WHEN the House of Representatives started organizing itself at the start of the new Duterte administration, many congressmen of the Liberal Party, the majority party in the Aquino administration, moved to join the new administration party PDP-Laban.
Top LP leaders counseled against everyone rushing to join the victors and abandoning the party, and so around 30 remained Liberals. They are part of the super-majority coalition in the House but they kept their identities as members of the Liberal Party. Five LPs have declared themselves a minority bloc along with two other contending minority groups.
In the Senate, the Liberals quickly allied themselves with the senators identified with the new administration and formed a coalition that elected the top officials of the chamber and the heads of key committees. Thus former Senate President Franklin Drilon remained in a key Senate position as Senate President Pro Tempore. Other LPs were given choice committee chairmanships.
Last Monday, the Senate majority coalition led by Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, in a surprise move, ousted three Senate Liberals and one ally from their key positions. Drilon was replaced by erstwhile Minority Leader Ralph Recto. Sen. Francis Pangilinan, the interim LP president, was removed from his chairmanship of the Committee on Agriculture while Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, was ousted from his Committee on Education. LP ally Sen. Risa Hontiveros of the party-list Akbayan was removed from her chairmanship of the Committee on Health. They were replaced, respectively, by Senators Cynthia Villar, Francis Escudero, and JV Ejercito.
The ouster of the four senators was made on motion of Sen. Emmanuel Pacquiao, known to be a key ally of President Duterte. There was no reason given for the changes and none was asked by the ousted, but everyone seemed to understand what was happening. The ousted senators had earlier criticized the arrest of Sen. Leila de Lima as well as the killings in the war on drugs.
The Senate revamp serves to clean up the lines dividing the contending forces in the Senate. It is best that the LP maintain its identity as an opposition party in the Senate as well as in the House. If it can do this until the coming national elections, we might see a return to the party system that we need in a presidential system of government.
We hope that the Senate revamp does not signal any weakening of the independence of the chamber. Senate President Pimentel vowed it will remain independent, while presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella assured that President Duterte will not interfere in its internal affairs. Their assurances may be severely tested in the coming weeks and months, when controversial bills such as the proposed revival of capital punishment reach the floor.