Senate of the Philippines

Things to know: Duties and responsibilities of the Senate president

Jodesz Gavilan

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Things to know: Duties and responsibilities of the Senate president

NEW SENATE PRESIDENT. Senator Francis 'Chiz' Escudero assumes the role of Senate president following the resignation of Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, on May 20, 2024.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

The Senate president undeniably yields influence, but those in position are often at the mercy of current powers that be

Filipinos were once again treated to a political spectacle as the Senate changed leadership on Monday, May 20. 

Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri stepped down as the 24th Senate president, two years after he was elected in July 2022. He was replaced by Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, who was the sole nominee for the position. 

The change in Senate leadership comes less than a year before the 2025 elections. Why is this move crucial now and what are the duties and responsibilities of a Senate president? 

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The role of the Senate president

The Senate president is the third highest official in the Philippines, and the second in line of succession to the president following the vice president, according to the 1987 Philippine Constitution. The Senate president taking the chief executive role happens only when both president and vice president have not been chosen, or in the case of “death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation.” 

The Senate president is mandated to hold the position “until a president or a vice president shall have been chosen or qualified.” The Speaker of the House of Representatives follows the Senate president in the succession order. 

But in the hallowed halls of the legislature’s upper chamber, the Senate president is already considered the most powerful, both in terms of influence as well as based on rules set forward. Rules identify the Senate president as the “chief executive” of the Senate.

A Senate president’s duties and powers include, according to Section 3 of Rule III of the Rules of the Senate: 

  • Presiding over Senate sessions, including leading processes such as calling the Senate to order and deciding on the agenda
  • Signing measures, resolutions, and other memories, as well as issuing warrants or orders of arrests, and subpoenas for congressional hearings
  • Ensuring that the Senate complies with all passed resolutions
  • Overseeing control and maintaining order at the Senate, including the session hall, corridors, and offices
  • Appointing Senate personnel in a way that does not exceed the amount authorized in the General Appropriations Act

In the legislative process, copies of proposed bills should be signed by the Senate president (together with the Speaker of the House of Representatives) before being transmitted to the president for signing into law. 

The Senate president is also the ex-officio chairperson of the Commission on Appointments (CA), which has the power to confirm, bypass, or even reject the appointments of top public officials. 

In this role, the Senate president can receive questions related to the public official who will take the hot seat before the CA, according to the 1987 Philippine Constitution. 

Aside from this, the CA rules lay out the other duties of the Senate president as chairperson: 

  • Issue calls for and preside over meetings 
  • Preserve order and decorum during meeting sessions
  • Act on questions related to orders
  • Execute decisions, orders, and resolutions
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Senate presidents through the years

The Philippines has had 25 Senate presidents in its history, according to the Senate’s website, with Escudero being the latest elected to the position.

The first one was Manuel Quezon, who served from 1916 to 1935. He eventually became Philippine president in 1935 until 1944. The country is also yet to have a female Senate president.

Below is the full list of Senate presidents:

An influential position, but volatile

The mark of a Senate president usually goes beyond what is written in various laws and rules.

It is undeniably a position that wields influence in various things, including the annual budget and issues outside of the Senate chamber. But tenure is often dependent on the current powers that be.

That is why changes in the Senate leadership usually happen when there are rising conflicts or controversies manifesting elsewhere in the government, including the legislature.

The end of Zubiri's term as Senate president comes as the tension between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the faction of former president Rodrigo Duterte continues to escalate.

Some apparent attacks against the presidency stem from the Senate chamber, such as the ongoing congressional investigation into the supposed involvement of Marcos in illegal drugs, based on an alleged leak from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, Duterte's close ally and architect of his violent drug war, led the hearings but failed to establish the links.

Marcos was apparently not happy with what happened. During a press conference, Zubiri insisted that he's not the enemy of "the powers that be."

"Pero dahil not following instructions kaya nadale tayo (But because we’re not following instructions, we were targeted),” he said.

Will Escudero take a stronger stand against the use of Senate resources for senseless politicking? – with reports from Bonz Magsambol/

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.