[OPINION] Will the next Senate be independent?

Camille Elemia
Let us manage some expectations: the 18th Congress will be filled with allies of President Rodrigo Duterte

KICK-OFF. The 7 reelectionist senators in their proclamation rally organized by Senator Grace Poe in February 2019. File photo by Alecs Ongcal

This is a #PHVote newsletter sent to subscribers on May 4, 2019.

This is Camille Elemia, Rappler’s Senate reporter. I also cover PDP-Laban for the May 2019 elections.

With only a week to go before D-day, I think I should help you manage some expectations.

A few days ago, Pulse Asia published the results of its April survey. Fourteen senatorial candidates have a statistical chance of winning, and most, if not all, of them are from the administration slates, meaning from the ruling PDP-Laban or endorsed by Hugpong ng Pagbabago:

  • 10 administration candidates: Cynthia Villar, Pia Cayetano, Bong Go, Sonny Angara, Bong Revilla, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Aquilino Pimentel III, Imee Marcos, Jinggoy Estrada, JV Ejercito
  • Grace Poe, an independent candidate, who is a member of the current majority bloc in the Senate
  • Nancy Binay, who is running under her father’s party, but is a member of the majority bloc
  • Lito Lapid, a returning senator whose friends in the Senate are administration allies
  • Bam Aquino, the lone opposition candidate, who is at the bottom tier of the rankings, from 10th to 14th .

All these mean one thing: if the results are to be followed, the next Senate will be filled with Duterte’s allies.

Rappler reporter Lian Buan, who covers the Otso Diretso slate, pointed out in an article that these results fuel fears that the country is seeing a return to the pre-Martial Law era.

The last time the opposition managed to get just one seat in a senatorial race was in 1967, when only Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr, Marcos’ chief critic and Bam’s uncle, won a seat in the Senate.

That year, 7 of the 8 seats up for grabs went to Marcos’ party mates in the Nacionalista Party.

Incumbent senators

Of the 12 incumbent senators who will stay until the 18th Congress, 8 are considered allies of the President Rodrigo Duterte, with varying degrees of affinity with him:

  • Senate President Vicente Sotto III, a staunch ally of the President
  • Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, a member of the majority bloc but has opposed and revised some Duterte-backed legislation, such as the TRAIN law and the restoration of death penalty
  • Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, staunch presidential ally
  • Sherwin Gatchalian, member of the majority bloc and has voted in favor of Duterte’s pet bills
  • Richard Gordon, staunch ally of the President and has cleared Duterte, his family, and his men from allegations of wrongdoing
  • Panfilo Lacson, member of the majority bloc. He would both criticize and laud Duterte, depending on the issue.
  • Manny Pacquiao, staunch ally and party mate of Duterte
  • Joel Villanueva, member of the majority bloc, but has remained quiet on some controversies against the administration

The 4 opposition senators that will remain are: Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, and Leila de Lima, who is detained and cannot vote on key issues.

The opposition will also be losing a key – and most vocal – figure, as Senator Antonio Trillanes IV finishes his term.

In effect, with Trillanes gone and De Lima practically “disabled,” the minority bloc will be down to 3, if no one from the opposition makes it in the Top 12 in the coming elections.

This means it is highly possible that the new Senate will be composed of 20 allies and only 3 minority senators who could vote.

The configuration, however, has not affected the survey numbers. A recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed that 72% of Filipinos were satisfied with the Senate’s performance, and only 10% said they were dissatisfied.

The Senate received a “very good” net satisfaction rating of +62 – up by 4 points from +58 in December 2018.

Asked about it, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the results show that “the present Senate is “transparent” and “independent.”

Well, we have 8 days to find out. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

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 camille.elemia@rappler.com