2 Mindanaoans clinch leadership of 17th Congress

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 25 2016 01:18 PM | Updated as of Jul 25 2016 02:40 PM

MANILA - Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, who both hail from Mindanao, were elected as the top leaders of the 17th Congress on Monday.

Pimentel and Alvarez are both members of the PDP-Laban party of President Rodrigo Duterte, the country's first Mindanaoan Chief Executive.

Pimetel, the lone PDP-Laban member in the Upper Chamber, assumed the Senate presidency after securing the support of a "super majority" of 20 colleagues.

He defeated Sen. Ralph Recto, who was voted by three senators including Pimentel, Antonio Trillanes IV and Francis Escudero.

Meanwhile, Alvarez was voted House Speaker by 251 of the 292-member Lower House.

Alvarez defeated Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez and Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, who got 7 and 8 votes, respectively.

Twenty-one representatives abstained from voting while one voted "none of the above".

NO 'YES' CONGRESS

With two close allies leading both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Duterte is now in a strong position to push his legislative agenda.

Duterte is calling for a shift to the federal system of government, the reinstatement of death penalty and the lowering of the age threshold for juvenile offenders.

Congress leaders, however, dispelled fears that a legislative branch dominated by Duterte would be reduced to a mere rubber stamp.

Pimentel said the minority's rights will always be respected in Congress.

He also earlier promised to lead the Senate with "consultation and action."

"I'll be consultative. Gusto ko ginugulo ko din ang mga kasama ko; 'pag may problema, problemahin din nila," he said Sunday.

But Alvarez stressed that the genuine change promised by Duterte can only be realized if the public "joins hands with the President."

"That is why we in the legislative branch of government have our work cut out for us. We must give the President the necessary legislation which will be his tools to effect meaningful and genuine change. We, too, must be instruments of change," he said.

He also reiterated the need for reimposing capital punishment for heinous crimes, and reverting the age of criminal liability from 15 years old to 9 years old and shifting to federalism through revision of the 1987 Constitution.

Alvarez also urged lawmakers to enact a Freedom of Information law, revise labor laws, subject mining activities to legislative oversight and strengthen local government units.

The President will bare his policy agenda and plans for the government in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday afternoon.