THE public should have no illusion that all the current maneuverings by legislators to pre-select the next Senate President and House Speaker are designed to advance the purposes of the nation and the welfare and well-being of the people.
What is going on is not public service, but the self-service of legislator-politicians.
All that is weak and ignoble in our politics are already on display before the 17th Congress can be convened.
The biggest sign of weakness is the absence of organized and cohesive political parties in Congress. The May 9 elections were a free-for-all among parties that had neither membership nor principles. Most candidates virtually ran on their own, without the support of party organizations and resources. Only the administration’s Liberal Party had the organization and the resources because of its unparalleled access to public money for the campaign.
When the dust settled in the electoral battles, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte emerged as the runaway winner in the presidential race. But no one else from PDP-Laban was elected with him nationally.
If any party won a significant number of seats in Congress and local governments, it was the Liberal Party. But even with this advantage, the Liberals do not know what to do with their numbers. They are caught between Tweedledum and Tweedledee in deciding whether to lead the opposition to Mr. Duterte, or become political turncoats en masse.
The second symptom of weakness is the effort to manufacture artificial coalitions in the battle for the plum Congress posts. Under this scheme, foes in the recent elections can collaborate and benefit together by securing powerful posts in the House and Senate committees.
Because of its recent history of always collaborating with whoever is in Malacañang, the Liberals quickly abandoned plans to mold a majority in both congressional chambers.
In the House, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte nursed at first the delusion that he could hold on to the powerful post, by negotiating with incoming House members. But his bid was quickly brushed aside by his own party mates, who figured that they would have more to gain by allying themselves with the President-elect than bravely waving the LP flag.
When word got out that Mr. Duterte was interested in backing Rep. Pataleon Alvarez, of Davao, for Speaker, many Liberals quickly decided to support Alvarez.
In the Senate, the race for the Senate presidency has been more colorful.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, the losing running mate of Mr. Duterte in the elections, tried to sell himself as Duterte’s chosen one. He offered himself as a Senate president who would serve for a year, until he is eligible to assume the Cabinet post that Duterte has reserved for him. It was a lie. When a caucus was held, a good majority of senators objected to Cayetano’s using the Senate presidency as a parking slot.
Meanwhile, Senate President Franklin Drilon emitted sounds about his desire to hold on to his post. He got his reply in the form of three additional candidates for the top post.
Realizing the futility of his cause, Drilon decided to join other senators in forming a Senate supermajority. The group decided to nominate PDP-Laban President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd as their consensus candidate for Senate President.
It is striking that in all these political maneuvers, the issue of ensuring the independence of Congress from executive dictation never entered into the calculus of the ambitious legislators.
In the House, everyone assumes that it is its fate to be just a rubberstamp of the President.
In the Senate, there is talk about the chamber collaborating with the new administration in passing legislation—while pretending to be independent.