September 22, 2021

Senate supermajority no longer exists

by | Sep 9, 2021 12:15AM

Things don’t look good for Duterte.”

Shortly after the start of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency, it began to appear that there would be a pro-Duterte supermajority in the Senate of the 17th Congress, i.e., that the great majority of the members of the Upper Chamber would go about their duties in a manner favorable to the new occupant of Malacañang. At that time, it looked very much like the nation’s new Chief Executive would be working with a friendly and cooperative Senate during his six years in office.

The minority numbered no more than the five senators who were elected under the banner of the Liberal Party. They were Senators Leila de Lima, Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan and Antonio Trillanes IV. The Liberal Party hoped that the victory of the eight Otso Diretso candidates in the 2019 election would augment the Liberal ranks in the Senate and reduce the supermajority to a mere majority.

But luck did not favor the Otso Diretso slate and the supermajority continued to exist. Worse, the Senate Opposition lost one member when Mr. Trillanes bowed out after having served two consecutive terms in the chamber. On the other hand, the supermajority lost one member when Gregorio Honasan Jr. resigned to accept the position of Secretary of Information and Communication Technology.

The 2019 election was a near-total victory for President Duterte. All but two of the 12 winning senators were known to be supporters of, or to be favorably disposed toward, Malacañang’s occupant.  The two were Grace Poe and Nancy Binay. The supermajority was still intact.

However, in recent months there have been developments that suggest that the five-year-old supermajority no longer exists and that the Senate is, in fact, now composed of three groups. These developments involve six members of the chamber—Senators Emmanuel Pacquiao, Panfilo Lacson, Vicente Sotto III, Aquilino Pimentel III and Ralph Recto. Recto has always tended to be independent in his Senate thinking, and of late he has been more independent than usual in his attitude toward the Duterte administration. Pacquiao and Pimentel have broken with Rodrigo Duterte on the issue of the leadership of the PDP-Laban Party, which is close to the heart of Senator Pimentel. With their announcement of their plans for the 2022 presidential and vice-presidential elections, Panfilo Lacson and Vicente Sotto III can be said to have broken away from the supermajority.

With all the developments that have taken place since the 2019 election—and particularly during the last few weeks—the Senate can no longer be said to be simply divided between the supermajority and the Liberals. It has splintered into three groups. These groups are the group of Liberal Senators (Drilon, De Lima, Hontiveros and Pangilinan), the group made up of Senators who are likely to remain loyal to Mr. Duterte (Go, Dela Rosa, Lapid, Revilla, Marcos, Gatchalian, Villanueva, Tolentino, Cayetano, Zubiri and Angara) and the group of Senators who either never were or have ceased to be classifiable as supporters of President Duterte (Pacquiao, Pimentel, Lacson, Sotto, Gordon, Poe, Binay and Recto).

Eight months before the end of Mr. Duterte’s term, the tables have been turned in the Senate. His once-vaunted supermajority has ceased to exist. The President can henceforth count on the support of only eleven out of 23 senators. That is a minority in any language.

Without a majority, let alone a supermajority, President Duterte will have much greater difficulty getting his bills through the Senate. Moreover, the operations of his administration will be subjected to continuous scrutiny, as the investigation of the Department of Health is showing.

Things don’t look good for Rodrigo Duterte in the Senate.

Rudy Romero
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