MANILA, Philippines – Newly elected Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri gave a glimpse of how he would want the chamber to run under a Marcos presidency: vigilant against laws that could potentially harm the people, but cooperative with the President’s legislative agenda.
Zubiri laid down his vision for the upper chamber of the 19th Congress in his acceptance speech as new leader of the Senate during the session opening on Monday, July 25.
The lawmaker from Bukidnon openly campaigned for Marcos during the 2022 elections and had successfully formed a “supermajority” coalition in the Senate with 20 members, including himself.
In his speech, Zubiri said the Senate would be exercising its oversight powers “not because we want to encroach on the executive branch or emasculate it of its powers.”
Rather, he said, the upper house would be scrutinizing Marcos’ pet bills “in order to help the government – the presidency even – remedy deficiencies in the delivery of public services and recalibrate ineffective policies.”
“This Senate, under my leadership, however, will be one to solve problems more than it would find faults. While probes are magnets for publicity, it is the policies – laws patiently written line by line away from the limelight – that drive progress,” said Zubiri.
He reiterated that the Senate would retain its independence, a response to critics who had raised concerns over Zubiri’s formation of a supermajority coalition in the upper house.
“The Senate, therefore, is not an office of 24 receiving clerks for executive proposals. We will improve what has been proposed to us as we initiate our own. We do so not because we are rivals for power with the other branch, but because we are their partners for progress,” said Zubiri.
The term “supermajority” has gained infamy after the formation of a similar coalition in the House of Representatives in the 17th Congress and the 18th Congress under former president Rodrigo Duterte.
District and party-list representatives quickly worked on controversial legislation that Duterte prodded them to pass – from the anti-terror law to the bill that would have revived the death penalty for certain drug crimes.
Zubiri, however, already gave assurances to the public that the Senate’s supermajority bloc would not be used to railroad Marcos’ priority measures.
No other senator ran for Senate president against Zubiri, who got the nod of 19 of his colleagues who elected him via a collective vote. This includes Senator Cynthia Villar, who gave up on her bid for the Senate presidency after Zubiri secured the minimum 13 votes needed to win as early as June.
A nominal voting for Senate president is usually done in the past Congresses because there were at least two candidates for the top spot.
Loren Legarda, the most senior member of the Senate with 18 years under her belt, was elected as Senate president pro-tempore, while Joel Villanueva is the new Senate majority leader.
Only senators Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Risa Hontiveros have joined the minority bloc. The siblings Pia and Alan Peter Cayetano, meanwhile, decided to form their own “independent” bloc, which means they are neither part of the majority or minority bloc.
This means Zubiri’s “supermajority” coalition far outnumbers the two other blocs in the Senate.
Zubiri vows to be fair
In the same speech, Zubiri rallied the 23 other senators to be cooperative with Marcos’ priority legislation.
He appealed to senators to change their perspective when the President begins listing down his pet bills in his first State of the Nation Address on Monday afternoon.
“And when he enumerates them, let us view them in the proper context: that this is not a presidential wish list he crafted on his own, but a president articulating what the people want. So let us respond to what the people want, urgently,” said Zubiri.
The Senate President did not specify his own legislative agenda for the chamber, likely because Zubiri wants to hear what Marcs would be saying in his SONA first.
Zubiri, however, did say in past media interviews that he wanted the Senate to prioritize measures designed to combat rising inflation, reinvigorate the economy, lower the prices of goods and fuel, and strengthen education policies.
He doubts the push of neophyte Senator Robin Padilla and several district legislators to amend the Constitution would be a priority of the Senate in the next couple of months.
The Senate President then ended his speech with a promise to his colleagues that he would be a fair leader to them.
“My dear colleagues, my leadership will be one of consultation. Our output will be through consensus building,” said Zubiri.
Zubiri is a veteran politician, first serving as Bukidnon 3rd District representative in 1998 before winning a Senate seat for the first time in 2007. He was elected majority leader for under several Congresses, from 2008 to 2010, and from 2018 to 2022.
Zubiri is now going to lead a Senate where his erstwhile rival Pimentel will be minority leader. The two senators were earlier embroiled in a feud over electoral fraud in the 2007 race that initially gave Zubiri a Senate seat.
Zubiri was then proclaimed the 12th winning senator narrowly defeating Pimentel, but later resigned after evidence of poll cheating in Maguindanao surfaced. Pimentel replaced him in the Senate in August 2011. – Rappler.com
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