MANILA - Unlike the tumultuous race for the speakership at the House of Representatives, choosing the leader at the Senate went like a breeze.
The reelection of Senate President Vicente Sotto III in the 18th Congress was all but certain except for one alleged attempt to replace him with Sen. Cynthia Villar, the topnotcher in the recent elections.
Sotto was first elected Senate president in May 2018, taking over Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, a member of the ruling party who was a relative newcomer in the Senate, in what analysts saw as a blow the ruling PDP-Laban party chaired by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Despite the various controversies hounding Sotto, his experience in the Senate and his charisma made him the preferred leader of the 24-person chamber.
“Sotto has had a long and accomplished legislative career that has been marked by numerous elections as both Minority and Majority Leader, prior to his Senate Presidency,” said Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri in his speech nominating Sotto.
“No one is more familiar with the ways of the Senate than he is. Time and again, his colleagues have bestowed upon him their faith in his capabilities as a leader.”
Sotto was also admired by his colleagues for his ability to show flexibility on some contentious issues, said University of the Philippines political science professor Ela Atienza.
"Matagal na ang experience niya sa Senate… He has worked with a lot of the senators, kahit ang mga nasa opposition. In that sense 'yung mga pro-administration plus those in the opposition na medyo independent ang stance nila, mas preferred siya,” Atienza told ABS-CBN News.
(He has a long experience in the Senate… He has worked with a lot of the senators, even those in the opposition. This is why pro-administration senators and the independent minded opposition prefer him.)
“Kung sasabihin na interes ng Senate, interes ng senators, he can fight for that.”
(If we talk about the interests of the Senate and the senators, he can fight for that.)
Such is Sotto’s influence in the Senate that the PDP-Laban no longer made a serious attempt to wrest the post from him.
Sen. Manny Pacquiao, PDP-Laban campaign manager, even made the rounds in early June to solicit signatures for a resolution expressing support for Sotto.
The PDP-Laban instead focused its energy on guaranteeing that its bet for Speaker, Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, would secure the top post in the House.
The ruling party also failed in this endeavor, as no less than Duterte allowed Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano to lead the House in a term-sharing scheme with Velasco.
Whatever the outcome of the election of leaders of the two chambers, Duterte was nonetheless still assured of solid support for his legislative priorities. The President can also assure that his legislative agenda would be supported with his closest allies, Senators Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Ronald dela Rosa, and Francis Tolentino, now in the upper chamber.
The three senators, although neophytes, were given choice committees crucial to pushing laws that would contribute to the chief executive’s legacy.
But the 4-person minority bloc in the Senate vowed to oppose Duterte-backed measures at all cost.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, a minority bloc member who is also the president of the opposition Liberal Party, said the minority would continue to serve as fiscalizers despite their small membership in the chamber.
“We associate ourself with the Senate minority in the 18th Congress not because we are so-called obstructionist but because we believe that a strong minority is critical to a democracy,” Pangilinan said in a statement
“Being in the minority is not a deterrent towards being able to work together and perform our legislative mandate. In fact, in the 17th Congress, key laws have been enacted because of the diligence of the Senate minority.”
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, said the opposition’s energy and drive are not down despite their decimated numbers in the Senate.
“We are seeking to build issue-based alliances even from members of the majority, especially those independent minded senators, on crafting useful laws,” Hontiveros told reporters.