Senate on edge of parliamentary anarchy
The imperious President Charles de Gaulle of France is reported to have said, “How can anyone govern a nation that has 46 different kinds of cheeses?” Of the result of Monday’s senatorial elections, it may appropriately be asked, “How can anyone rule a nation that has a Senate composed of members of 24 different parties?”
De Gaulle did successfully govern France, with the Fifth Republic dubbed by critics as an “elected monarchy,” to suit his style of rule. But our political leadership is a far cry from De Gaulle, who defied the chaotic “rule of parties” when he reformed the Fourth Republic in post-World War II liberated France.
In the aftermath of Monday’s elections, the Senate of the 16th Congress was elected with a composition that changed the map of the multiparty system in a topsy-turvy pattern, making it more difficult for the winning coalition to govern. The Team PNoy coalition won nine of the 12 seats up for grabs, forming the new majority of 16 in the 24-seat Senate. The administration is seemingly thus enabled to steamroller reform legislation and take control of the Senate in the next Congress, which it failed to do in the outgoing Congress.
Malacañang described the 9-3 result of the senatorial elections as an “overwhelming victory” for Team PNoy and a “resounding endorsement” by Filipinos of President Aquino’s “good governance” program. But that’s not necessarily so. The result appears to be a hollow victory, making it more difficult for the administration to control the Senate.
Of all the political institutions of the Philippine multiparty democracy, the Senate has always been politically autonomous and a thorn in the side of any administration since 1946. The Senate has always remained independent and refused to be a rubber stamp of the executive branch, although the recent Senate impeachment court was instrumental in removing Chief Justice Renato Corona when it voted to declare him guilty of charges of betrayal of public trust.
In seeking a clean sweep of the Senate elections, the administration worked to consolidate its control of both chambers of Congress, but the 9-3 result appears to pose difficulties to this consolidation. A close examination of the composition of the new majority will tell us why.
The 12 presumptive winners represent as many as 12 parties although they ran under the banners of the two main coalitions, Team PNoy and UNA. On the Team PNoy ticket, Grace Poe ran as an independent; Loren Legarda as a member of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC); Alan Peter Cayetano, Nacionalista Party (NP); Francis Escudero, independent; Juan Edgardo Angara, Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP); Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino, Liberal Party (LP); Aquilino Pimentel III, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP); Antonio Trillanes IV, NP; and Cynthia Villar, NP. On the UNA lineup, Nancy Binay, JV Ejercito and Gregorio Honasan make up the opposition winners.
Reduced to party affiliation, the winning nine Team PNoy candidates represent the independents (two), the NP (three), the NPC (one), the LDP (one), the PDP (one) and the LP (one). That Bam Aquino, a cousin of the President, is the solitary LP member in the administration’s winning column speaks volumes of the fragility of the LP leadership of the new majority, and of the instability of the LP’s alliance with the NP and NPC. The prospective Senate president and LP leader, Sen. Franklin Drilon, sits on an explosive and hollow structure that can blow up into fragments soon after the reorganization of the Senate leadership at the opening of the 17th Congress.
In the current Senate, there are three LP members (Senators Ralph Recto, Teofisto Guingona III and Drilon). The administration counts as allies Senators Serge Osmeña, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Pia Cayetano and Lito Lapid. Taking the result of Monday’s elections into consideration, the new majority in the Senate will add up to 16 members.
But the next Senate leadership faces the formidable task of forging a working and functional majority from a mosaic of 24 senators belonging to nearly the same number of parties, each with different and competing ideologies and policy differences. How can these clashing interests in the Senate be amalgamated into policy-oriented party platforms under the administration’s creed, as expressed in the slogan “daang matuwid”? This slogan is not an articulation of ideology. It is an aspiration for ethical governance that is not a monopoly of the ruling Liberal Party, which does not even have a majority in the Senate.
Both Team PNoy and UNA have declared they share the value of good governance. So what divides them? The problem is how to translate this aspiration into concrete programs that can validate the argument put forth by the administration, “without corruption, there will be no poor.”
Administration officials have argued that stronger control of Congress would give the President a better chance of pushing his legislative agenda for growth and reduced poverty in the rest of his term. But how can this agenda be pushed in a Senate splintered by 24 tiny enclaves ruled by individuals? The election result appears to have pushed the Senate to the edge of parliamentary anarchy.