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Senators agree on status quo

It will be a status quo in the Senate leadership in the 18th Congress, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Monday after emerging from the Senate’s caucus before the start of the session following Congress’ break due to the midterm elections.

Sotto said the senators agreed to retain him in his position despite the entry of three neophyte senators―former presidential aide Christopher Go, former PNP Chief Ronald dela Rosa and former presidential consultant Francis Tolentino.

In other developments:

* Voting 17-0, the Senate approved on Monday a bill allowing Filipino employees to render services with a shorter workweek arrangement.

Filed by Senator Joel Villanueva, the proposed measure allows employees to opt out of the usual eight-hour, five-days-a-week schedule.

Specifically, employees may prefer to work for fewer days in a week but with longer hours, provided they meet the required workweek load of 40 hours.

* Senate Majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said despite being certified “urgent” by President Rodrigo Duterte, the sin tax bill to increase tobacco taxes to finance the government’s Universal Health Care program is dead in the Senate.

He said the proposed measure that would address the P62-billion funding gap for the first year of the UHC implementation will be tackled but will not be passed before the 17th Congress adjourns.

In a separate interview, Sotto dismissed the sin tax bill was “good as dead.” 

On the workweek bill, employees may choose to enter into an agreement with the employers as long as it is a “mutually agreed voluntary work arrangement.”

The measure, however, upholds the 48-hour work limit per week.

Even with a mutually agreed work schedule, employees will still be entitled to existing company benefits, Villanueva said in the measure.

The bill is set for submission to the Office of the President for signing into law.

Sotto told reporters that the three new senators, known close allies of Duterte, wanted him to retain the leadership of the upper chamber. This information was given to him by Senator Manny Pacquiao.

With this, he said, Zubiri and Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto will remain in their present positions.

He also said nobody among the senators had expressed willingness to succeed him.

Senator Panfilo Lacson earlier said there was no basis to replace Sotto as they were satisfied with his leadership.

Meanwhile, Sotto said that while Recto was his personal choice to succeed Senator Loren Legarda as Senate Finance Committee chairman, Recto wanted to keep his current position.

Legarda’s term will expire on June 30. She will assume the governorship of Antique after a landslide victory over her opponent.

Sotto said he also preferred Lacson to head the Finance committee, but he had his reservation. “So our next choice, and I think it is a majority choice, is Senator Sonny Angara.”

He said Angara, who won a fresh mandate in the midterm elections, will let go of his chairmanship of the committees on ways and means and local government.

Asked who would take over Angara’s post, Sotto said they still had to wait for the decision of the majority.

But he said Lacson might replace “graduating” Senator Gringo Honasan as chairman of the Senate defense committee.

He also said due to his “malasakit center,” Go wanted to head the Health and Demography committee led by Senator JV Ejercito who failed to make it to the Magic 12 based on the unofficial and partial count of the Comelec. 

Recto said he expected the “majority of 20 senators” to back Sotto’s leadership. He said even the incoming senators aired their support to the present leadership. 

“I don’t expect any changes,” said Recto, who was present in a dinner hosted over the weekend along with Go, Dela Rosa, Tolentino, Ramon Revilla Jr., Senators  Koko Pimentel, Manny Pacquiao and Zubiri.

Recto said no other names were floated as a possible replacement of Sotto. He also said there was nothing to be discussed about that because “we only have one leadership right now.”

Zubiri supported Recto’s statement on the agreement that Sotto would remain the Senate President. 

“So far the discussions were to retain Senator Sotto for Senate President and me as your Majority Leader and Senator Ralph Recto as Senate President Pro Tempore,”said Zubiri in a separate interview.

Topics: Senate , Vicente Sotto III , Gringo Honasan , Christopher Go , JV Ejercito , Universal Health Care
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