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Sotto vows independent, inclusive Senate.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III assured the public yesterday that he would not hesitate to criticize Malacanang on policies that he views as adverse to the people even as he pledged the chamber's support for initiatives that would boost growth and social services.

'If we have to criticize, we will criticize. But we will be cooperative when it comes to legislation that will benefit Filipinos,' Sotto told reporters.

Sotto was responding to questions on the chamber's relations with Malacanang after he took over the helm of the Senate from Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III on Monday.

He reiterated that he does not belong to the PDP-Laban that puts him at a distance from the administration and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who belongs to the ruling party.

'As far as politics is concerned, I am independent, we remain independent and I'm glad to keep the leadership of this entire Senate independent,' he said.

Sotto said he was open to supporting the death penalty bill if imposed only on convicted big-time drug traffickers.

He said he was not too keen on the divorce bill but would push for the relaxation on the requirements of annulment of marriage.

Sotto also said he was open to amending the Constitution as long as the Senate and the House of Representatives will vote separately if Charter change will be done through Congress.

He said the Senate will also be more vocal on China's increasing military activities in Philippine-claimed territories in the South China Sea.

He justified not signing the resolution signed by 14 of his colleagues asking the Supreme Court to review its decision to remove chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, saying he does not want to interfere in the workings of the judiciary in the same way he does not want the judicial branch to meddle in the affairs of Congress.

Members of the minority bloc challenged Sotto to be more aggressive in helping address the concerns of Filipinos.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said the Senate should press for the suspension of the Tax Reform for Inclusion and Acceleration (TRAIN) law and take a strong stand against China's militarization of the South China Sea.

Aquino also cited the 'continued violence and killings in our streets.'

'The new leadership must face these challenges head on. They have an opportunity to live up to the historical legacy of the Senate as the last bastion of independence and democracy in our country,' he said.

Despite Sotto's support for the revival of the death penalty, the former executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (CBCP-ECFL) Fr. Melvin Castro welcomed the installation of the new Senate president.

Castro said that except for Sotto's position on the death penalty bill, he believed the new Senate president would be able to protect life.

'I personally am glad that Sen. Tito Sotto was elected Senate president. Except for that particular issue on the death penalty, he is generally pro-life,' said Castro.

'I believe divorce and the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression) bills would not prosper under his term,' he added.

The Death Penalty Bill is still pending before the Senate.

Sotto has been vocal about his support on the passage of the measure. Last year, he clarified that the punishment of death should only be imposed on convicted high-level drug traffickers.
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Publication:Philippines Star (Manila, Philippines)
Date:May 23, 2018
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