Drilon is Senate President again
MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The “only big man of the Senate” for President Benigno Aquino III will head the chamber in the second half of his administration.
Staunch Aquino ally Sen Franklin Drilon is the new Senate President, a position that will help him ensure the passage of Aquino’s priority measures, and solidify the administration’s control of Congress.
Drilon gained a majority vote of 17 in the opening of the first regular session of the 16th Congress on Monday, July 22. Senators Grace Poe and Juan Edgardo Angara nominated Drilon for the post he first held in 2000, and 2001 to 2006.
"He's a spirited leader with proven ability to have consensus in chamber," Poe said when she nominated Drilon for the position.
Drilon took his oath before the youngest member of the Senate, the 36-year-old Sen Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, the President's cousin. The two are partymates in the ruling Liberal Party (LP).
Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile challenged Drilon but only to become Minority Leader. Getting the second highest number of votes at 6, Enrile automatically becomes the head of the minority bloc of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
Drilon voted for Enrile while Enrile voted for Drilon. Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago was absent due to chronic fatigue syndrome.
The election took place after the oath-taking of 6 neophyte senators: Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, Aquino, Nancy Binay, Joseph Victor "JV" Ejercito, Grace Poe and Cynthia Villar.
Senators elected Sen Ralph Recto, another LP member, as Senate President Pro-Tempore. The Nacionalista Party’s (NP) Sen Alan Peter Cayetano won as Majority Leader.
It’s a reversal of roles for Enrile and Cayetano, the Minority Leader in the 15th Congress.
The Senate also elected lawyer Oscar Yabes as Senate Secretary and re-elected retired Maj Gen Jose Balajadia Jr as sergeant-at-arms.
'Only big man' of Senate
Calling him “the only big man of the Senate,” Aquino has hailed Drilon for his role as campaign manager of the administration slate Team PNoy in the midterm polls. The President credited the LP vice chairman for leading the ticket to a 9-3 victory.
“He never complains, always stays calm and never disturbs anybody for no reason. If we were able to take care of the country well, that is because we have a very brilliant campaign manager in Frank Drilon,” Aquino said of him in May.
Drilon, 67, was secretary of labor and justice, and executive secretary in the Cory Aquino administration, and justice chief in the presidency of Fidel Ramos.
In the 15th Congress, the Ilonggo senator led efforts to pass key administration measures like the 2013 budget and the sin tax reform law as chairman of the Finance Committee, and acting chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
As Senate chief, Drilon will be working with Recto, a former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary, and Cayetano, whose NP allied with the LP in the May polls.
Recto will take over in case Drilon is absent or he resigns or is removed from office. Cayetano will be in charge of the Senate agenda, and the concurrent chairman of the Committee on Rules.
Enrile goes full circle in his fourth and last term, as he was the lone minority when he first joined the Senate in 1987.
Lawyer Oscar Yabes was elected as Senate Secretary, while retired Maj Gen Jose Balajadia Jr is re-elected as Senate Sergeant-at-Arms.
Controversies, reforms, priorities
The Drilon leadership takes over after the controversy over the alleged uneven and excessive distribution of Senate funds and P10 billion pork barrel scam tainted the image of the institution.
Sen Alan Peter Cayetano has said that the Drilon administration will initiate reforms in the use of Senate funds to reverse practices under Enrile’s leadership. He said the new Senate will become more thrifty in the use of funds.
Drilon has said that he will be fair in the distribution of funds and will ensure that the Senate follows rules of the Commission on Audit. Enrile drew flak for excluding 4 critics in the distribution of an additional P1.6 million in Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) for each senator last December.
The new Senate President is also pushing for stricter rules on the use of the pork barrel like limiting it to health and educational services.
Despite the controversies, Drilon has vowed to push for Aquino’s legislative agenda, primarily focusing on economic bills:
- Rationalization of fiscal incentives
- Rationalization of the mining law to address excise tax issues
- Tax Incentive Monitoring and Transparency Act to monitor incentives enjoyed by pioneer or innovative industries, and to check abuses
- Amendments to the Build, Operate and Transfer Law to address criticism on the hindrances to the full implementation of the Public-Private Partnership Programs
- Reviewing and removing restrictions on the foreign incentive negative list
- Amendments to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Act
- Amendments to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Organic Act to conform to the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
- Amendments to the Sandiganbayan Law and Judiciary Act
Drilon admits the challenge will be to pass the measures in the next two years to improve the investment climate, and to ensure inclusive growth.
“Starting one year before 2016, I don’t think much will be achieved in policy reforms. I want to seize this opportunity with the strong leadership of the President to institutionalize the reforms he started so after he is gone, whoever comes in even with a different agenda, we already institutionalized what should be there.”
Bitter rivalries and 2016
Drilon leads a majority composed of the LP, NP and other Aquino allies. The LP and NP were rivals in 2010.
The NP members are Senators Villar, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Bongbong Marcos, and Antonio Trillanes IV. They form the biggest Senate bloc.
Besides Drilon, the LP senators are Recto, Teofisto Guingona III, and Bam Aquino, the President’s cousin.
Other members of the majority are Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Francis Escudero, Lito Lapid, Loren Legarda, Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Bong Revilla, and neophytes Poe and Angara.
Enrile’s minority bloc includes Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, and newbies Binay and Ejercito.
This early, the minority has vowed to play an active role in checking on the performance and bills of the majority. They call themselves the “constructive opposition.”
“We expect the new majority to perform well and toe the line because we will definitely call their attention if there are things that are being mishandled or if there is no quorum or there are procedures that are not followed,” Sotto said in a previous interview.
The Enrile group got into ugly word wars with the Cayetanos and Santiago on issues ranging from the Senate fund controversy, and the reproductive health and sin tax laws. Enrile also clashed with Trillanes on China and the division of Camarines Sur.
The rivalries were highlighted in Enrile's resignation at the end of the 15th Congress, where he blasted his critics for destroying his name and causing the defeat of his son, former Cagayan Rep Jack Enrile, in the senatorial polls.
Cayetano said he is willing to reconcile and work with Enrile while Trillanes said the minority is only making noise to position for 2016.
Managing the rivalries and keeping the administration coalition intact to ensure the passage of administration measures will be a key challenge for Drilon. – Rappler.com