THE people sent a clear message of change in the May elections, yet the same message has apparently not reached the Senate.
We are forced to this conclusion as we behold the increasingly intense struggle for the Senate presidency?
Four senators—all holdovers from the 16th Congress—are bruited about as vying for the post even before the 17th Congress can be sworn into office.
The four are (1) the incumbent Senate president Frankln Drilon, (2) incumbent Senate majority leader Alan Peter Cayetano, ( 3) incumbent deputy minority leader Vicente Sotto,
and ( 4) Sen. and PDP-Laban President Aquilino Koko Pimentel III.
Drilon and Sotto have been proclaimed as senators-elect by the Commission on Elections in the May 9 elections. Cayetano lost his bid for the vice presidency in the same balloting, and seeks to capitalize
his being the running mate of the victorious Rodrigo Duterte. Pimentel won election to the Senate in the mid-term elections in 2013.
A promise of more of the same
Before the balloting, I openly hoped that the eletions would bring change or at least a facelift to the Senate.
With Duterte and his “change is coming” slogan sweeping through the elections like a tsunami, we now must watch whether the promised change will wash upon the Senate too.
You would think that given the Senate’s disrepute because of the Corona lynching, the pork barrel scandal, and DAP bribery, the aspirants for Senate president would anchor their ambitions on a pledge to restore the Senate’s reputation for independence and probity.
But strangely, all of them appear to be promising more of the same and the same way of doing business in the chamber. Not one has said a word about reform.
Drilon anchors his bid on the fact that he is the incumbent leader of the Senate. He lays claim to the largest chunk of votes in the chamber—seven LP senators. And he says smugly he will bow to the one who can show that he or she has the support of 12 or 13 senators.
In answer, Cayetano has come up with the bluff that he has already some 15 senators in his belt. He has been horse-trading behind the scenes on his being Duterte’s running mate in the election campaign, although Duterte has pointedly refused to endorse anyone for Senate president.
Pimentel is similarly trying to cash in on the fact that he is president of PDP-Laban, under whose banner Duterte ran for President. He is also from Mindanao like the President-elect, and the forthcoming speaker of the House, Pantaleon Alvarez. They could be a trio down the road.
Finally, Sotto hopes to cobble together an independent bloc of senators to support his bid.
He ran with Senators Grace Poe and Francis Escudero in the recent campaign. If they combine with the winning candidates who ran with her, and win the support of independents like Loren Legarda, Nancy Binay, Richard Gordon and Migz Zubiri, they could become a strong bloc in the Senate.
4 named in SC DAP decision
It is a rare distinction to be cited by name in a Supreme Court decision; but all of our four aspirants for Senate president are curiously cited in the landmark decision of the High Court on the infamous Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of President Aquino.
On pages 113-114 of the consolidated SC Decision (which includes the majority opinion, and the concurring and separate opinions), Associate Justice Arturo Brion, in his concurring and separate opinion, reproduces as a footnote the full text of Secretary Abad’s official statement on the DAP releases to senators, as he responded to Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s disclosure that senators who voted to convict Corona at his impeachment trial were given incentives by President Aquino.
In Abad’s statement (issued on Sept. 28, 2013), he named the senators and the amounts they received and when they received them. These are the entries on the four aspirants for Senate president (in order of listing):
1. Sen. Alan Cayetano (Oct. 2012 – P50M),
2. Sen. Koko Pimentel (Oct. 2012 – P25.5M; Nov. 2012 – P5M; Dec. 2012 – P15M),
3. Sen. Tito Sotto (Oct. 2012 – Pl lM; Nov. 2012 – P39M),
4. Sen. Frank Drilon (Oct. 2012 – PIOOM).
None of them has ever denied having received the incentives. They have only quibbled with the imputation that they were bribes.
President-elect Duterte has instructed his incoming Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre to prosecute without exception all those involved in the DAP scandal. This may involve the demand that DAP money be returned by some recipients.
A tattered image and lost glory
With all the scandals that have plagued the nation’s senators and the chamber, and with two once-ranking senators now in detention and on trial for plunder, it is not surprising that the Senate ranks in the Philippine Trust Index as a government institution with a poor trust rating.
Who will lead the Senate out of the hole it has dug for itself? Who has the best chance of repairing its tattered image and recapturing its lost glory?
These are questions that the contest for the Senate presidency must settle.
The contest between Duterte allies Cayetano and Pimentel could reprise the time when both Franklin Drilon and Kiko Pangilinan stalemated each other in a fight for the Senate presidency; they ended up losing it to Sen. Juan Ponce-Enrile, who was suddenly favored as a compromise candidate.
I believe the prize will belong to the aspirant who will seriously espouse a program of reform and reputation management in the Senate.
One test is a real commitment to kill once and for all the senatorial pork barrel. A senator who can commit to this will have public support.