Pimentel allays fears over Senate independence

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 15 2019 01:22 PM | Updated as of May 15 2019 01:35 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte attends a PDP-Laban campaign rally in Marikina City, March 20, 2019. Joining the President on stage are former Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go and Senator Aquilino Pimentel III. Alfred Frias, Presidential Photo

MANILA -- The Senate will remain independent despite the looming entry of President Rodrigo Duterte's allies into the chamber after a midterm election that showed resounding approval of his rule, Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel (PDP-Laban) said Wednesday. 

Nine of 12 available seats in the all-important Senate looked set to go to administration candidates and the rest to "independents," unofficial tallies showed, as the opposition that campaigned against his controversial policies failed to make the cut.

Winning candidates would join 12 incumbents, 4 of whom are from the opposition, including Senators Francis Pangilinan (LP), Franklin Drilon (LP), Risa Hontiveros (Akbayan), and Leila De Lima (LP), said Pimentel, head of the administration party, Partido Demokratiko ng Pilipinas-Laban (PDP-Laban). 

He also noted that among likely winners are re-electionist Sen. Grace Poe, an independent candidate, and Sen. Nancy Binay (UNA), who does not belong to Duterte's party. 

"Sabi nila wala silang kahit anong utang na loob sa administration. E di 4 plus 2, 6 na iyan -- one fourth na ng Senate iyan. This will really be an independent Senate," Pimentel told radio DZMM. 

(They said they don't have any debt of gratitude to the administration. That's 4 [opposition members] plus 2, that already 6 or a fourth of the Senate.)

Senator Panfilo 'Ping' Lacson has also taken an independent stance on many issues. The former police chief even endorsed Liberal Party bet Bam Aquino, currently 14th in the Senate race. 

Duterte, Pimentel added, has never pressured senators to pass proposed laws that he certified as urgent. 

Drilon, meanwhile, said his group "will do everything to maintain the Senate's independence." 
"But if the Senate becomes a "rubber stamp", we assure our people that we will not be part of it. That will be the decision of the majority," he said in a statement. 

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For his part, Senate President Vicente 'Tito' Sotto III (NPC) vowed to keep the independence of the upper house. 

"Huwag sila mag-alala na walang oposisyon doon [sa Senate winners] di naman franchise ng oposisyon mag-oppose, eh kasi sa amin, kung ano yung tama," Sotto told radio DZMM Tuesday.

(Don't worry that there will be no opposition winners in the Senate race because opposing is not the sole franchise of the opposition. We just side with what is right.)

A Senate majority may cut the chance of censures and house investigations against Duterte's rule, making it easier to co-opt independents and remove the few remaining hurdles to an ambitious agenda for massive infrastructure spending, re-drafting the constitution, and the return of the death penalty.

"This president's popularity and transferability of his popularity is unprecedented to say the least, despite all the controversies," said political analyst Edmund Tayao.

"You expect normally 2 or 3 candidates from the opposition (Otso Diretso) to win, but this is a wipe-out." 

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Senate's independence would not be in question, but the vote showed the public overwhelmingly backed Duterte and his vision.

"Undoubtedly, the Duterte magic spelled the difference," he said. "People yearn for stability and continuity of the genuine reforms that this administration started. They yearn for a constructive and not obstructionist Senate."

The midterms come as Duterte, 74, appears untouchable, with last year's spiraling inflation under control and a recent poll showing his public approval rating at a staggering 81 percent.

Experts say the winning formula was selling Duterte as a brand, including use of his daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio as a surrogate to promote his candidates, in a possible succession play for the 2022 presidential election.

The result also shows the effectiveness of a diehard social media support base, despite intermittent outrage over his pro-China stance, jokes about rape, tirades about the church, and his anti-drugs crackdown. 

With a report from Reuters