Reelectionist senators join forces amid blurry political lines in 2019
MANILA, Philippines – Seven reelectionist senators joined forces as they try to regain their seats amid the current political landscape of blurry alliances.
Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Benigno Aquino IV, Nancy Binay, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Aquilino Pimentel III, Grace Poe, and Cynthia Villar have banded together for the 2019 campaign, despite personal and political differences. Of the 7, only Aquino is from the opposition.
At a time of two administration slates and confusing politics of the ruling party, reelectionist and incumbent senators help each other in the campaign.
Leading the movement is Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who endorsed all 7 colleagues in a press conference on Monday, May 6. It was the first time a sitting Senate President did that.
Senate President Pro-Tempore also endorsed all 7, saying “they all deserve to be reelected.”
Senator Panfilo Lacson, among the senior members of the chamber, openly endorsed Aquino and Ejercito in separate political ads but said he has a "soft heart" for all reelectionists.
Some senators, however, only support reelectionists who are part of the majority bloc. During Senator Sherwin Gatchalian's birthday, he chose not to endorse Aquino.
All 7 reelectionists are part of the 14 candidates who have a statistical chance of winning, according to the recent Pulse Asia survey. However, Pimentel, Ejercito, and Aquino are at the bottom half of pre-election surveys.
Here are some photos of senators helping each other on the campaign trail
Why the ‘unity’?
Sotto said he decided to support all his colleagues because they are among the reasons why the Senate continuously enjoys high trust and satisfaction ratings.
Sotto, who became Senate President in May 2018, credited the “camaraderie” in the chamber, despite a vocal minority bloc.
"Palagay ko (I think) it's because of the camaraderie and the work we do together in the Senate. Again, I go back to the fact that probably the reason why the trust and the approval ratings of the people are high for the Senate kasi mayroon talagang pagkakaisa (because there's really unity)," Sotto said in February.
In fact, Sotto actively joined individual campaign rallies of colleagues, including that of Poe and Angara.
Under Sotto’s term, public satisfaction for the Senate also rose to a "very good" +62 in March 2019 from +58 in December 2018. (READ: How 7 reelectionist senators voted on key issues, bills)
The fate of Sotto, or any Senate president for that matter, depends on the vote of the majority. A leadership change can anytime at least 13 senators decide to do so.
But Sotto earlier said his endorsement has no strings attached.
"Wala, wala (None). And I have never, you can ask them, you can ask all the reelectionists. Sa mga botohan sa Senado, wala akong natatandaan na ipinakiusap ko sa kanila (During voting in the Senate, I don't recall asking them for favors)," Sotto said on February 13.
"I've been there for almost 21 years, so alam ko ang feeling ng senador eh (so I know the feeling of a senator). I know the feeling na ayaw na ayaw nila na pinakikiusapan ng ayaw nila (that they don't want to be asked to grant favors)," he said.
But for political analyst Herman Kraft, it's a practical move to ensure one’s own success in the chamber. He said “coalitions play a secondary role to personal relationships in the Senate.”
“An established working collaboration with someone (especially on bills that they have cooperated on and are cooperating on) can become an incentive for helping a reelectionist on his/her campaign,” Kraft told Rappler.
“One’s own future in the Senate might rely on successfully putting together and pushing forward bills that one has sponsored – something that may have to do with personal relationships in the Senate rather than party affiliation. Campaigning together reinforces mutual claims about ability to work with colleagues and producing quality bills or resolutions,” he added.
Same faces, less disruption?
The majority bloc has decided to help most, if not all, reelectionist senators in a bid to retain the status quo.
Senator Lacson said the current mix of senators in the 17th Congress has produced “meaningful” legislations.
“We want to maintain the status quo as much as possible. Kung mababalik ang 6 plus one, si Senator Bam, kung ma-retain lahat na reelectionists (If all reelectionists will be retained), it will be good for the Senate since ang output gumanda (we already had good output). Ang dami naming mga meaningful or landmark legislation na naipasa (We passed many meaningful or landmark legislations),” Lacson earlier told ANC.
Kraft shared the same sentiment, saying “having those reelectionists back would increase the probability that the collaboration will continue.”
Under the 17th Congress, the Senate passed laws on universal health care, extended maternity leave, free college tuition, and extended validity of driver’s licenses and passports, among others.
The present Senate is also rife with controversies. Despite continuous incursions in the West Philippine Sea, the chamber has yet to probe into China’s actions. The Senate also drew criticism for clearing President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies from controversies on extrajudicial killings, drug smuggling, and corruption.
Traditionally reelectionists do well in elections, as pointed out by Kraft, because the public already knows them. But this is not an assurance. Take the case of former senator Serge Osmeña, who lost in 2016.
There is also the advantage of an alliance with the administration, which has the resources.
“There is always the advantage of incumbency that gives them a leg up on other contenders. In this case, however, the “incumbency” of the individual is trumped by the “incumbency” of the administration in power – the resources of the government can be used to give the candidates supported by the administration an advantage over those that are in the opposition,” Kraft said.
With only a couple of days left before elections, it remains to be seen if the joining of forces of the incumbents would make a dent in the results. Or whether the administration’s influence and power will reign supreme. – Rappler.com
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