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Senate newbies’ ‘posturing’ stumps veterans

MANILA, Philippines — Some veteran senators were shocked by the seeming audacity of several of their neophyte colleagues to push their agenda, including a possible change of leadership in the Senate and chairmanships of coveted committees, according to Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson.

Lacson, who is serving his third term, said he was surprised to see incoming senators “posturing” and openly expressing their desire to lead a committee.

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“This is the first time I am seeing new senators, brazenly wanting a committee without even showing some courtesy to incumbent chairpersons,” Lacson said in a radio interview.

“All of us had to go through the status of being a neophyte,” he said, adding that as a tradition, incoming senators would “knock on the door” of the incumbent committee chair.

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Sotto’s advice

Some neophyte senators have the notion that it is the Senate president who chooses the chairs of the committees, according to Lacson.

He made this remark in view of reports that Sen. Cynthia Villar of the Nacionalista Party, the topnotcher of the recent midterm elections, was being considered to replace Senate President Vicente Sotto III, and that her party mates, including incoming Senators Imee Marcos and Francis Tolentino, would support her bid.

Sotto told the Inquirer in a phone interview that he understood Lacson’s reaction to the way neophyte senators were demanding committee chairmanships and affirmed his colleague’s statement that that never happened before.

He said there was a tradition in the Senate called the “equity of incumbent” in choosing committee chairs in which current senators were given preference in the committees they wanted to head.

Sotto also said the Senate president did not pick the heads of the committees. The proadministration majority elects the chairs on the floor, he added.

His advice to the neophyte senators: “Try to feel your way in.”

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At best, they would learn and be ready within four to six months, Sotto said.

“So they should not only build confidence [in running committees] but also build camaraderie among the majority senators,” he said of the neophyte senators.

“I only serve at the pleasure of the majority. The majority decides on the committee chairmanships,” said Sotto, who has served 21 years as senator.

Lacson said the “aggressive” stance of some neophyte senators in instigating a revamp of the Senate leadership stumped other senior members.

Breaking tradition

“It could be posturing, such as wanting to get a chairmanship,” he said. “They don’t have to do it by way of a veiled threat that it would cast some doubts over the present leadership, and by trying to woo senators to their side.”

“When I was a newcomer, I usually kept silent in the distribution of the committees, even when those given to us were just the leftovers,” Lacson said. “It seems we are breaking the tradition.”

Lacson is current chair of the committees on accounts, games and amusement, and public order and dangerous drugs.

Sen. Richard Gordon earlier told reporters that he heard “rumors” that some newbie senators wanted to head the blue ribbon and justice committees, which he both chairs.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III had also disclosed that Tolentino wanted to head six committees.

Minority Leader Franklin Drilon affirmed the Senate tradition, adding that incumbent senators were preferred in leading the major committees like finance, blue ribbon, health, justice, and ways and means.

“This is because the senior senators already have a degree of experience in crafting legislation and committee reports,” Drilon told the Inquirer in a separate interview.

Resolution to check support

Equally important is that veteran senators are able to stand on the debates springing from their committee reports, he added.

Tolentino and the two other incoming senators who have never held a congressional post—Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go and Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa—did not reply to a text message seeking comment.

According to Lacson, the posturing of the incoming Senate members has prompted Sen. Manny Pacquiao to broach the idea of a manifesto of support for Sotto.

He said he would circulate on Monday a resolution to determine whether Sotto still had the support of the senators, even as he and Gordon both agreed the majority were backing the incumbent Senate president.

“I have no doubt that [Sotto’s] position is firm. But we will find that out on Monday with the [vote-of-confidence] resolution,” Lacson said.

Art of compromise

Unlike in the House of Representatives where the President usually always has to give his “blessing” in the selection of Speaker, Malacañang does not have to intervene in the selection of the next Senate president, he said.

“Senators have always proven our independence because we have a national constituency, and not just parochial, just like the House. We are not easily swayed by the whims of Malacañang,” Lacson said.

Drilon, who has served as senator also for 21 years, indicated support for Sotto. He said Sotto was “fair” and had acted as the “president of the Senate, not only of the majority.”

“[Sotto] knows the art of compromise in order to move legislation,” Drilon said.

Gordon expressed concern about a “money race” for the Senate presidency, with the rumored entry of Villar.

Reports of payoffs

“I hope this will not happen in the Senate. But if it will, I will definitely be the first to expose it,” he said, alluding to reports of payoffs to choose the Speaker.

“Political ideology and not personality should still be the main consideration in the choice of a Senate leadership,” Gordon said.

Villar did not categorically state whether she wanted the Senate presidency, saying that she would think about it once called to a meeting by the Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP), the regional party that also supported her candidacy. HNP was created by President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

“It depends,” she told reporters on Thursday. “You have to think about it when it comes, don’t you? It doesn’t follow that you like it, but you have to give it a thought.”

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TAGS: 18th Congress, Francis Tolentino, Imee Marcos, new senators, Panfilo Lacson, Richard Gordon, Senate, Vicente Sotto III
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