, Finance, which deliberates on the annual budget, shall also have new chairpersons to replace outgoing Escudero, Honasan and Legarda. #MatalinongBoto2019

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Title Annotation:National
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:May 14, 2019
Words:1445
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