64 senator wannabes: A race to the ‘Magic 12’

Dave Abuel and Oscar Magpusao, ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group

Posted at Feb 21 2022 06:41 PM

Now that the official campaign period for national candidates running in the May 9, 2022 National and Local Elections is already in full swing, all eyes have been on the presidential candidates and their running mates. 

This is in large part due to the massive campaign coverage by the media and the series of presidential candidates’ forums and interviews that aired over the last couple of months. 

Not much attention has been given to the candidates for senator. But there are, in fact, 64 of them—all competing for just 12 vacant seats. Indeed, unlike in mid-term elections when senatorial candidates take center stage, in presidential elections, they tend to take the backseat. 

To learn more about them, the ABS-CBN Investigative & Research Group reviewed the Certificates of Candidacy that the 64 candidates for senator submitted to the Commission on Elections last October.

But to better appreciate why we need to give our choice of the so-called “Magic 12” more thought, we should first appreciate the role of a Senator of the Republic of the Philippines.

Minimum qualifications, huge responsibilities

The 1987 Constitution provides the basic minimum criteria to be eligible to run for the Senate: one should be a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old on Election Day, able to read and write, a registered voter, and a resident of the Philippines for not less than two years before the day of the elections.

These minimum qualifications belie the huge responsibility and multifaceted role that a senator is expected to perform once elected to office.

The most well-known among these roles is creating new laws and amending existing ones, as well as conduct hearings or inquiries in aid of legislation on various issues, such as the recent series of hearings on the Pharmally deal. Over the last few years, we also witnessed such hearings on Dengvaxia and the War on Drugs. 

The Constitution also states that senators also sit as members of the Commission on Appointments, which has the power to approve or reject appointments made by the President.

It is also their task to scrutinize the country’s proposed national budget. Senators also have the power to try and decide on impeachment cases against a president, vice-president, members of the Supreme Court, members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman.

Senators, together with the members of the House of Representatives, can declare the existence of a state of war, and can agree or disagree with the president’s provision of amnesty. 

Senators also have power over treaties or international agreements, which will only be "valid and effective" upon the approval of “at least two-thirds of all the Members the Senate,” according to Article VII Section 21 of the 1987 Constitution. An example is the country’s accession to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, which still needs Senate concurrence in order to be ratified. 

Now that the roles and responsibilities of a senator have been laid out, let’s take a closer look at the 64 candidates vying for a seat in the Upper Chamber. 

Mostly inexperienced in the Senate; some have had prior wins

Of the 64 senatorial candidates, a great majority (80% or 51 candidates) have had no prior experience as a senator, while 13 candidates (20%) have already been elected senator in previous elections. Among them, former Senator and former Department of Information and Communications Secretary Gringo Honasan has had the longest stint in the Senate. He was elected to the Senate a total of four times: in 1995, 2001, 2007, and 2013. If he wins in May, this will be his 5th term in the Senate. 

Former Senator and incumbent Antique Lone District Representative Loren Legarda came in at second place with three successful senatorial runs prior: in 1998, 2007, and 2013. Honasan ranked 12th while Legarda placed 2nd in the 2013 elections, behind frontrunner Sen. Grace Poe.

Five candidates were already elected senator twice before: former senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Jinggoy Estrada, Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes, and incumbent Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon. 

Incumbent Taguig-Pateros First District Representative Alan Peter Cayetano ranked 9th and 3rd in the 2007 and 2013 midterm elections, respectively before running in the Taguig local elections in 2019.

Incumbent Sorsogon Governor Francis “Chiz” Escudero placed 2nd and 4th in the 2007 and 2013 midterm elections, respectively. After two consecutive terms in the Senate, he ran for a local post in Sorsogon in 2019.

Jinggoy Estrada ranked 10th in the 2004 and 2nd in the 2010 elections. He ran again in 2019 but lost, landing only at the 15th spot.

Incumbent Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon, who is eligible for a second term, ranked 5th in both the 2004 and 2016 senatorial elections.

Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes had two consecutive terms in the Senate from 2007 to 2019. He ranked 11th in the 2007 elections and 9th in 2013. He did not run for any elective post in the 2019 elections.

