Sotto: Changing Senate leadership will make Duterte a lame duck
MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Saturday warned that tinkering with the current Senate leadership may result in an “unfriendly” political landscape in the 18th Congress that could render President Rodrigo Duterte a lame duck in the last half of his administration.
“The present Senate is friendly and cooperative [with Malacañang]. But we’re not subservient. Why will you change it? You may just create a majority of opposition [senators],” Sotto said in a radio interview.
“If the minority [bloc] secures the leadership [of the Senate], the administration can forget about its legislative agenda. That’s for sure. It already happened in the past. I’m speaking through the voice of experience,” added Sotto, who has been a senator for 21 years under four Presidents.
“We in the majority bloc have a good relationship and we have a good performance in the 17th Congress. If you’re a proadministration senator, why would you want to alter the Senate leadership? As the Americans say, why fix it if it ain’t broke?” he added.
‘Very cordial, warm’
Sotto said even the majority bloc’s relationship with their counterpart in the opposition, led by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, had been “very cordial and warm.”
“They fiscalize. But when they see that a measure is good, they vote with us. If they vote against a bill, they just explain their votes. Nobody has filibustered,” he said.
“Why will you change the [Senate] leadership? Just because you did not get a committee? The Duterte administration may just end up suffering,” Sotto continued. “If you have an unfriendly Senate in the last three years, the administration will be a lame duck.”
Sotto’s future as Senate leader had been put under the spotlight following the victory of three of the President’s closest allies — former presidential special assistant Christopher “Bong” Go, former Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa and former presidential political adviser Francis Tolentino—in the May 13 midterm polls.
The three belonged to the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), which suddenly became the biggest party bloc in the Senate along with Senators Manny Pacquiao and Aquilino Pimentel III, who was reelected.
Sotto is acting chair of the proadministration Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC). Two fellow NPC senators, Loren Legarda and JV Ejercito, are ending their terms, leaving behind Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian as the other NPC member. Incoming Sen. Lito Lapid was recently sworn in as a party member.
Go, Dela Rosa and Tolentino had informed Sotto and other Senate leaders of their preferred Senate committees even before the Commission on Elections had proclaimed them senators-elect.
The topnotcher in the Senate race, reelectionist Sen. Cynthia Villar, had spurned speculations that she may be after the Senate presidency in preparation for her possible presidential run in 2022.
Pimentel, president of PDP-Laban who vacated his post in favor of Sotto last year, agreed that altering the Senate leadership may just lead to unwanted consequences, such as a stronger opposition bloc.
He assured Sotto that his party mates and the 14 other proadministration senators supported the Senate President.
“We don’t hear anyone who is not supportive of Sotto,” he added.
Lapid was expected to join Sotto in the so-called Macho bloc, along with Senators Panfilo Lacson, Grace Poe, Nancy Binay and Pacquiao.
The “Seatmates bloc,” composed of Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senators Joel Villanueva, Richard Gordon, Juan Edgardo Angara, Binay and Gatchalian, had expressed unequivocal support for Sotto.
‘A dagger in your back’
While he was confident that he still enjoyed his colleagues’ support, Sotto said he knew that he could be unseated anytime by the votes of only 13 senators who would want to install a new leader.
He said he himself had been part of five different leadership coups in the 24-member chamber. “All those happened under the radar,” he said.
He recalled that the late Senate President Neptali Gonzales used to say that the Philippine Senate was “like Rome’s” and warned senators to “watch your back. Anytime [you may be stabbed with] a dagger in your back.”
“And that’s true,” Sotto said.
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