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A more assertive, more forceful Senate

THE Senate elected a new president last Monday in the person of Sen. Vicente Sotto III of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC). He took over from Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, president of the PDP-Laban.

Senator Pimentel was elected Senate president at the start of the Duterte administration in 2016, not because the party had a majority in the chamber; it was more an agreement by consensus among 23 members who, although divided into nine separate groups, wanted to work with the new administration

Certain recent events, however, appear to have convinced the senators that they need a leader who will be more assertive of their more independent views. Senator Pimentel is the PDP-Laban president and naturally tends to share the views of other party leaders, most notably Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, the party’s secretary-general.

The Philippine Senate today is a difficult mixture of parties – six from the Liberal Party (LP), four independents, three from PDP-Laban, three from the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), two from the Nacionalista Party (NP), two from the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), one from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), one from Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), and one from Akbayan.

There are only three from administration party PDP-Laban but the senators chose Pimentel at the start of the new Congress as leader of the pro-administration coalition. Sotto’s NPC has also only three members in the chamber, so the party was not a factor in his election last Monday as the new Senate president. Rather, it is said, the senators believe Sotto will be more assertive of the rights of the Senate as an independent chamber of Congress and of the interests of the senators of whatever political party.

The Senate faces a difficult road ahead. Speaker Alvarez has been very vocal in his insistence that in the coming Constitutional Convention to draw up a new constitution incorporating a federal system of government, the congressmen and senators should sit and vote as one body. That would push the Senate to irrelevancy, its 23 members overwhelmed by the House’s 297 members.

For the coming senatorial elections, Speaker Alvarez also proposed a list that ignores non-PDP-Laban reelectionist senators although they have been with the pro-Duterte majority coalition in the Senate. This too is an issue that new Senate President Sotto is expected to address.

Many senators also feel the Senate has not been as assertive as it should be as the treaty-ratifying institution in the government, in a number of foreign policy issues, such as the Philippines’ rights in the South China Sea and its relations with the United States, China, Russia, and other countries.

With Senator Sotto as the new Senate president, they hope the Senate will now be a more active, more confident, more forceful, more independent institution in the great tradition of Senates of the past. We join them in that hope.