Duterte seeks senators’ help with legislative agenda
Over a simple dinner in Malacañang with the Senate majority bloc on Tuesday night, President Duterte asked for support to move the country forward, particularly in solving the twin problems of drugs and poverty.
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said on Wednesday that Mr. Duterte sought the senators’ support to pursue his legislative agenda, with the tax reform and federalism measures among topics for discussion.
Zubiri said the President made the plea just as the senators were about to leave following the two-hour gathering.
“He paused and faced us and basically told us ‘give me a chance to do my job, and I promise we’ll do our best to address the problem of drugs and poverty,’” Zubiri said.
He said the President asked for time to “do what I have to do to help this country forward.”
“So that was a very sincere request from the President … And also, sincerely, that also touched our hearts. Many of us felt that we should support our President, that we should give him a chance. It hasn’t even been 10 months,” he told reporters.
Asked if the call for support was prompted by the administration’s fears of a destabilization plot, Zubiri said: “He was not even worried about the destabilization issues.”
“Our President is a tough guy but when he said that, we saw his human side,” he added.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said the meeting had no agenda, but presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Mr. Duterte discussed “vital legislative agenda pending in the Senate.”
Among the measures tackled were the proposed emergency powers to solve the traffic problem in Metro Manila and the proposed comprehensive tax reform package.
The tax package would realign revenue collection and boost taxpayers’ income while ensuring that government operations and inclusive development programs would continue to run smoothly.
Also discussed were the President’s antidrug campaign and the Senate’s concurrence with the Philippines’ accession to the Paris Agreement.
“In all, it was a productive evening,” Abella said.
Not a loyalty check
For Sen. Grace Poe, it was a cordial first face-to-face meeting with Mr. Duterte since the May 2016 elections.
“It was happy, very light. We have known each other for a long time. So it was comfortable, I can say it was a light, happy chat,” said Poe, who lost the presidential election.
Asked if she felt the President was seeking to secure the senators’ loyalty, she said: “I don’t think so … It was really a social dinner.”
Senators said the President did not make any reference to the problematic appointment of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez or the controversial Senate committee report of Sen. Panfilo Lacson who had warned Mr. Duterte against “micromanaging” the police allegedly resulting in the killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa in his jail cell.
Lacson was invited to the dinner but failed to attend, along with Senators Gregorio Honasan and Chiz Escudero, because of prior engagements.
The only controversial issue the President mentioned was that he had a US intelligence report against detained Sen. Leila de Lima, according to Sen. JV Ejercito.
Ejercito, who tweeted a photograph of the President and the 15 senators during their dinner, said Mr. Duterte claimed that the justice department had evidence against De Lima, accused of drug offenses when she was the justice secretary.
“They are not trumped-up charges, that there’s a basis for filing the charges because (they even have) international intelligence,” Ejercito said.
A senator who did not want to be quoted told the Inquirer that it was a report by the US Drug Enforcement Agency that was given to the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.
Sen. Richard Gordon said he understood the US report was given by the US Department of State.
Beef and soup
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said it was the first big gathering of senators where beef and soup was served.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Loren Legarda, Grace Poe, Cynthia Villar, Nancy Binay, Sherwin Gatchalian, Emmanuel Pacquiao, Sonny Angara, Juan Miguel Zubiri and Joel Villanueva also attended the affair.
“The President mentioned the death penalty but he did not directly ask us to pass the bill,” Recto told reporters. He said Mr. Duterte merely discussed his position favoring the revival of the death penalty.
Angara said the President showed a report listing local officials involved in the illegal drug trade. He said the report had apparently been trimmed because it did not look as voluminous as before. Angara said the President recounted that when the drug war was suspended the number of rape cases went up.
The President’s bid to push for tax reforms was also discussed, according to Ejercito, who said Mr. Duterte observed that some senators had concerns about an increase in the taxes on petroleum products.
Sotto said federalism was discussed as well and that the President underscored the importance of supporting the autonomy of Mindanao.