The new Senate: Packed with Marcos allies, political families, famous names

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 18 2022 11:54 AM | Updated as of May 18 2022 04:15 PM

Senatorial candidate Mark Villar at the UniTeam miting de avance on Aseana Avenue in Parañaque on May 7, 2022. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
Senatorial candidate Mark Villar at the UniTeam miting de avance on Aseana Avenue in Parañaque on May 7, 2022. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

MANILA — With the proclamation of the Senate race's winning circle on Wednesday, the upper chamber will be dominated by political families and allies who can help presumptive president Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. pass pet laws in the face of a lean opposition bloc, analysts said. 

Winning senators that are set to be proclaimed by the Commission on Elections include former Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, returning Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, and half-brothers JV Ejercito and Jinggoy Estrada. 

Villar will join his mother Sen. Cynthia Villar in the chamber, where another Cayetano is already a sitting member, Sen. Pia Cayetano. 

This means that 6 or one-fourth of the 24 senators come from only 3 political families. 

There would have been 8 senators from only 4 families had former Vice President Jejomar Binay won and joined his daughter Sen. Nancy Binay. But he failed to land in the winning circle. 

“What that actually shows to us is the victory of the continuity of political dynasties, which actually speaks of... the continuing political immaturity of Philippine society,” 
said political analyst and campaign strategist Gerardo Eusebio. 

“When you decrease the number of political dynasties, it only shows that you are actually widening or broadening democratization… You are actually letting society have more choices. But if you confine them to 1 or 2 families, you are restricting and constraining that effort,” he told ABS-CBN News. 
 
The 1987 Constitution has an anti-dynasty provision, but this has not been implemented due to the absence of an enabling law. 

“The problem also is the instrument, the government organ that can actually effect legislation to thwart or to implement that anti-dynasty law would be the senators and congressmen themselves. How will they rule against themselves because they’re benefitting from it?” Eusebio said. 

For analyst Dr. Jean Encinas-Franco, the winners reflect that “our senators are still selected by the people based on popularity.”

“Either you are popular because you’re a public figure or a celebrity, or you have a family name that’s very popular,” she said. 

MARCOS ALLIES 

The UniTeam party holds its Miting De Avance on Aseana Avenue in Parañaque on May 7, 2022. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
The UniTeam party holds its Miting De Avance on Aseana Avenue in Parañaque on May 7, 2022. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

Out of 12 new senators, those who were part of the Marcos slate included Loren Legarda, Migz Zubiri, Mark Villar, Estrada, and Sherwin Gatchalian. 

The presumptive president's sister Imee Marcos is a sitting senator who will end her term in 2025. 

Meanwhile, 2022 Senate race topnotcher Robin Padilla had the backing of Marcos's running-mate Sara Duterte-Carpio. 

She and Sen. Bong Revilla belong to the same party, the Lakas-CMD. Her father President Rodrigo Duterte also has allies among the sitting senators, including his former national police chief Ronald dela Rosa, Bong Go, and Francis Tolentino. 

Encinas-Franco said she expected the new Senate to say it would engage in a “constructive collaboration” with the executive branch. 

“Probably, I expect that they will do that para hindi naman makita ng tao na masyado silang kakampi ng administration given this polarizing election. In reality, ‘pag kakampi mo iyong House and Senate, talagang mahirap banggain iyong kultura ng tayo-tayo,” she said. 

“Wala naman tayong strong political parties. The alliances are based on family interests or that they were supported during the elections,” added Encinas-Franco, an assistant professor at the Department of Political Science in University of the Philippines-Diliman. 

(I expect that they will do that so that the people would not see they are too allied with the administration, given this polarizing election. In reality, if you are allied with the House and Senate, it is hard to go against the culture of 'just us.' We don't have strong political parties.) 

The 31 million votes that Marcos secured “is going to be his currency dealing with the Senate and the House of Representatives,” said Encinas-Franco. 
 
“Hindi na lang ngayon pork barrel, the power of the President over the budget process—kundi iyong the popularity, support from the people kasi magagamit iyon sa 2025 election,” she said. 

(It's no longer about the pork barrel, the power of the President over the budget process—but rather, his popularity, the support from the people because that could be used in the 2025 election.)

PASSAGE OF LAWS 

A Congress packed with Marcos allies will be “good” for the presumptive president, said Eusebio, who teaches political science and development at the De La Salle University. 

“Iyong mga legislative agenda niya, ibibigay niya lang kay Imee ‘yon o kung sino mang Senate President na siguradong ally niya… That’s good for the country because iyong laws niya mabilis na maipapa-implement para makinabang ang mga taong bayan. Ganoon din sa House,” he said. 

(He will just give his legislative agenda to Imee or whoever is the Senate President who is surely his ally. That’s good for the country because his laws would be implemented immediately for the people to benefit. It's the same way with the House.) 

