It was only a matter of time. After political allies of President Duterte found themselves outmaneuvered last week in an unexpected vote—a plurality of senators led by Liberal Party members moved to investigate the sensational claims of ex-policeman Arturo Lascañas—it was only a matter of time before the Duterte-aligned bloc struck back.
The surprise reorganization of the Senate on Monday was the first counterattack. An expansive Sen. Manny Pacquiao later told reporters that 16 senators had met in his house on Sunday night, to agree on the realignment. “We would not be able to accomplish any work here in the Senate if we did not do that,” he said, simplistically, in Filipino.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III offered an equally feeble explanation. (One wonders whether there is even any substantial difference between a bar topnotcher like him and an unschooled populist like Pacquiao.)
“Work in the Senate has been hampered by the blurring of the lines between the majority and the minority to the detriment of public interest. There have been instances where the majority, instead of closing ranks, ended up divided,” Pimentel said in a statement.
Two immediate rejoinders. First: If the blurring of the lines is detrimental, why did the new Senate majority recruit minority senators Ralph Recto and Francis “Chiz” Escudero? Recto, the minority leader on Monday morning and the Senate president pro tempore by Monday afternoon, told reporters that the majority “recruited me and Chiz to assist in forming a meaningful legislative agenda and scrutinizing and fiscalizing bills in the Senate.” The truth is, the lines between majority and minority in the cozy and collegial Senate have always been porous. Pimentel is clearly being less than candid.
Second: If the reason for the realignment was to stop division in the majority, why did the new majority recruit someone like Recto? After his election as Senate president pro tempore, Recto declared: “My convictions are the same. I am against the death penalty, against shifting to federal system, against EJK (extrajudicial killing), etc. I will remain an independent thinker and will continue to work hard crafting legislation/policy.”
Unless Pimentel was referring, absurdly, to the 2017 budget, which only majority senators Panfilo Lacson and Sherwin Gatchalian voted against, his remarks about the majority being divided “instead of closing ranks” was a reference to contentious matters such as the Senate inquiry into extrajudicial killings, which now threaten to implicate President Duterte. If that were so, why recruit Recto and Escudero into the majority, or retain senators Juan Edgardo Angara and Joel Villanueva as majority members, when all four voted to investigate Lascañas?
A peeved Sen. Francis Pangilinan trotted out key facts, to disprove Pimentel’s insinuation that the Liberal Party senators and their ally Sen. Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan were hampering the work of the Senate.
“How can work in the Senate be hampered by the now minority members, including four from the Liberal Party, when almost 70 percent (20 of 29) of the bills now a couple of steps [from] becoming a law are being defended by us?” Pangilinan asked. “It is simply untrue that LP senators hampered the legislative agenda. How is this possible when two out of the administration’s three priorities—death penalty and the lowering of criminal age of responsibility—are with the justice committee and not our committees?” The justice committee, like the all but moribund blue ribbon committee, is chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, a stalwart ally of the President’s.
Pacquiao was candid enough to show, through his choice of words and of images, what the real reason was for realigning the LP and Akbayan senators out of the majority. “Our feeling is we are being deceived and our feeling is that we are shooting the enemy in front but we did not know our enemies are shooting us in the back,” he said, again speaking in Filipino. In other words, he sees the senators who want to hold President Duterte to account for any possible misdeeds in Davao as enemies.
Pimentel’s remark about hampered work is just standard political hypocrisy. How far the fruit has fallen from the tree.