MANILA (6th UPDATE) - Four senators who actively supported Liberal Party (LP) member Leila de Lima lost key posts in the upper house of Congress on Monday.
Allies of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Senate cracked the whip on four senators, mostly from the LP, who took a strong stand against De Lima's arrest and detention for drug trading and receiving drug payoffs from Bilibid convicts.
LP Senator Franklin Drilon was removed from his post as Senate President Pro-Tempore and replaced by Senator Ralph Recto, also a member of the LP, after garnering 17 votes.
Three senators were also stripped of their committee chairmanships in the reorganization.
Senator Cynthia Villar of the Nacionalista Party (NP) took over as chair of the Agriculture and Food committee from LP Senator Francis Pangilinan.
Independent Senator Francis Escudero replaced LP Senator Bam Aquino as chairman of the Education committee.
Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) Senator JV Ejercito replaced Senator Risa Hontiveros as chair of the Committee on Health and Demography.
Hontiveros is a leader of the citizens' party, Akbayan, but ran under the administration ticket of then-President Aquino in the 2016 senatorial elections.
Aquino, Drilon, Hontiveros, and Pangilinan said they would join Senators De Lima and Antonio Trillanes in the minority.
Notably, the four senators who lost their posts actively supported De Lima after a trial court issued last Friday a warrant for her arrest on drug-related charges. They stood behind her as she faced the media the same night.
SENATE LOSING INDEPENDENCE?
Speaking to ANC on Monday afternoon, Aquino said he had expected the reorganization because he heard rumors about it at around 1 p.m.
“I thought it was just a regular day at the office pero may pangyayari pala. Around lunch time, maybe around 1 o’clock, there were rumors that this was going to happen so we were expecting this when we entered the floor," he said in a phone interview.
"If this is the price of politics in 2017, ganun talaga. Kung tatanggalin ka dahil nasa EDSA celebration ka nung Sabado, or sinasabi mo na masyado nang maraming patayan sa ating bansa, then I gladly accept that this is the price we have to pay for that," he added.
De Lima was indicted and arrested for illegal drug-trading last week, but she has challenged the Muntinlupa court's jurisdiction over her case.
Hontiveros, meanwhile, said she initially joined the Senate majority "under the premise that this will push for a strong and independent Senate. Sadly, this is no longer the case."
"Kung ang pananatili ko sa mayorya ay ang pagiging kasabwat ko sa isang rehimen na marahas at walang pag-respeto sa karapatang pantao ay buong puso kong tinatanggap ang maging bahagi ng minorya," she said.
(If staying in the majority will mean that I will take part in this regime's lack of respect for human rights, then I will wholeheartedly accept being part of the minority.)
"This new development will not hinder me from pushing for universal healthcare for our people or intimidate me from defending democracy and human rights."
NO PALACE HAND IN REORGANIZATION
Meanwhile, Malacañang asserted that it had nothing to do with the reorganization in the Senate despite a meeting between some senators and President Rodrigo Duterte last week.
"I don't think this is an offshoot of any serious meeting," Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Monday afternoon.
"The fact alone is that why is it that an LP member is occupying the same position, and not a different party member? At least PDP-Laban sana," he added, referring to Recto, who replaced Drilon for the number 2 post of the Senate.
Senator Koko Pimentel, the lone PDP-Laban member in the upper chamber, was elected head of the Senate last year after gaining the support of most of his colleagues, including the LP senators.
They then formed the majority bloc in the Senate, while Trillanes, Recto, and Escudero formed the minority bloc.