The Senate on Monday stripped Liberal Party (LP) members of their committee chairmanships and removed LP leader Senator Franklin Drilon as Senate President Pro Tempore.
At the start of the plenary session, Senator Manny Pacquiao moved that the position of Senate President Pro Tempore be declared vacant.
Drilon stood up but did not oppose Pacquiao’s motion. “I will not interpellate Senator Pacquiao. I second the motion,” Drilon said.
After a quick break, Pacquiao nominated Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto as the new Senate President Pro Tempore, which was seconded by Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero.
Out of the 23 senators present, 17 senators voted in favor of Recto.
Pacquiao then moved that the chairmanship of the committees on health, agriculture, and education be declared vacant.
Committee on health chair Senator Risa Hontiveros was replaced by Senator JV Ejercito, committee on agriculture chair Senator Francis Pangilinan was replaced by Senator Cynthia Villar, while committee on education chair Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV was replaced by Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero.
Pangilinan, Drilon, Aquino and Hontiveros then moved that they join the minority bloc. Drilon said De Lima would also like to associate herself with the minority, but Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said he would rather wait for a formal communication.
As of posting time, the chairman of the minority bloc replacing Recto is Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.
Writing on the wall
Drilon, Aquino, and Pangilinan are all LP members while Hontiveros is a member of the Akbayan party-list group, a close ally of the LP. Hontiveros ran for Senate thrice under the LP-led coalition.
Before the changes were made on the floor, some of the senators met in a caucus without the LP members and Hontiveros.
Most of them were tight-lipped when asked what was brought up during the caucus.
Pangilinan, the president of LP, said they figured the move was on the horizon.
“We saw the writing on the wall,” Pangilinan said in an interview with reporters.
“Talagang hindi sila papayag dahil sa 'ting pambabatikos sa mga patakaran ng pamahalaan lalo na dito sa extrajudicial killings (EJKs) pati sa death penalty,” he added.
Members of the LP in the Senate have been vocal about their opposition to the Duterte administration’s war on drugs and its proposal to reimpose capital punishment.
One of the staunchest critics of the President, Senator Leila de Lima, was arrested over drug charges last week. De Lima is also a member of the LP.
Pangilinan thinks the recent moves against the LP are all connected.
“Ito ay kasama sa plano dahil hindi komportable ang administrasyon sa pagiging kritiko [namin] sa ilang mga bagay,” he said.
'Nothing to do with performance'
Aquino, meanwhile, said the fact that he was replaced had nothing to do with his performance as committee chairman.
“If this is the price to pay for showing up at the streets of EDSA, for talking about democracy, if this is the price to pay, I’d gladly pay the price,” Aquino said.
Hontiveros, for her part, said she welcomes the decision of the Senate if it means being true to the advocacies she is fighting for.
“Kung ang pananatili ko sa mayorya ay ang pagiging kasabwat ko sa isang rehimen na marahas at walang pag-respeto sa karapatang pantao ay buong puso kong tinatanggap ang maging bahagi ng minorya,” she said.
Pangilinan described the latest development as “very disturbing.”
“Sa napakaraming taon, the Senate has always been a bastion of independence and a check and balance sa ating executve department so yun ang concern natin, nawawala na ba ang pagiging independent ng Senado at magigiging sunud-sunuran na lang ba ang Senado sa ehekutibo?” he said.
Aquino echoed the sentiments.
“What we want to see is an independent senate, isang senado na independent sa pamumulitika, can go cross party pag kinakailangan, can support reform pag kinakailangan, at kung kinakailangan mag-debate, mag-dedebate,” Aquino said.
“That’s always been what we wanted kaya sumama kami sa majority. But now that they’re taking us out, maybe, sa tingin ko ayaw na nila nun. They want to see a majority and minority along party lines,” he added.
The move comes after the four senators marched along EDSA with former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to join the EDSA People power celebration on Saturday. —NB, GMA News