Only six senators showed up in secret ballot meeting

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE plan of the opposition bloc in the Senate to settle the issue of the Senate presidency via secret balloting failed to push through after only six of them showed up for the meeting scheduled yesterday.

Earlier, opposition Senator Panfilo Lacson and Senator Manuel Roxas II said in separate interviews that the opposition group would hold a secret balloting to choose the new Senate president between contenders Manuel Villar and Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

After the meeting held at the Manila Golf Club, the opposition bloc merely issued a joint press statement calling on all opposition senators to remain united to ensure the opposition would prevail in the upper Chamber.

Earlier, Senator-elect Francis Escudero who ran under the Genuine Opposition, opposed the secret balloting, saying that such a procedure could even divide the various opposition groups.

But in their joint statement, the opposition parties claimed they have already 15 senators or more than the minimum number of 13 to elect a Senate president.

“Seven GO [Genuine Opposition] candidates and two independents have already been proclaimed. When added to the six incumbent opposition and independent senators, there will be a total of 15 senators who are not allied with the administration,” the joint statement said.

“We believe that our objective is to remain united and to elect from among the 15 a Senate president who clearly and consistently embodies our values and principles. Accordingly, we collectively commit to participate in and abide by the results of any democratic process in order to elect the leadership of the Senate,” they added.

The joint press statement was signed by the opposition senators who were present in the meeting, namely Lacson, Roxas, Rodolfo Biazon, Loren Legarda, Benigno Aquino III, and Ma. Ana Consuelo Madrigal.

Pimentel’s name was also included in the statement, with the words “by phone”, along with Antonio Trillanes IV, and Jinggoy Estrada, which bore a similar notation.

Escudero, who earlier said he was uncomfortable with the idea of a secret balloting, was reportedly accompanying his pregnant wife for a hospital checkup.

Saying the opposition bloc must remain united for the country’s good, the joint press statement also quoted the late President Manuel Luis Quezon’s famous line: “My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my county begins.”

Ironically, Quezon was a stalwart of the Nacionalista Party, of which Villar is the incumbent president. Villar is considered a presidential contender in 2010.

Lacson and Roxas, who were among those who apparently pushed the secret balloting, were also reportedly eyeing the presidency. Political observers said the two will likely support Pimentel in the contest for the Senate presidency.

Apparently, the opposition bloc included in their count independent candidates Francis Pangilinan and Gregorio Honasan. Pangilinan, however, is likely to support Villar, a fellow member of the “Wednesday Club.”

Honasan had reportedly talked with Malacañang before the elections. With the decision of the Department of Justice to drop the rebellion charges against Honasan, there is a possibility he may ally himself with the administration bloc.

Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, considered as Honasan’s mentor and a veteran legislator, earlier said that he would support Villar and that the latter may eventually get the support of more than 13 senators to enable him to retain the Senate presidency in the 14th Congress.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, an ally of the administration, had characterized the opposition’s plan to conduct secret balloting to select the new Senate president as “too utopian and impractical.”