Senate leadership fight on

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Opposition groups have been conducting meetings in a bid to forge a solid alliance and try to prevent the administration from taking control of the Senate, Senator Panfilo Lacson said yesterday.

Because of the peculiar nature of the power “dynamics” in the Senate, it’s hard to predict what would happen, Lacson said. But he said he believed that incumbent Senate President Manuel Villar has a very strong chance of retaining his post when the 14th Congress opens.

“Anything can happen. But he [Villar] has the upper hand because he is from the ranks of the opposition.”

Lacson raised the possibility that the administration could end up controlling the Senate especially if the opposition groups remain polarized. “There’s the Nacionalista, there’s the LDP and then PMP, and there’s the PDP-Laban—these are small and big [opposition] groups that without coalescing into a single, solid majority bloc would likely go their own way. And before we know it, we could end up with an administration senator holding the leadership position in the chamber. And that’s what we’re trying to prevent.”

But veteran Senator Edgardo Angara said the Senate leadership would probably be dictated not by party affiliations but by individual preferences of the legislators, as it had been in the past Congresses.

But so far, Lacson said that not one among the incumbent and re-electionist senators have really come out in the open to declare the intention of running for the Senate presidency.

Other sources said that two former military officers accused of plotting to overthrow the administration are involved in the talks.

“There have been many talks and meetings but there were no commitments [of support for a particular candidate for Senate presidency] given yet,” Lacson said.

What is clear, according to Lacson, is that the different opposition parties are looking forward to forming a solid alliance and ensure that the leadership of the Senate would be determined on their own terms.

The administration can count on the support of five senators, including Miriam Santiago, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Lito Lapid, and also from Juan Ponce Enrile, according to Angara.

With Edgardo Angara and Joker Arroyo likely to be re-elected to the Senate, the administration would have a bloc of eight or nine senators, including independent candidate Gregorio Honasan, whom the Genuine Opposition refused to include in its ticket.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada said that by his reckoning the opposition would likely have 16 out of the 23 senators that would comprise the 14th Congress, including Senator Pia Cayetano whose brother, Alan Peter ran under the banner of the Genuine Opposition.

While Senator Alfredo Lim has three more years left in his term, he would leave the Senate to assume his post as newly elected mayor of Manila.

Five senators in the 13th Congress would “graduate” after completing three successive terms, including Franklin Drilon, Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Juan Flavier, and Sergio Osmeña III. Senator Luisa Ejercito Estrada, wife of deposed President Joseph Estrada, opted not to seek re-election.

The senators from the 13th Congress who have three more years in their term are Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Jinggoy Estrada, Richard Gordon, Pia Cayetano, Ma. Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, Bong Revilla, Lito Lapid, Rodolfo Biazon, and Manuel “Mar” Roxas III.

Pimentel, Estrada, Madrigal, Biazon and Roxas were considered part of the opposition bloc. Francis Pangilinan and coup suspect Antonio Trillanes are considered independent.

With eight GO candidates still in the Magic 12 as of the latest canvass of the Commission on Elections, the Senate opposition bloc would have at least 14 in the 23-member chamber.

Lacson said that if they succeeded in forging the solid alliance of the different opposition parties in the Senate, this would be the first time in many years that the chamber would be independent from Malacañang in choosing its own leaders.

“We had experienced term-sharing in the past because it’s Malacañang that dictates who becomes the Senate president for the first three years and who would succeed in the next three years—and that’s because the majority is with the administration,” Lacson said.

“And this [the coming 14th Congress] is one Senate where we believe Malacañang would lose the power in determining the leadership structure. And we want to put it into good use, after all, we are all for the independence of the Senate,” he added.

Lacson also admitted that he would want, if possible, to take over the chairmanship of the Blue Ribbon committee, currently held by Joker Arroyo.

“I am not a hypocrite [to deny that]. I really want to pursue my advocacy on accountability of public officials. If only for that I want to chair the blue ribbon committee. But I won’t beg for it neither would I exchange my vote to get that,” he said.