With the 12 candidates endorsed by President Duterte elected to the Senate combined with his allies among the holdover senators, there is speculation that it would be easier now for the President to push his agenda through the Senate.
But for the Senate to become a rubber stamp for whatever President Duterte puts forth before it, he has to have in his pocket at least 13 senators, meaning he would have to have the unwavering support of the majority of the members of the Senate. For that to happen, at least 13 senators would have to blindly do the President’s bidding because they are beholden to him or because they have no mind of their own. Are there at least 13 senators among the 24 who are either extremely indebted to President Duterte or who are entirely clueless about their legislative function?
We may without question exclude from consideration the four opposition senators: Leila de Lima, Risa Hontiveros, Franklin Drilon, and Francis Pangilinan. Senators Panfilo Lacson and Ralph Recto were senators long before Mr. Duterte came to power. They are seasoned legislators who owe the President nothing. When Sen. Recto was the minority leader, he vowed to oppose the majority’s agenda if “it hurts the nation.” Sen. Lacson on many occasions has expressed opposition to the President’s policies and looked askance at some of the President’s decisions.
While they may have supported President Duterte’s legislative agenda, Senators Richard Gordon, a multi-term senator, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Joel Villanueva, and Sherwin Gatchalian were elected to the Senate on their own. They are not beholden to the President and neither are they unthinking members of the Senate. They have their own worthy advocacies. Now that President Duterte is nearing the halfway mark of his term, they will not be currying his favor as much as they did the past three years and would act more independently of him.
Senators Tito Sotto, another multi-term senator, and Manny Pacquiao have also been elected senators in their own and are therefore not beholden to the President. However, they were elected not on the basis of their qualifications for legislative work but on the basis of their celebrity status — Tito Sotto as the main character in the pang masa TV sit-com Iskul Bukol and Manny Pacquiao as the world champion of eight boxing divisions.
Mr. Sotto doesn’t tell jokes in the Senate session hall. In the deliberations of monumental issues, as in the impeachment trials of President Estrada and of Chief Justice Corona, he voted in favor of the president’s stand. I expect him to vote in favor of whatever President Duterte proposes as he has done all along.
Sen. Pacquiao is mainly a boxer. When he was a member of the House of Representatives, he was criticized for his poor attendance record. His response: “I don’t just sit around making laws, like others.” He spends more time in the boxing gym than in the Senate session hall.
The President is his fan. He went to Kuala Lumpur, bringing along Foreign Affairs Secretary Cayetano, Senate President Sotto, Solicitor General Calida, and National Police Chief de la Rosa, just to see Sen. Pacquiao fight the Argentinian boxer Lucas Matthysse. After the fight, Manny quipped, “the fight was one of a kind.” That was because President Duterte and his entourage of high-ranking officials of the Duterte Administration cheered for him. Expect Sen. Pacquiao to reciprocate the President’s support.
That brings us to the 12 newly-proclaimed senators. Now, that they have been elected, some senators no longer have to kowtow to the President’s every wish. A number of them, Senators Cynthia Villar and Sonny Angara among them, may feel that they owe the President nothing as they would have been elected just the same even without his support. Senators Grace Poe and Nancy Binay manifested that feeling graphically when they refrained from joining the others in thrusting their fists forward, known as the Duterte salute, at the proclamation ceremony.
Those eyeing the presidency or the vice presidency will pursue whatever course would enhance their political stock, regardless of whether they are aligned with the President’s agenda or not. Like senatorial race topnotchers in the past — Jovito Salonga, Gloria Arroyo, Loren Legarda, and Mar Roxas — Cynthia Villar must be seriously thinking of either she or husband Manny making a bid for the presidency in 2022. She will not sponsor bills or support programs that are not seen favorably by the voting population.
I believe Senator Pia Cayetano was hurt immensely by the President’s expression of preference for Bongbong Marcos as his successor over his own vice-presidential candidate Alan Peter Cayetano, Ms. Pia’s brother. That putdown was uttered in the presence of the Cayetano siblings, the Marcos siblings Bongbong and Imee, and a host of administration officials. I expect Senator Pia to hit back somehow at the President for the sake of her brother.
She had also been reproached by feminist groups, of which she is supposed to be a champion, for her deafening silence over the President’s misogynist utterances. I expect her to be not only critical of the President’s agenda but to take pot shots at the President occasionally.
As regards Senator Imee Marcos, Mr. Duterte’s endorsement of her bid for the Senate is only payback for the Marcoses helping bankroll his presidential bid in 2016. They are now “quits.” They are free of each other.
Another re-elected senator who must be hurting terribly is Koko Pimentel. He was dropped from the sample ballots distributed by Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte’s party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago. Her father would not be president if PDP-Laban president Koko Pimentel had not substituted the name Rodrigo Duterte for Martin Dino, who was originally PDP-Laban’s candidate for mayor of Pasay City. How the substitution resulted in Duterte becoming the PDP-Laban candidate for president instead of the candidate for mayor of Pasay can be attributed to Pimentel’s magical prowess. He too will drift away from President Duterte.
Francis Tolentino has more than enough credentials to be a senator. He earned a master’s degree in Law from the University of London and did post graduate studies in military schools abroad. He was a former mayor of Tagaytay and chairman of Metro Manila Development Authority. He did a superb clean-up job of the destruction Typhoon Yolanda wrought upon Tacloban. Still he needed the President’s all-out support to be elected senator. He is profoundly indebted to him. He will surely give the President full support.
Lito Lapid has the reputation of being the chair of the Senate Committee on Silence because in the 12 years he had been in the Senate, he was hardly heard, if at all. He admits there was really nothing he could do. He was not able to go to college because he was poor. All he knew was acting in the movies. His popularity as an action movie star catapulted him to the Senate. I am not convinced he has a mind of his own. He is likely to do whatever the President asks him to do.
Bong Revilla is another movie action star elected senator. He promised nothing during the campaign. He merely danced the buduts. He will dance in the Senate to the tune of DU30.
Bong Go was little known until Davao City Mayor Duterte ran for president. He said, “I will support his legislative agenda. In the past 21 years I have known him he has not given any flawed order.” I don’t expect Senator Go to see any flaw in the orders of President Duterte in the next three years. He will vote yes to whatever the President proposes.
When “Bato” de la Rosa was asked if he would be beholden to President Duterte, he said “Never.” Yet, he intimated he called the President to seek advice on some legislative matters. Instead of the President giving him advice, the President told him to do his job as senator. He had to be told to do what he was elected for. He will have to be told by the President what to do every time an issue is put to a vote.
Seven senators — Messrs. Pacquiao, Sotto, Tolentino, Lapid, Revilla, Go, and de la Rosa — fall short of the 13 required to make a rubber stamp.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.