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Two different worlds

"One fine day, a sitting Senate President is just confronted with a signed resolution of 13 members or more, and power slides swiftly."

They live in two different worlds, even if they form one Congress.

Physically they are apart; the numerous House sits in the Batasan Hills in Quezon City which was built by Ferdinand Marcos to create a semblance of “checks and balances” via a unicameral legislature that was rubber stamp to his infamous  .

The Senate upon the other hand decided during the time of Fidel V. Ramos to lease half of the humongous GSIS building built also by Marcos on land reclaimed from Manila Bay. The senators had to give way to the National Museum complex of three neo-classical buildings that were once the Congress, the Department of Finance, and the Department of Tourism.

Now, of course, the senators of the realm have decided to move out of their rented premises with its low ceilings, and into a posh new building, “iconic” they call its foreign-designed architecture, at toney BGC, far from the madding crowd that invades Pasay City and the MoA nearby. Three years from now, or likely when we have a new president after Duterte, our 24 republics will converge upon their new “green” surroundings between the airport and the business district in Taguig.

As for the 300 or so members of the HoR, they will remain in far-away Batasan Hills, surrounded by the hoi polloi whose collective voices are supposed to be represented by party-listed “parties.”

Even in the choice of their leader, they are in two different worlds. In the case of choosing the Speaker of the HoR, the congressmen, whatever their term in office, will seek a higher voice, not a gaggle of voices within their party or aggrupation, not a multitude of 300, but an audience of one. The representatives of the people, after all the posturing, the press releases and the column feeds, will in the end seek the counsel, nay, diktat of that committee of one.

From Shakespeare we borrow, “t’is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Look at how the three musketeers among the wannabe speakers trooped to Tokyo and after all the “friendly” picture-taking, ended up asking the President to decide who among them shall be the favored one.

Someone’s mouthpiece who will soon lead the coconut capital as governor even trotted out, as in reverse striptease, the number of signatures his candidate had in the bag. One hundred twenty six, later 142 signatures.

Forgetting perhaps how one former Speaker described the worth of the signatures of his members: “They will sign even on a sheet of toilet paper.”

During the campaign of then Vice President Estrada, with then Makati Mayor Jojo Binay our NCR campaign manager, there was a pre-arranged commitment elicited by the latter that then Makati Rep. Joker Arroyo would be the next Speaker of the House.

Those of us in the inner core of the Erap team were all in agreement; after all, Joker Arroyo had the gravitas, the experience, the intellectual superiority. But lo and behold, when Erap won by overwhelming numbers, Manny Villar, still a member of Lakas at the time, sought him out at his Greenhills mansion and came out smiling like a Cheshire cat who swallowed the canary.

The day after, we were called to Polk St. upon Greenhills, and told that MBV would be the speaker. Exeunt Joker into the waiting arms of the “new” opposition, becoming patron of the “Spice Boys” who needled Erap endlessly.

In the week past election day of 2016, we witnessed how the president-elect’s most trusted Bong Go huddled two prominent Davaoeños, Karlo Nograles of the poblacion, and Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez of the outskirt Norte in the board room of Marco Polo Hotel.

Bong Go had news from the mountain retreat of the president-elect: Bebot would be “the” speaker, and later, agreement was reached for Karlo to chair Appropriations.

Thus spoke the audience of one.

But the Senate is otra cosa. Here there are 24 republics, each a “national” figure by way of nationwide electoral mandate; each a presumptive “president” in his or her dreams.

Here the President can persuade, but not dictate. Influence at best, if he is so minded.

In 2016, president-elect Duterte had a sentimental favorite in Alan Peter Cayetano, his running-mate who did not make it as vice president. But Koko Pimentel, the president of his adopted party for purposes of flag-bearing, the PDP, moved swiftly and gathered a motley of instant supporters from independents Ping Lacson and Gringo Honasan to the Liberal Party bloc headed by the outgoing Senate President Franklin Drilon.

Instant numbers within the 24 republics beat Alan to the punch. The president-elect did not interfere.

In contrast, when Erap became president in 1998, his defeated vice presidential candidate, the late Ed Angara, president of the LDP, preferred Frank Drilon to become the leader of the Senate. Still, Erap chose the man whom he defeated as vice president in 1992—Marcelo B. Fernan of Cebu. Angara, Drilon and Fernan were fraternity brothers in the UP Sigma Rho; Erap was a college drop-out, but his will prevailed: Fernan became Senate President until he succumbed to cancer a little more than a year later.

 But Rodrigo Duterte is not one to unduly meddle in legislative affairs. Ask the senators themselves. Witness how some new senators accordingly squabble for choice committees. And how the senior members guard their prerogative, labelled “equity of the incumbent,” jealously. Notice how the PDP in the Senate is unable to speak with a single voice, with Manny Pacquiao bearing a resolution of support for SP Tito and some others supposedly endorsing an unwilling Cynthia Vilar, who got riled because she was misrepresented.

In the end, it is the numbers that count. The Senate has witnessed several “coups” in its history, mostly done in stealth. As a consultant to some senators in different Congresses, I myself took part in plotting early decapitations and sudden enthronements.

One fine day, a sitting Senate president is just confronted with a signed resolution of 13 members or more, and power slides swiftly. Some are done with graceful resignation; some, in similar fashion as happened to Speaker Bebot Alvarez last year, with the drama as well of a spirited mace, the symbol of authority.

Two different houses. Two different strokes. Two different worlds.

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Senate , House of Representatives , Amendment Number Six , Alan Peter Cayetano
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