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Quick caucus averts Senate ‘tug of war’

To thwart the looming “tug of war” over committee chairmanships, members of the so-called supermajority in the Senate listed their preferred committees during a dinner-meeting in the Dasmariñas residence of Senator Manny Pacquiao in Makati City Wednesday.

Quick caucus averts Senate ‘tug of war’
SENATE CAUCUS. Senate President Vicente Sotto III leads veterans and neophytes during a  meet-and-greet dinner hosted by Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao. Conspicuously absent from the caucus which tackled plum committee posts among other issues were reelected Senators Cynthia Villar and  Aquilino Pimentel III. 
“We just made lists but it looks like Senate President [Vicente Sotto III] has fixed the problems on the committees,” said Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, speaking in Filipino.

Senator Joel Villanueva described the gathering as quick.

“SP (Senate President) talked about the Senate, its tradition and culture and the importance of independence. Also respect,” said Villanueva.

Also present in the meeting were Zubiri, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Villanueva, and Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Grace Poe and outgoing Senators Loren Legarda, Gregorio Honasan, and reelected Senators Juan Edgardo Angara and Nancy Binay.

Newly-elected Senators Ronald dela Rosa, Francis Tolentino, Christopher Go, Imee Marcos and returning Senators Bong Revilla and Lito Lapid were also present.

Dela Rosa, Tolentino and Go, all members of the ruling PDP-Laban, had met earlier with Sotto, but there were no details of what they discussed.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, president of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban, did not attend.

Other members of the supermajority bloc who were also absent from the meeting were Senators Richard Gordon, Cynthia Villar, JV Ejercito, and Panfilo Lacson.

Villar said she could not go because of a prior appointment, but said the Nacionalista Party was represented by Marcos.

Lacson had earlier informed the group that he could not make it due to his birthday celebration.

Newly-elected Senator Pia Cayetano is abroad.

None of the minority bloc were there.

Independent Senators Grace Poe and Francis Escudero were also a no-show.

Sotto and the other senators have not yet released the chairmanships of the Senate committees based on the choice of the senators who were present in the dinner meeting.

Tolentino had earlier aired his desire to take over the chairmanship of the Blue Ribbon committee from Gordon. The latter, however, said he would not give up his committee, citing the “equity of the incumbent.”

Poe, incumbent chairperson of the public service committee, has also aired her desire to head Gordon’s committee.

Three senators—Gatchalian, Villanueva and Marcos—wanted to have the education committee since Escudero’s term will expire on June 30.

Villar said she wants to keep the chairmanship of the agriculture and food committee and the environment and natural resources committee to continue her advocacies.

Lacson said he is ready to turn over the chairmanship of the public order and dangerous drugs to Dela Rosa as he will succeed Honasan, who is also among the graduating senators as chair of the defense committee.

Earlier, six senators whose terms end this month bid their colleagues goodbye Wednesday, the last day of the 17th Congress, even as Sotto highlighted the chamber’s achievements and its independence from the other branches of government.

Leaving the Senate are Senators Loren Legarda, Escudero, Honasan, Antonio Trillanes IV, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, and JV Ejercito, with the last two failing to win reelection.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, vice president of the Liberal Party, acknowledged Sotto for having been fair to the minority.

“We were not treated differently... (we were treated) just like the majority. What was important, we were respected as the minority. No bills were railroaded. Our role as the minority was respected,” Drilon said.

Lacson noted that in all his 15 years in the Senate, best camaraderie among the senators happened under Sotto’s leadership.

“In all my 15 years in the Senate, this batch is above par in camaraderie, both majority and minority, regardless of some tense moments on the floor,” Lacson said.

“I attribute this atmosphere mostly to the leadership style of SP Sotto, and I am not trying to be generous to him when I say this,” he added.

In his valedictory speech, Sotto said that when the 18th Congress opens on July 22, he hopes the Senate will carry on the task they are passing on to them.

“Let us remain cooperative but independent, balanced, transparent and sincere,” he said.

In the last three years, the Senate had filed 2,235 bills and 1,048 resolutions. Of the bills filed, 464 were signed into law. He enumerated at least 10 “notable” bills enacted into law during the 17th Congress: the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the National Identification System, the Universal Health Care Law, the Mental Health Act, the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, the Mandatory PhilHealth Coverage for PWDs, the Corporation Code of the Philippines, the Telecommuting Law, the Magna Carta of the Poor, and the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Programs (4Ps) Act.

But more than this, Sotto said, the Senate asserted its independence as shown in some of the issues that confronted the chamber.

“Late last year, in spite of a perceived preference of the Prosecutorial Service and the Courts to serve a warrant of arrest on one of our members, we took the view that the same may not be served while the subject of said warrant was in our castle,” Sotto said.

“We did not prejudge the case in favor of our colleague. We only meant to consider our premises as inviolable while in the discharge of its functions,” he said, alluding to opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who sought refuge in the Senate in September 2018 after a Makati court issued a warrant for his arrest in relation to an old coup d’etat case in 2011.

“Secondly, did we insist on the due process of law especially when it came to legislative enactments. I believe we did,” Sotto said. He specifically cited how the Senate stood its ground against the alleged “pork insertions” by House members in the 2019 national budget.

Sotto also noted how the Senate investigated alleged anomalies and irregularities in government such as the smuggling of billions of pesos worth of shabu into the country; election fraud involving Smartmatic; and Metro Manila’s water supply shortage in March.

Poe, who delivered the privilege speech for the six outgoing senators recognized all of them as “graduating with honors.”

“They may not be physically here in the next h18th) Congress, but each of them will leave behind a body of work so expansive in scope, so enriching in purpose, and so progressive in nature that their presence will be felt until the time that they will reclaim their place again in this chamber,” she said.

Drilon said they may be in the minority but the six-member opposition bloc got a lot of things done in the Senate and shepherded into passage a number of landmark measures.

Drilon said the minority senators’ legislative scorecard paints a vivid picture of how productive they had been in the 17thCongress, which made possible the enactment of legislation that are now benefiting the nation.

“The 17th Congress has not been easy for the opposition. It is hard to be in the opposing side these days,” Drilon admitted.

“We saw our colleague Senator [Leila] De Lima detained. All of us in the minority were subjected to criticisms and attacks,” Drilon said.

“Despite all these, we soldiered on and remained focused on one goal: to get things done for the people,” he added.

Also on Wednesday, Escudero said the outbursts of Villar when she confronted Pimentel and Pacquiao were triggered by the “wrongdoing” of PDP-Laban members.

Earlier, newly elected Senator Francis Tolentino of the PDP-Laban had floated rumors that Villar would contest the Senate presidency of Sotto.

She has denied any interest in the post.

READ: 13 senators go for Sotto; Villar disses Pacquiao move

READ: Veteran senator taunts neophytes

READ: Villar sucked into Senate top post guessing game

READ: Lacson vows reso, vouches for Sotto

Topics: Juan Miguel Zubiri , Vicente Sotto III , Manny PacquiaoRalph Recto ,
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