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Tito Sotto makes it 3-way fight in Senate

Will it be a three-way fight for the Senate presidency?

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, head of presumptive President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) party, has expressed interest in the Senate leadership, saying he intends to push for legislation that will support the new Chief Executive’s plans for the country.

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READ: Koko Pimentel eyes Senate presidency

“As president of the party, I will aspire to be Senate President so that the agenda of the party and the President can be shepherded through the Senate,” Pimentel told reporters.

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Where does this leave Duterte’s running mate, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who may also run for the same position?

“We will possibly engage in a friendly competition for the commitments of our colleagues. In the end, we will have to work together,” Pimentel said.

READ: Cayetano or Pimentel seen to challenge Drilon in Senate

Should Cayetano run for the leadership of the Senate, he and Pimentel may also have to compete with Sen. Vicente Sotto III, who is being pushed to run for the position.

“I have friends in the Senate who are talking to me, who said I am being considered as their candidate for Senate President,” Sotto said in a phone interview.

READ: Sotto says at least 11 senators pushing him for Senate presidency

Less polarizing choice

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Sotto, a member of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), said a number of senators were urging him to seek the post because he was neutral or less polarizing compared to the other possible candidates.

“Our group can provide an independent Senate with the incoming President,” he said. “I want a Senate with integrity and independence.”

He said there was a sizable number of colleagues willing to support him, but what would convince him to run for the position was if they would be able to gather a majority.

Majority power

Sen. Sonny Angara said all contenders were qualified to become Senate President, but if none of the candidates managed to get a majority of at least 13, incumbent Senate President Franklin Drilon would retain his post.

“There is no single party with a sufficient number of senators to form a Senate majority in itself so right now, there’s a lot of jockeying and negotiating going on among groups, parties and individuals,” Angara said in a statement.

“If any of the above-mentioned aspirants fails to get 13 then Senate President Drilon stays on, similar to then Senate President Enrile in 2010,” he said.

Pimentel, the lone PDP-Laban member in the Senate, said he had not yet talked to any of his colleagues to seek their support, but added that he could work well with members of the Liberal Party (LP).

“The PDP-Laban and the LP had a coalition in 1992, and I have good memories of that partnership. I am friends with the LP. Maybe the equation is different in the Senate,” he said.

The Senate in the 17th Congress will have five LP members: Drilon, Bam Aquino, Leila de Lima, Francis Pangilinan and Ralph Recto.

De Lima stood as Pimentel’s lawyer in his electoral protest against Sen. Miguel Zubiri in 2007.

Pimentel also said the PDP-Laban had already informed Duterte that it wanted him to run for Senate President.

Asked if he had Duterte’s blessing, he said, “It’s my party mates who are blessing me.”

As to whether he and Cayetano could work out a deal to split the term of the Senate President, he said he did not believe in term-sharing.

Party coalition

The NPC on Friday signed an agreement with the PDP-Laban to support the Duterte administration and the bid of newly elected Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez to be House Speaker.

But Sotto said the deal did not extend to the Senate. The NPC cannot commit its members to support a particular candidate for Senate President, he said.

“It has never worked that way. The senators are all different republics,” he said.

Among those involved in the discussion for Sotto to run for Senate President are NPC members Sen. Loren Legarda and newly elected Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, he said.

But Gatchalian told reporters in Makati that the NPC would likely support Duterte’s bet for Senate President. Gatchalian was present in the signing of an agreement of support between the NPC and the PDP-Laban.

“The NPC will support the new administration in the Senate as well,” he said.

As far as he knows, he said, Cayetano is the anointed candidate of Duterte. But he said Cayetano had yet to talk with NPC members.

Cannot be reached

The Inquirer had tried but failed to get in touch with Cayetano to confirm if he would run for Senate President.

Asked what the NPC would do if Sotto decided to seek the Senate presidency, Gatchalian said that should be discussed. But the general idea is to support the incoming administration, he said.

“At the end of the day, we’re just one country. We have to be united,” he said.

NPC president Giorgidi Aggabao also said he presumed the party members would support Duterte’s preferred Senate President.

Sources in the Duterte camp said Pimentel was the PDP-Laban’s top pick for the Senate presidency.

This is even if Cayetano, who is on his third and last term, has also expressed interest in the third highest position in the land.

Cayetano was earlier offered posts in the new administration’s Cabinet, either the portfolios of the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Department of Justice.

But he has to wait until next year due to the one-year ban on the appointment of losing candidates to government positions.

Sources said Cayetano may not be the best choice for Senate President as he appeared to be brash to his Senate peers.

To keep their forces consolidated, Cayetano has to give way to Pimentel, sources said. TVJ

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TAGS: chief executive, Nationalist People’s Coalition, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan, PDP-Laban Party, Philippine Senate, presumptive President-elect, Rodrigo Duterte, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, sen. sonny angara, Senate leadership, Senate of the Philippines
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