MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senators on Monday, May 21, elected Vicente Sotto III, their most senior colleague, as the new Senate president.
Sotto serves as the second Senate president of the 17th Congress, replacing Aquilino Pimentel III, a party mate of President Rodrigo Duterte. (READ: Tito Sotto and the blurry lines of showbiz, politics)
Pimentel resigned as Senate president earlier on Monday, saying that the "peaceful and willing transfer of power in the Senate" had long been planned.
Pimentel then formally nominated Sotto as his successor, "without hesitation," during the Senate plenary session later in the afternoon.
"My nominee is an institution in the Senate," said Pimentel during the plenary session. "He has been there and done that in his long career in the Senate."
Pimentel also praised Sotto's "dedication to his work," adding that "he is always present, always on time, always prepared."
Sotto said he is "deeply humbled and sincerely grateful" for the opportunity to lead the Senate "at this critical and challenging time."
"Ni sa panaginip ay hindi sumagi sa aking isipan na ako ay maluluklok bilang pangulo ng Senado (Even in my dreams, I never imagined I would be elected Senate president)," he said.
"To my colleagues and to the Filipino people, I am committed to do my very best and, with your help, I am confident that I have in my background the template of 9 other Senate presidents that I have served," he added. (READ: No more 'Eat Bulaga!' for Senate President Tito Sotto for now)
Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler
Early on, Pimentel and Sotto were known to have agreed to a term-sharing agreement. Two well-placed sources told Rappler that Pimentel was set to give up his post in favor of Sotto so he could focus on his reelection bid. Pimentel indirectly confirmed this in an interview with Rappler in August 2017.
Talks of a reorganization again surfaced weeks ahead of the resumption of the congressional session in May.
Sotto earlier said he would protect the Senate from attacks and unfair criticism if his colleagues choose him as their next leader.
Senators said Pimentel was unable to defend the Senate as an institution when it came under attack by his PDP-Laban party mate, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. (READ: Con-Ass pushing through with or without Senate – Alvarez)
By Monday, at least 16 senators had signed a resolution in support of Sotto taking over as Senate president.
Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler
Zubiri as majority leader
Replacing Sotto as Senate majority leader is Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who held the same post before resigning in 2011.
"I am willing to spend long days and nights pushing for [legislative] measures.... We will uphold and defend the Senate's image as an institution from its detractors and protect the Senate's independence and integrity," Zubiri said.
While Senate presidents who are removed from the post or step down usually transfer to the minority bloc, Pimentel won't do that, as he is the president of the ruling PDP-Laban.
But while Pimentel is a Duterte ally, he has no solid bloc in the chamber. In fact, he became Senate president because the blocs of Sotto and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon decided to support him in 2016.
Pimentel has only one party mate in the chamber, Senator Manny Pacquiao, who was among those who signed the resolution supporting Sotto.
The Senate will go on break in June, then return for the 3rd regular session in late July, in time for Duterte's 3rd State of the Nation Address. – Rappler.com
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