“If there are major laws that are gathering dust in the archives of these 2 houses, dapat buhayin iyong laws na ‘yon na dati hindi ma-pass dahil ‘di nagkakasundo,” added Eusebio. 

(Laws that failed to pass because of disagreements should be revived.) 

Marcos has yet to detail which laws he would be pushing for. 

“Probably he was thinking, 'what’s the use of offering my legislative agenda when I’m still running, sisiraan lang ako n’yan,' just like his position hindi siya nag-a-attend ng mga interviews at debates... because he had other means to get the votes,” Eusebio said. 

(Probably he was thinking what's the use of offering my legislative agenda when I'm still running, I will just be criticized, just like his position of not attending interviews and debates 

because he had other means to get the votes.) 

LEAN OPPOSITION 

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Among those set to be proclaimed on Wednesday, only Sen. Risa Hontiveros ran under the slate of Marcos's rival, outgoing Vice President Leni Robredo. 

Marcos also has a bitter history with returning Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, one of his 2016 rivals for the vice presidency. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Koko Pimentel had a power struggle with President Duterte over the leadership of their party the PDP-Laban. The lawmaker is the son of the late Senate President Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel, a victim of martial law victim under Marcos Jr's father and namesake. 

“The only problem lang naman doon sa (the only problem with the) lack of opposition is if the ruling party would be abusive. If there would be signs of abuses, maybe in the area of human rights, corruptions, those sensitive things, then that would be something for us to worry about,” 
said Eusebio. 

But acountability “does not always have to come from Congress,” and opposition forces may tap the help of non-government organizations, said Encinas-Franco. 

Robredo on July 1 is set to launch the "Angat Buhay" NGO

Eusebio added that if unpopular laws would be pushed, “Of course, and’yan ang streets. You can protest.”

“Iyon ang minsan nagkukulang sa Pilipino. Merong tinatawag na participative government, participative development… it’s part of governance,” he said. 

The Robredo-led Pink Movement can “certainly” 
help with this, Eusebio added. 


“Hindi mo puwedeng matahin din iyong nakuha [na boto] ni VP Leni… 14 million is 14 million… They should consolidate their forces,” he said. 

(You cannot shrug off the votes that VP Leni got.) 

But Eusebio also argued that Marcos "is of course a politician by heart." 

“I also believe that whoever sits as president would want, ayaw nang sumakit ang ulo n’yan na puro siya sabi nga nila firefighting every day because of the clamor and the protest. Siyempre, gusto mo rin magkaroon ng kung tawagin ay industrial peace… political peace. Mas maganda iyong wala kang kaaway,” he added. 

(I also believe that whoever sits as president would not want any headache, to have to do so-called firefighting every day because of the clamor and the protest. Of course, you'd want industrial, political peace. It's better if you gave no enemies.) 

SENATE PRESIDENT IMEE? 

ABS-CBN sources the Senate presidency may boil down to a battle between Cynthia Villar and Zubiri. 

Villar is "one of the senior legislators there" and also supported Marcos, noted Encinas-Franco. 

“If Cynthia Villar would be given the Senate presidency or will be supported by BBM, I would not be surprised at all. Mark Villar is there. We don’t know the deals, backdoor deals, hindi natin alam ‘yan. What I’m saying is nothing wrong with deals. But there might be arrangements,” added Eusebio. 

“Of course, the political support of the Villars is really invaluable sabi nga (as they say) because of their financial power also, political clout.” 

But why not a Senate President Imee Marcos? 

“My sense is that she would rather not parang entertain that idea for now given that her brother is banking on a unity platform. So he’d need more supporters as possible,” Encinas-Franco said. 
 
“Probably there’s also talk of what the people will say,” said Eusebio. 

NEWBIES 

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Senate newcomers Padilla and broadcaster Raffy Tulfo could hire professionals to help the draft laws, Eusebio pointed out. 

“They would have to do a lot of learning because of course the people will be looking at them with extra meticulousness, with a critical eye,” he said. 

“They should take baby steps to learn. Otherwise sayang ‘yong boto nila (votes for them would go to waste),” said Encinas-Franco. 

She said it would be too "ambitious" for Padilla to prioritize pushing for a shift to a federal system of government. 

“Kung si Duterte nga ang lakas ng political capital hindi niya [nagawa], and sa laki ng utang natin, it’s going to be really expensive to launch a federal system of government. Pag-aralan niya munang mabuti,” Encinas-Franco said. 

“Deliberative body ang Senate. Hindi naman ganoon kadaling basta gusto mo, magagawa mo.” 

(President Duterte did not succeed despite his strong political capital and with our huge debt, it’s going to be really expensive to launch a federal system of government. He should study that thoroughly first. The Senate is a deliberative body. It will not be that easy to pass something just because you want to.) 

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