By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The election of administration allies in the Senate won’t guarantee that controversial measures pushed by President Duterte will breeze through the chamber.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III stressed this, allaying anew fears that the Senate will be less independent and would easily pass Duterte-backed legislation – particularly the shift to federalism and the re-imposition of death penalty – when more Palace allies occupy their seats in the 18th Congress. Both measures remain idle in the Upper Chamber since Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016.
“No guarantees on anything at this point,” Sotto said in a series of messages to reporters late Tuesday night.
But Sotto believes that the incoming senators, despite their support for Duterte’s leadership, will not be dictated upon by the Executive. He even dared critics of the government.
“Masusunod lahat ng gusto [ng] admin (Everything that the administration will breeze through)? How much are they willing to bet?” he asked.
“Remember, we have six re-electionists all from the majority, three returnees who will most probably be with the majority and three President’s men only,” he noted.
Sotto said the new set of senators in the Senate majority would have to discuss first how they would tackle issues, “especially the controversial ones.”
In an earlier interview over radio DZMM, the Senate leader said they will only approve measures that would benefit the public.
“Kapag mali, hindi pwede, ‘pag tama, suportahan natin. Kasi para sa bayan ‘yan… Publiko ang bida, hindi yong Pangulo (If it’s wrong, it won’t be passed, if it’s right it will get support because this is for the country… the public is the star here, not the president,)” he said.
“‘Pag tama yung Pangulo, sundin mo dahil gusto ng publiko yun. Suportahan mo. Huwag ‘yong tama ang Pangulo, kokontrahin mo dahil hindi mo gusto (If the President is right, follow it because the public supports it. Do not oppose just because you do not agree with it),” he added.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, echoing Sotto, said Wednesday that the Senate will not railroad the passage of bills should they find them disadvantageous to the people.
“The Senate as an institution will always continue to remain independent as proven by our track record in passing legislation. When we see an administration led measure that is good for the people then we support it, but if we see it needs further study and debate then we don’t force it or rush into it,” Zubiri told reporters in a text message, citing also their position on the second tranche of the Duterte government’s tax reform package.
“The Senate will guarantee our people quality legislation and we have been doing that as an institution,” he added.
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, candidate of the ruling PDP-Laban, also assured that administration allies would be independent from Duterte once proclaimed.
“Sa nature ng institusyon, nagiging independent-thinkers po kami, kasi ang pakiramdam mo, ang mandato mo ay galing sa taong-bayan. So ang loyalty mo is to the people, not to any person,” Pimentel told DZMM Wednesday.
“This will really be an independent Senate. Pati naman kami na natulungan ni President Duterte, magiging independent,” he stressed.
Senator Cynthia Villar, who leads the senatorial race based on partial unofficial tallies of Monday’s polls, said she will not be a rubber stamp of the Duterte administration.
“Para ka maging senador, matalino ka naman, e. Hindi naman ‘yong katulad namin ang magiging rubber stamp,” she said.
“I know what I want and what is good for the people in my own way. I don’t think I can be a rubber stamp,” she added.
But on her official Twitter account Wednesday, Villar defended President Duterte, saying he will not insist on the passage of bills that would put Filipinos at a disadvantage.
“Every elected senator has his or her own mind. And the President would not ask us to support something disadvantageous to the people,” the tweet read.
Initial results of the May 13 elections showed administration bets dominating the senatorial race.
Last opposition standing
As this developed, the few remaining opposition senators in the 24-member Senate dominated by pro-Duterte administration lawmakers vowed yesterday to stick to their role as oppositionists and maintain the independence of the Senate.
Left to actively man the opposition’s rampart are: Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon and Senators Risa Hontiveros and Francis N. Pangilinan, president of the opposition Liberal Party (LP).
The fourth member of the Senate minority bloc, Senator Leila de Lima, is barred from leaving her detention cell at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center while on trial for illegal drug-related charges.
Accept defeat – Palace
Meanwhile, Malacañang renewed its call to the opposition and critics of President Duterte to accept their defeat in the midterm polls, instead of questioning the credibility of the elections because their bet did not make it to the magic 12.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo made the statement after Bayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes said that the “Duterte magic” was a form of systematic cheating and rigging of the elections.
But Panelo said the Palace expected the likes of Reyes to cry cheating and question the “Duterte magic” following the defeat of their senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares, along with many left-leaning party-list groups in the polls.
According to Panelo, the people have already seen through the “sophistry” of espousing their feigned brand of nationalism for many decades, taking advantage of the poor man’s plight.
“Their loss is a clear indictment that our people do not believe in their advocacies, especially on the war on drugs, extra-judicial killings, South China Sea, one-man rule, etc., which they have foisted and peddled to the people,” he said.
“Our people’s rejection should have been a wake-up call to reassess their actions. Unfortunately, Mr. Reyes – instead of throwing in the towel and yield to the resounding voice of the electorate – opts to throw his false and malicious narratives at the Duterte administration,” he added. (With report from Mario B. Casayuran and Argyll B. Geducos)