MANILA, Philippines – The Senate begins organizing its panels, with Sen Francis Escudero leading the much sought after education committee.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano announced the first batch of 9 committee chairmanships of the 39 regular committees of the Senate.
Cayetano made the announcement during the Senate session on Tuesday, July 23, a result of negotiations of the majority led by Senate President Franklin Drilon.
Here are the committee chairmanships the majority agreed upon:
- Education, Arts and Culture – Sen Francis Escudero
- Tourism – Sen Lito Lapid
- Agriculture and Food – Sen Cynthia Villar
- National Defense and Security – Sen Antonio Trillanes IV
- Trade and Commerce – Sen Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV
- Public Order and Dangerous Drugs – Sen Grace Poe
- Public Information and Mass Media – Sen Grace Poe
- Public Services – Sen Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr
- Justice and Human Rights – Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III
Revilla retains his chairmanship of the public services committee, which handles matters affecting public utilities, communications, transportation, grant or amendment of legislative franchises.
The majority gave the Lakas chairman the post even after he got into a spat with Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, LP president-on-leave, over Cavite politics. Revilla accused Roxas of harassment during the May polls. He later said though that he is ending his word war with Roxas “for old time’s sake and to preserve our personal friendship.” Revilla again hit Malacañang this month, accusing it of a smear campaign in relation to the pork barrel scam.
Cayetano said the next batch of committee chairmanships will be announced in the next days.
By tradition, members of the majority get prime committee chairmanships. Sen Gregorio Honasan II, for instance, was the former chairman of the Public Order and Public Information committees but he is part of the 6-member minority led by Sen Juan Ponce Enrile.
Senators also follow a seniority rule in parceling out the committees. Committee chairpersons lead the hearings of their panels and sponsor measures that come out of their committees.
Cayetano said 75% of the members of any committee will come from the majority while 25% will be minority members.
Sen Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said during the session that the majority will first meet to decide on committees. The minority has said it is considering not accepting any committee chairmanship as a group.
“The minority wishes to discuss who the members will be for the different committees. Give us a day or so,” said Sotto, who was designated Assistant Senate Minority Leader.
Escudero will head the 15-member education committee. In the 16th Congress, many senators named education as their advocacy and eyed chairmanship of the committee. Other senators who expressed interest in the post are Pimentel and neophyte Sen Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara.
“I want to continue what my father started since he was in Congress and until his death. Before I joined Congress, I was also a public school teacher in UP,” Escudero said in a previous interview to explain his interest in the post.
Poe: Remove right of reply
Poe was able to get two major committees even if she is new to the chamber.
As head of the Public Information panel, Poe told reporters she will prioritize the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, which the Senate passed in previous Congresses but the House of Representatives failed to approve.
“Of course, that is the meat and substance of that committee. You should have access to information and how information is freely given. The reservation is national security,” Poe said.
Poe said she will look at the different versions of the FOI bill and ensure the protection of national security.
She said she is against the right of reply provision, which requires news organizations to provide space to sources affected by requests for information.
“That’s the provision I’d like to remove or correct. We shouldn’t be imposing on media or anyone else in terms of gathering information and presenting it,” said Poe.
Poe also said it was the prerogative of President Benigno Aquino III not to mention the FOI bill in his SONA on Monday.
“It doesn’t mean Congress cannot move forward and follow up on this bill. Not mentioning the FOI bill does not constitute non-action on the part of Congress.”
On the committee on Public Order, Poe said heading the panel will correct gender stereotypes.
“It’s a good message that a woman heads the Public Order and Dangerous Drugs committee because it affects everyone, not just the male population. Seeing it from the eye of a woman, an angle that we can take care of, the welfare of our law enforcement officials, drugs affecting our children, these are issues women can capably take up.”
Poe also suggested the use of manuals and regulations to avoid rubouts, which hit headlines with the alleged rubout of the Ozamiz gang leaders.
Poe said she will tap Honasan to possibly be her vice chairman in the public order panel, and Escudero for the public information committee.
Pimentel: Speed up justice
As chairman of the Justice Committee, Pimentel will be the Senate representative to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which screens nominees to the judiciary.
“I hope to enhance the quality of the nominees by being strict and then in terms of the bills to be proposed, we will try some radical proposals to speed up the dispensation of justice. I will concentrate first on speed and then quality,” Pimentel told Rappler.
Pimentel said he will also study Drilon’s bill designating one Sandiganbayan justice per division to be in charge of hearing and receiving evidence on behalf of the 3-member group.
“I’ll study it but I do not fully agree with allowing one justice to conduct the hearing. In my opinion, it defeats the collegial nature of the institution,” Pimentel said.
Trillanes: Fix terms, no CA for AFP
In a text message to Rappler, Trillanes outlined his priorities as defense committee head:
- Re-file the bill on the fixed terms for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff and service commanders
- Amend the Constitution, removing the provision mandating that AFP officers go through the Commission on Appointments
- Bills upgrading the benefits of soldiers and retirees
- Coordinate with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on his legislative proposals. – Rappler.com