NP backs Drilon, joins new Senate majority

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Senator Franklin Drilon. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

The man touted to be the next Senate President on Thursday announced that outgoing Sen. Manny Villar had assured him of the continued support of the Nacionalista Party (NP).

“Senator Villar assured us that the NP would stay in the coalition … that the NP will continue to support the President and his legislative agenda (and) that there will be a common candidate of the coalition,” Sen. Franklin Drilon said at the Kapihan sa Senado forum.

The NP, which Villar heads, has five senators.

Drilon said the discussion with Villar extended to the Senate committees that NP senators “would like to have in the coming Congress.”

He said colleagues, who were expected to form the new majority in the chamber, had agreed to field a “common candidate” when they elect their leader in the next Congress.

This means that Drilon does not expect to meet any opposition in case he finally makes official his plan to seek the Senate presidency.

New majority of 16

Drilon would not make a categorical statement, however, whether he is the senator who would be fielded as the candidate for the top Senate post by the 16-or-so members of the new majority when the 16th Congress holds its first session on July 22.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III earlier counted 16 senators who would readily vote for Drilon. These include the nine newly elected candidates of the Team PNoy senatorial slate in the just concluded elections and seven incumbents.

“Certainly, we have more than 13,” Drilon said, referring to the number required to create a new majority in the 24-member chamber.

No surprise

Asked whether he expected anyone else to pull a surprise by announcing a plan to challenge the administration-backed candidate for Senate President, Drilon said: “I don’t think it will happen.”

Drilon said he had not yet met with incumbent Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile or any representative to talk about the chamber’s leadership.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, a staunch ally of Enrile, has hinted that the current Senate President is ready to relinquish his post.

Minority leader

Estrada told reporters that he and Enrile were set to meet anytime soon to discuss who between them would claim the post of Senate minority leader.

By tradition, whoever loses the vote for Senate President becomes minority leader.

While Estrada has expressed interest in the post, he believes Enrile could be considering the same position that he held from 1987 to 1992 during the 8th Congress.

Drilon was evasive when asked what he and President Aquino talked about at a meeting on Wednesday afternoon just before the thanksgiving dinner for the administration-backed Team PNoy coalition.

“Kung ano’ng ulam (about food),” Drilon said in jest when asked about the topic of his meeting with Aquino before dinner.

“If you don’t believe me, I can’t do anything … Are we not allowed to talk about food?” Drilon said with a smile.

Big man of Senate

At Team PNoy’s thanksgiving party at Club Filipino in San Juan City, there was no endorsement from Aquino for Drilon. But being called the “only big man” in the Senate may have been enough.

The President, the main guest, made no reference about Drilon’s bid for the Senate presidency or his support for him.

But Aquino lavished praises on Drilon, Team PNoy’s manager in the grueling 90-day campaign, for his crucial role in the 9-3 victory of the coalition’s senatorial candidates over the opposition in the May 13 midterm elections.

Drilon confirmed he was courting his colleagues.

Coined Team PNoy

On top of coining the coalition’s name, Drilon so efficiently ran the campaign of 12 candidates assembled from several political parties that Aquino said he only had to focus on running the country, except when he joined the hustings.

“We were confident of delivering Team PNoy’s message and the good developments in our country under the leadership of our tireless campaign manager, the only ‘Big Man’ of the Senate, Sen. Frank Drilon,” Aquino said.

He said: “Manong Frank has gone through many elections, and he has a lot of experience with those aspiring to become senators, and he knows being a campaign manager is no laughing matter. It’s a good thing we chose well, and we found the right person.”

The President said he and the others were “very impressed with our Big Man—he had no complaints. He was very calm and he wouldn’t call unless it was urgent. If we’re able to take care of the country it was because of the efficiency of our campaign manager, Frank Drilon.”

All smiles

Drilon, in a light yellow shirt and accompanied to the party by his wife,

Milagros, was all smiles when he sat down with reporters for an interview.

As the nine elected Team PNoy senators join seven administration allies in the upper chamber, the administration coalition now enjoys a big majority of 16 going into the next Congress, three votes more than the 13 needed to elect a new Senate leader.

The six Team PNoy candidates present at the party—Juan Edgardo Angara, Paulo Benigno Aquino IV, Cynthia Villar, Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Risa Hontiveros and Pimentel—profusely thanked the President and Drilon for the good turnout of the vote.

Titillated

But Angara titillated the crowd of Team PNoy allies and supporters, including some Cabinet officials, the President’s sisters Viel Aquino-Dy and Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, Camarines Sur Representative-elect Leni Robredo, when he acknowledged Drilon as the “Senate President to be.”

“You know, I got into trouble early in the campaign because Senator Koko Pimentel started that. But I suppose, you know, that’s only in recognition of the help that we—and the time and effort that we dedicated, and we are very thankful for their expression of support,” Drilon said in reaction.

Drilon, however, confirmed that he was seeking the support of senators for the Senate presidency, and was confident the coalition would rally behind one candidate.

“Well, he just asked me how things are,” he said when asked if he and the President talked about the Senate presidency earlier in the day. “I said, ‘Well, we‘re talking to the senators and we are seeking their support.’”

Does he see the coalition coming together to make him Senate President?

Drilon said: “Well, we run on the basis of the platform of good governance. I am confident that the coalition will stick together in order that we can continue the reform agenda of President Noynoy.”

Drilon thanked Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, seen as a possible rival, for saying that Drilon was his personal choice for the post.

“The Cayetanos have been—we’ve been supporting each other in the last three years. Alan Peter and Pia have always supported us. We have supported them and you know, let’s leave it at that. They have supported us in our legislative agenda, particularly the sin tax…. They were part of our bicameral conference committee and in the RH (reproductive health) bill. I supported Pia wholeheartedly.”

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