Liberal Party senators see Palace hand in ouster

MANILA, Philippines – Liberal Party (LP) senators see Malacañang's hand in their ouster from key Senate posts, which prompted them to join the minority bloc.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, LP president, said he was no longer surprised with what happened after the arrest and detention of party mate Senator Leila de Lima.

"It is disturbing. Sunod-sunod na 'yan – kinulong si Senator De Lima, tinanggalan kami ng komite," Pangilinan told reporters.

(It is disturbing. It's going to be one after the other – they jailed Senator De Lima, they stripped us of our committee chairmanships.)

"Alam mo Malacañang o administrasyon, iisa lang 'yan. Meron silang mga allies dito, meron silang kaalyado sa Senado, lahat 'yan tugma-tugma," he added.

(You know, whether it's Malacañang or administration, they're just the same. They have allies here.)

On Monday, February 27, the Senate stripped LP senators Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, and Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, as well as Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros, of key posts.

The Duterte administration, Pangilinan said, is not used to being criticized. The LP has opposed several policies and actions of President Rodrigo Duterte, including the hero's burial for the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the planned revival of the death penalty, and the proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility, among others.

The LP senators also pushed for the investigation into the spate of extrajudicial killings and the reopening of the probe into the Davao Death Squad.

For Aquino, their ouster was a clear message to politicians that Duterte should not be criticized. (READ: Robredo: Duterte admin 'obsessed with monopolizing power')

"Palagay ko. I think klaro naman 'yun... As I said earlier, kung ang kapalit ng pag-commemorate ng EDSA celebration, kung ang kapalit ng pagtutol sa patayan na nangyayari sa ating bansa ay matatanggalan ka ng kumite, eh di, I'd gladly pay that price," he said.

The revamp happened days after De Lima was detained in Camp Crame and after the 4 senators joined the 31st anniversary celebration of the EDSA People Power Revolution.

Rubberstamp Senate?

When the LP coalition in the Senate earlier decided to join the majority and support Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, one of their conditions was that the chamber's independence should be preserved.

But with their ouster, Aquino said it now seems the majority no longer wants independence from the executive branch.

"Initially, we joined the majority because we wanted an independent Senate. Iyon iyong pinaka-hiling namin kay Senate President Pimentel. Pero ngayon na iyong mga tumututol sa iilang mga polisiya – hindi nga lahat ng mga polisiya – sa iba pa lang ay tinatanggalan na ng chairmanship, sa tingin ko iba na talaga ang gusto nila mangyari," he said.

(Initially, we joined the majority because we wanted an independent Senate. That was our main request to Senate President Pimentel. But now that those who are opposing certain administration policies – not even all the policies – have been stripped of their committee chairmanships, I now think the majority wants something else to happen.)

Hontiveros, for her part, said: "From the start, I joined the majority under the premise that this will push for a strong and independent Senate. Sadly, this is no longer the case."

"Kung ang pananatili ko sa mayorya ay ang pagiging kasabwat ko sa isang rehimen na marahas at walang pag-respeto sa karapatang pantao ay buong puso kong tinatanggap ang maging bahagi ng minorya," she added.

(If my staying in the majority would mean that I would be an accomplice of a violent regime which does not respect human rights, then I would whole-heartedly accept being part of the minority.)

Pangilinan said what happened to them would have an effect on the Senate's independence, as those who would want to question the administration's policies would be afraid of doing so.

"The Senate has always been the bastion of independence, check and balance of the executive department, so 'yun ang concern natin. Nawala na ba ang pagiging independiente at magiging sunud-sunuran na lang ba sa ehekutibo?" Pangilinan said.

(The Senate has always been the bastion of independence, check and balance of the executive department, so that's our concern. Has the Senate lost its independence and will it now just merely follow the executive branch?)

But Pimentel downplayed these claims, saying the Senate "will remain independent and true to its role" as the last bastion of democracy. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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