Junior senators get lesson in independence
MANILA, Philippines — Reality bites for junior senators and known political aides of President Rodrigo Duterte as they learned a thing or two from their veteran colleagues about their role as among the “24 republics” in the upper chamber.
The showdown between the rookie legislators and the old guard happened on Monday as the Senate discussed a resolution seeking the Supreme Court’s opinion on whether the chamber’s approval was needed before an international treaty could be revoked by the President.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III defended Senate Resolution No. 337, which urged the magistrates to define the chamber’s authority in abrogating international agreements following Duterte’s unilateral move to scrap the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States.
Sotto, who sponsored the resolution along with Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon, said the initiative was not aimed at challenging the President’s decision.
After the body adopted the resolution with a vote of 12-0 with seven abstentions, Drilon stood up and lamented how the chamber was not able to muster a unanimous support in defending the Senate’s independence.
“All we’re asking is for the Supreme Court to define our constitutional boundaries. Nothing else, nothing more,” said the seasoned lawmaker, now on his fourth six-year term as senator.
Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who had served as Duterte’s police aide for decades, immediately took the podium and reacted to Drilon’s remark, saying he was also disappointed that most of the majority senators had voted with the minority bloc.
Dela Rosa, who won in his first venture into politics in last year’s senatorial race, was among those who abstained, together with fellow newbie Senators Christopher “Bong” Go, Francis Tolentino and Imee Marcos, who are among Duterte’s closest allies.
This prompted Lacson, Dela Rosa’s former boss in the PNP, to say, “I voted not against the President. I voted for the institution where I belong, called the Senate of the Philippines.”
“[We vote] not because of blind loyalty to any person or party. While loyalty is a virtue, blind loyalty is simply just that — blind,” the senator said.
“Otherwise, we can no longer be the ‘Senate of the People’ that we are supposed to be, but an expensive ‘rubber stamp’ that our taxpayers have to sustain out of their hard-earned tax money,” he added.
Speaking with reporters, Sotto said, “Maybe [Dela Rosa] is not yet familiar with what we’re doing here in the Senate. Being in the majority does not mean that you can get can the votes or win all the time,” the Senate president said.
“This is the Senate, the Philippine Senate. It’s a different story. It’s not like any other institution in the Philippines. That is why we are open to free debates,” he said.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said, “[L]et’s wait for the Supreme Court to resolve it. It’s a legal issue, a constitutional issue at that.”
—With a report from Julie M. Aurelio
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