MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Senate on Monday, February 27, stripped 3 Liberal Party senators and their ally of committee chairmanships, following the arrest of their party mate Senator Leila de Lima.
The revamp prompted the LP senators to shift to the minority bloc.
It was neophyte senator Manny Pacquiao, a key administration ally, who motioned to remove from key positions LP senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, as well as Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros. Akbayan is allied with the LP.
Drilon was removed as Senate President Pro-Tempore, Pangilinan was relieved as agriculture committee chairman, and Aquino was sacked as education committee chairman. Akbayan's Hontiveros was also removed as health committee head.
As Senate President Pro-Tempore, Drilon was the 2nd highest Senate official and an ex-officio member of all standing committees in the chamber and in the powerful Commission on Appointments.
The revamp came after De Lima's arrest last Friday, February 24, and the 31st anniversary celebration of the EDSA People Power Revolution last Saturday, February 25, which was attended by the ousted senators all clad in black.
No senator objected to Pacquiao's motions, with the 4 senators even seconding them.
Drilon said De Lima would also join the minority but Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said it's best to wait for the official confirmation from the lady senator.
Photo by PRIB
Replacing Drilon as Senate President Pro-Tempore is Senator Ralph Recto, who used to be the Senate Minority Leader. Drilon, however, remains to be the chair of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments.
Senator Francis Escudero also left the minority bloc as he replaced Aquino as the new education committee chairperson. Aquino is still the head of the committee on Science and Technology.
President Rodrigo Duterte's close allies, Senator Cynthia Villar and Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, are the new agriculture and health committee chairpersons, respectively. Villar replaced Pangilinan while Ejercito replaced Hontiveros.
Asked how he felt about the changes, Drilon only said: "Nothing. We are not kapit-tuko. It’s a number’s game. They have the numbers."
He recalled that the LP coalition gave 6 votes to Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III when he ran for the top post in July 2016.
LP, Pimentel: Allies no more
Pimentel, a party mate of Duterte, defended the LP ouster.
He said work in the chamber has been "hampered by the blurring of the lines" betwen the majority and minority blocs "to the detriment of public interest."
"There have been instances where the majority, instead of closing ranks, ended up divided. The majority of senators decided that to best achieve the Senate's legislative agenda, clear lines have to be drawn," Pimentel said in a statement.
"The Senate will remain independent and true to its role as the last bastion of democracy in our country," he added.
LP senators have opposed numerous policies of the administration, such as the hero's burial for the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the reimposition of the death penalty, the plans to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility, and the spate of extrajudicial killings, among others.
"After arrest ni Senator De Lima, kami naman sa LP coalition. Ito'y kasama sa plano dahil hindi komportable ang administration sa aming pagiging kritiko sa ilang mga bagay. Parang gusto ata ng administration right or wrong, 'di tayo papayag sa gano'n," said Pangilinan, LP president.
(After Senator De Lima's arrest, they are going after us in the LP coalition. This is part of their plan because the administration is not comfortable with our criticism. They want us to be all for the administration, right or wrong. We will not allow that.)
Aquino, for his part, said: "I think klaro naman iyon na kapag mamartsa ka sa EDSA at sasabihin mo na kailangang panatilihin ang demokrasya at kalayaan sa ating bayan ay sasampolan ka talaga. Iyon iyong nangyari sa amin."
(I think it is clear that if you will march in EDSA and call for democracy and freedom, you will experience that. That is what happened to us.)
In December, Vice President Leni Robredo, an LP stalwart, was eased out of the Duterte Cabinet and was forced to quit as housing secretary.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org