WITH the expected ascendancy of Sen. Franklin Drilon in the Senate, President Benigno Aquino 3rd will have full command and control over the three branches of government, a former Church official warned on Thursday.
Archbishop emeritus Oscar Cruz, a staunch critic of the Aquino administration, said he had warned about Aquino’s dictatorial tendencies in 2011. He added that his fears will now become a reality with Drilon’s election as Senate President.
“With such a development, who says there is no virtual dictatorship in the country? The people better watch out of dictatorial moves of Malacañang and [their]faithful followers,” Cruz, former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said.
He made the remark a day after Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile resigned.
Drilon is seen as the strongest candidate for the Senate presidency. The position is considered his reward for his work as the campaign manager of Team PNoy that won nine Senate seats in the last elections. Drilon now enjoys the support of the majority of senators in the 16th Congress.
According to Cruz, the President can now comfortably muster the support of the Legislative and the Judiciary as Enrile’s departure ended the Senate’s perceived “independence.”
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. is also a stalwart of the Liberal Party (LP) just like Drilon, while Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was handpicked by Aquino in August last year.
Cruz expressed fears that in the last three years of Aquino’s term, his party could tighten its hold on power by amending the 1987 Constitution.
“Better watch out for the coming three more years when the Philippine Constitution could be amended,” the bishop said.
If not for six absent senators, Drilon could have been elected to replace Enrile, according to outgoing Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd and Estrada.
“There were suggestions to elect a new Senate President. They can do that if they want to, but I had to remind them that they need 13 votes. We were 17 [present senators]during the roll call, 14 during the caucus. Me and Greg won’t vote for their candidate so they can’t elect a new Senate President with 12,” Sotto said.
The caucus was held after Enrile’s resignation.
The absent senators were Francis Escudero, Ralph Recto, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr., Manuelito Lapid, Miriam Santiago and Alan Peter Cayetano.
Of the six, only Revilla was expected not to vote for Drilon for the Senate presidency.
“Senator Drilon heeded my reminder, and his statement was, you know I am better than that [forcing the issue of electing a new Senate President],” Sotto said.
Sotto said the senators decided to follow the Senate rules which provides that the Senate President Pro-Tempore will be named Acting Senate President once the Senate President resigns.
Estrada confirmed the attempt to immediately replace Enrile.
“There were five who went away, so we cannot elect a Senate President. So we decided to follow the Senate rules, making me the Acting Senate President until a new Senate President is elected on July 22,” he explained.
Belmonte said “trying times” forced Enrile to resign.
Belmonte, who closely worked with Enrile in hammering out the passage of the priority bills of the Palace, said Enrile relinquished his post because of the harsh criticisms he received for spending Senate funds.
“I thought he was doing very well until the very last challenges he faced. He’s only regretting the tail end of this term. For the first two years of his term, they [senators and Enrile]were doing okay,” Belmonte said.
Enrile was lauded for his role as an arbiter of the unprecedented impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona from January to May 2012. However, he drew flak months later for giving each senator P1.6 million in Senate savings last December.
Senators Alan and Pia Cayetano, Miriam Santiago and Antonio Trillanes 4th, were each given P250,000.
Sen. Alan Cayetano accused Enrile of giving too much power to the latter’s chief-of-staff, Jessica Reyes. At some point, Enrile was romantically linked to Reyes but both denied the rumors.
Acting Senate President Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada agreed with Belmonte.
“I don’t think he deserves that kind of treatment, that’s why he resigned and dared all the other senators to open the books of their expenditures for the public’s scrutiny,” Estrada said.
He added that Enrile, 89, did not tell anybody about his plan to resign.
“I was very close to him but he never mentioned resignation. This is not theatrics. He was really hurt by the bad things said about him which lingered even after the campaign period,” Estrada said.
Even with Enrile gone as Senate chief, Belmonte does not foresee a radical change in the dynamics between the Senate and House of Representatives.
“I was very happy that during the term of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile we were able to work very well together. I look forward to having a good relationship and working hard with Senator Drilon, as much as I did with Senator Enrile,” he said.
Malacañang said Enrile’s expertise will still be valued in crafting laws in the incoming 16th Congress.
In a statement, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said they respect the decision of Enrile to resign, and acknowledged his contributions in enacting some of the priority bills of the Aquino administration.
“For 1,661 days, or four years, six months, and 19 days, Juan Ponce Enrile served as President of the Senate, the third-highest position in the Republic. [On Wednesday], he irrevocably relinquished that position. We respect his decision,” Lacierda said.
“Conscious of the long and distinguished history of the Senate and the office he held, Senator Enrile approached the constitutional functions of the Senate in our bicameral legislative system with the utmost seriousness,” he said.
Lacierda also cited Enrile’s policy of independence and oversight.