Six other candidates were already elected senator once before. They are former senator JV Ejercito, and incumbent Senators Leila De Lima, Joel Villanueva, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Risa Hontiveros, and Sherwin Gatchalian. Zubiri also occupied a seat in the Senate in 2007, but resigned on Aug. 3, 2011, a week before the Senate Electoral Tribunal proclaimed Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III as the 12th winning senator in the 2007 elections. Meanwhile, Ejercito, who won in the 2013 senatorial race, lost in the 2019 senatorial elections after landing on the 13th spot.

On second and third try

Of the 64 senatorial candidates in 2022, 16 ran in the last three senatorial elections and lost. 

Five candidates are already on their third attempt this election year. Four of them lost in 2016 and 2019: Ibrahim Albani, Melchor Chavez, Neri Colmenares, and Larry Gadon. Another candidate, Greco Belgica, had two unsuccessful senatorial runs in 2013 and 2016.

Eleven candidates are on their second try this year. Nine of them lost in the 2019 senatorial race: Abner Afuang, Chel Diokno, Samira Gutoc, RJ Javellana, Emily Mallinllin, Sonny Matula, Lady Anne Sahidulla, and former Senators JV Ejercito and Jinggoy Estrada. Rey Langit, meanwhile, lost in 2016, while Bal Falcone lost in 2013.

The 12 candidates who will garner the most votes on May 9 will occupy a senate seat in the 19th Congress alongside the 12 sitting senators who were elected in 2019 and whose terms will end in 2025: Senators Ronald Dela Rosa, Christopher Go, Aquilino Pimentel III, and Francis Tolentino, who all ran under PDP-Laban in 2019; Pia Cayetano, Imee Marcos, and Cynthia Villar who all ran under the Nacionalista Party in 2019; Juan Edgardo Angara (LDP), Ramon Bong Revilla Jr. (Lakas-CMD), Lito Lapid (NPC), Nancy Binay (UNA), and Grace Poe who ran as independent candidate in 2019.

Government officials, actors, broadcasters

One in every four (25% or 16) candidates is either an incumbent or former government official. This includes former cabinet members of President Duterte who were deemed resigned after filing their Cerificates of Candidacy for the 2022 elections. They are former Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, former DAR Secretary John Castriciones, former Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, former DICT Secretary Gringo Honasan, former Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission Chair Greco Belgica, and former Mindanao Development Authority Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.

Notably, there are three candidates who wrote “actor” as their profession in the COC that they filed: Robin Padilla, former Quezon City mayor Herbert Bautista, and former Senator Jinggoy Estrada. There are also three candidates from the broadcast industry: TV5 News anchor Raffy Tulfo, broadcaster Rey Langit and Melchor Chavez, who also indicated "broadcast journalist" as his profession.

A fifth are running without a party

Thirteen senatorial candidates (20%) are running as independent candidates.

Among those running under a political party, eight candidates are running under Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). They make up 16% of all senatorial candidates who are running under a political party, the most out of all political parties.

The Nationalist People’s Coalition follows with six senatorial candidates. Four political parties have three candidates each, while 19 political parties have either one or two candidates for senator each.

Most candidates are men, in their 40s and 50s, from Metro Manila

A big majority of those running for the senate—52 candidates or 81%--are men; only 12 are women. Majority—53 candidates or 83%--are married; seven are single, and four are widows or widowers.

Six in every 10 senatorial candidates (38 candidates) are 40-59 years old. Two in every five (41% or 26 candidates) are senior citizens. The youngest, Francis Leo Marcos, is 42, while the oldest, Silvestre Bello Jr., is 87. 

More than half (52% or 33 candidates) were born in the National Capital Region. Bicol Region and Central Luzon follow with four senatorial candidates each. There are no senatorial candidates who were born in Central Visayas, Davao Region, Zamboanga Peninsula, or CARAGA. Samira Gutoc, who was born in Saudi Arabia, is the only candidate born outside the Philippines.

– additional research by Ciara Annatu and Dominik Infante, ABS-CBN Investigative & Research Group