LIBERAL Party senators were kicked out of the pro-Duterte Senate majority coalition on Monday in a surprise knockout instigated by neophyte Sen. Manny Pacquiao.
The majority bloc led by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd stripped the Liberal senators of their positions, with Sen. Franklin Drilon losing the Senate president pro-tempore post to Sen. Ralph Recto, who switched to the majority from being the minority leader.
For months, Drilon’s Liberal bloc managed to remain in the majority while being critical of the Duterte government’s moves such as the push for the death penalty bill, the war on drugs and the burial of former president Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Liberal Party interim president Francis Pangilinan said their expulsion from the majority was not unexpected, adding: “We saw the writing on the wall.”
Senators Drilon, Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th and Risa Hontiveros joined Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th in the minority.
In Monday’s plenary session, Pacquiao moved to declare vacant Drilon’s Senate president pro tempore post, the second highest perch in the chamber.
Drilon did not object. “I will not interpellate Senator Pacquiao. I second the motion,” he said.
Pacquiao, after a brief suspension of the session, nominated Recto to replace Drilon, which was supported by a majority of senators.
Those who voted for Recto as the new Senate president pro tempore were Pimentel, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd, Nancy Binay, Alan Peter Cayetano, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Francis Escudero, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Gregorio Honasan 2nd, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Joel Villanueva, Cynthia Villar and Juan Miguel Zubiri.
Recto said his position as minority leader would be given to Trillanes.
Pacquiao then moved to declare as vacant the chairmanships of the committees on health and demography; agriculture and food; and education, arts and culture.
The Senate committee on health was chaired by Hontiveros, the agriculture committee by Pangilinan, and the committee on education by Aquino.
They were replaced by Ejercito, Villar and Escudero, respectively.
‘Price to pay’
Pangilinan said the Liberal bloc discussed a looming Senate revamp over the weekend, believing the Duterte administration would not tolerate anyone who opposed it on issues such as the death penalty and the drug war.
Aquino agreed, describing the incident as a political move. The Liberals, he noted, were also adamant on other issues like the lowering of the age on criminal liability and support for their party mate Sen. Leila de Lima, a leading critic of the drug war who was jailed last Friday on drug trafficking charges.
“If this is the price to pay for my independence, then so be it,” Aquino said.
Hontiveros said that if staying with the majority meant supporting a regime that does not respect human rights, then she would willingly join the minority.
“This new development will not hinder me from pushing for universal healthcare for our people or intimidate me from defending democracy and human rights,” she added.
‘Obsessed with power’
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo on Monday deplored the Senate revamp and said the Duterte administration was obsessed with power,
Robredo, the interim chairwoman of the Liberal Party who was herself stripped of her Cabinet post in
December after opposing the Marcos burial, said the Duterte administration was incapable of tolerating dissent, “no matter how constructive.”
“What happened in the Senate today is characteristic of an administration obsessed with monopolizing power and intent on marginalizing those who have opposing views. This has happened before. In the past, this paved the way for a one-man rule,” Robredo said, referring to the Marcos regime.
“Democracy demands dissent. We will not be silenced. Our nation deserves no less,” she added.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI