PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd and other top officials of the Liberal Party (LP) have been consulted and given their go-signal for members’ exodus to join the so-called super majority in Congress to support incoming President Rodrigo Duterte’s legislative agenda, Malacanang Palace said.
In separate interviews, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, an LP stalwart, and Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. both confirmed that Aquino was consulted by erstwhile Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on the party’s inclusion in the majority coalition primarily to get hold of powerful committees.
“Yes, the decision of [Drilon] has clearance from the party hierarchy,” according to Abad, who also told The Manila Times that the LP lawmakers will “generally” support the incoming government’s legislative priorities.
“In general, yes [we will support], especially if the priorities of the new administration sustain the economic growth, promote inclusive development and safeguard the country from the dire consequences of climate change,” he said.
Coloma agreed, saying such decisions that will affect the future of the party must have the imprimatur of its leaders.
“I am affirming [Abad’s] statement that they [Belmonte and Drilon] consulted the President and the LP leadership and that they received clearance for their respective decisions,” he pointed out.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Political Reforms said the LP’s move is
crucial in “keeping themselves in the political game.”
He hinted, however, that the “exodus” may be likened to the mythical “Trojan Horse,” a method to infiltrate the ranks of the opposite camp.
“They can still maneuver in the future. It [Trojan Horse] is one scenario,” he said.
Meanwhile, Drilon also on Wednesday confirmed that the LP bloc in the Senate has agreed to coalesce with Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and back Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd’s bid for the Senate presidency.
“I wished to announce that last night the major political parties in the Senate have agreed to have an alliance, principally the Liberal Party and its allied parties,” he said at the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum.
Drilon, also the vice chairman of the LP, said they have six members of the party in the 17th congress plus the members of its allied groups represented by Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) and incoming Sen. Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan.
Senator Vicente Sotto 3rd of the NPC has seven or eight in his bloc, according to Drilon, which means that their coalition will have more than enough senators to elect Pimentel as the head of the chamber once the 17th Congress opens next month.
Drilon agreed to be the Senate president pro-tempore while Sotto will be the Senate majority floor leader.
He admitted that the current set-up is unusual because Pimentel is the only PDP-Laban senator in chamber but he will be the Senate president.
“This is to show that yes, we are willing to support, in general, the legislative agenda of this administration,” Drilon said.
When asked if there will be no changes in the set-up between now and July 25, he replied, “It’s cast in stone.”
The Senate chief said even if majority of the senators have chosen a partymate of incoming President Rodrigo Duterte as the next Senate president, the institution will remain independent.
Drilon noted that while the Senate intends to support in general the legislative agenda of the executive branch, they will maintain their independence.
“You look at the tradition of the Senate, and the tradition has always been [that]we act independently of the executive branch,” he said.
Drilon explained that they decided to support Pimentel for the sake of unity and stability and instead of wrangling they agreed to support the lone PDP-senator and assume the post of Senate president pro-tempore.
The decision of LP to team up with NPC and support Pimentel is a big blow to Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano’s bid for the Senate presidency.
He earlier claimed to have obtained the commitment of at least 15 senators.
With 17 senators agreeing to back Pimentel, there will only be six senators left– Francis Escudero, Antonio Trillanes 4th, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Cynthia Villar, Richard Gordon and Juan Miguel Zubiri–for Cayetano to convince.
Pimentel, in a separate interview, said they are not closing its doors on the other senators who were not initially included in the coalition, noting that he will continue to convince Cayetano and at least four other senators to join them.
He added that if Cayetano would agree to join them, he could bring four more senators to bring their number to 22 and make it a super majority.
“I will have to stop at 22 because there should be a minority,” he said.
Pimentel added that he expects Escudero and Trillanes to represent the Senate minority because the two do not belong to any group in the Senate and that they have not reached out to any of the existing blocs
“I agree that there should be a minorit, so let it be. In fact, I encourage that someone or some group should be interested in being minority,” he said.
On committee chairmanships, according to Pimentel, the powerful blue ribbon committee, could be given to Cayetano if ever he agreed to join the majority.
When asked if he already informed Duterte about the incoming composition of the Senate leadership, he said he is yet to inform the President-elect about it but he believes that Duterte already heard about it.
Pimentel will be meeting with the 17 senators and have them sign a resolution making him Senate president.