Sotto assumes Senate presidency
Sen. Vicente Sotto III assumed the presidency of the Senate on Monday, taking over from Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III in a major revamp that removed the Senate presidency from the control of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) for the first time since 2016.
Speaking to reporters, the new Senate President said the 23-member chamber would be more independent and assertive under his leadership, adding that he would not allow it to be “trampled on.”
“Well, I am from NPC (Nationalist People’s Coalition). I am not a member of the opposition party or the administration party. We are the second largest political party always,” Sotto said.
‘Cooperative but independent’
Asked what sort of relationship he would have with the Duterte administration, he said: “It will be cordial. It will be cooperative for bills that we know will be good for the country… We will try our best to be independent, cooperative but independent.”
Upon accepting the post, Sotto told his colleagues: “I am here today to accept the challenge you have given me. I am deeply humbled and sincerely grateful to Almighty God and my fellow senators who reposed their trust in me to lead this chamber in these critical and trying times.”
Malacañang said it was willing to work with Sotto as it expressed respect for the decision of the majority bloc to change the Senate leadership.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez wished Sotto luck and faster performance. “Hopefully, the passage of legislation would be better off,” he said.
Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said: “The question to the new leadership is—Do they have the guts to make the Senate independent from Malacañang? Or would they just pander to the whims of President Duterte?”
Sotto took his oath about 3:45 p.m. upon the opening of Monday’s plenary session. He was joined by members of his family, including his wife, Helen Gamboa, and their four children.
It was Pimentel himself who nominated Sotto to the Senate presidency, citing the latter’s contributions to Congress.
Pimentel, president of PDP-Laban, said he had no hard feelings in relinquishing the post, after his colleagues criticized his leadership style, including his lack of assertiveness in defending the chamber from Alvarez’s criticism that many bills passed by the House of Representatives were stuck in the Senate.
Hours before Sotto assumed the Senate presidency, Malacañang expressed appreciation for Pimentel’s partnership with the Palace.
Roque said laws, including the free tuition for all state universities and colleges, and free irrigation, would not have passed without Pimentel’s cooperation.
Majority Leader Zubiri
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri was elected on Monday to replace Sotto as the majority leader.
“I promise to work long hours and burn the midnight oil so we can pass legislation that will help uplift the lives of the Filipino,” Zubiri told his peers.
Pimentel was elected chair of the two committees vacated by Zubiri: the panels on trade, commerce and entrepreneurship, and on cooperatives.
He wished Sotto well, saying he would help the new leadership in passing the legislative agenda of Mr. Duterte.
Reelection, second marriage
Pimentel will seek reelection in the 2019 midterm elections.
He also announced his plan to marry his fiancée, Kathryn Yu, in October after filing his certificate of candidacy.
Ahead of the plenary session, Pimentel denied there were any ill feelings between him and the majority bloc, after a draft Senate resolution calling for Sotto’s election to the Senate presidency gathered 15 signatures out of 17 majority senators.
“This is an example of a peaceful and willing transfer of power in the Senate,” he said.
Pimentel shrugged off criticisms raised by some members of the Senate majority about his leadership style.
‘It’s my style, personality’
“This is my style and my personality. But I wish to thank them for having tolerated or stomached me for the past 22 months,” he said in jest.
The Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines said it expected Sotto to expedite the passage of his Senate Bill No. 2, or the “Act Requiring Employers in the Private Sector to Pay 14th Month Pay.” —With reports from Christine O. Avendaño, Vince F. Nonato and Jovic Yee
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