Senate bloc: Pangilinan too close to Aquino

July 4, 2010

Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
July 4, 2010



THE BLOC OF FIVE SENATORS HEADED BY VETERAN SEN. Edgardo Angara Saturday played hard to get a day after Sen. Francis Pangilinan, party mate of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, formally launched his bid for the Senate presidency.

Instead of throwing his support behind Pangilinan, Angara declared in a statement that his group which named itself “Magnificent 5” would “support a Senate President who can uphold the independence of the institution and who will pursue an agenda of reform and change.”

That’s tough talk from a longtime senator who once headed the august chamber during the Ramos administration.

Was he saying that Pangilinan’s closeness to Mr. Aquino did not guarantee him the Senate presidency? Pangilinan had also served as campaign manager for the Liberal Party senatorial slate in the May 2010 polls.

The Inquirer tried Saturday to contact Angara, but he was in his hometown Baler, Aurora, and could not be reached for comment.

A senator, who asked not to be named so as not to preempt the vote of senators, said Pangilinan would have to overcome the perception that he was too close to Aquino.

“Kiko (Pangilinan) himself said he had asked the permission of President Noynoy to run for SP (Senate president),” the senator said, adding that Pangilinan should assure his colleagues that he would not be beholden to the President.

“If you have a House of Representatives and Senate controlled by the President, where is independence?” the senator pointed out.

The senator, however, admitted that with the landslide victory of Aquino and his “clean image,” he could play a crucial role in the election of the next Senate President.

Pro-active Senate

The Angara bloc consists of Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri, Loren Legarda, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Manuel Lapid.

When the Liberal Party (LP) announced Friday that it was fielding Pangilinan in the race for the Senate presidency, the latter said he wanted an “activist” Senate.

Pangilinan vowed to push for “a Senate that is pro-active and one that seeks solutions to the nation’s decades-old ills.”

“Should we get the support of our colleagues, I will push for a true Senate of the people, one that is transparent and accessible to our countrymen. We need to be creative and dynamic in coming up with solutions to our problems. Our people want results and they want it now. We must respond with equal fervor,” he said.

Reformist Senate

However, Angara said, in a statement Friday, that the nation needed an “independent reformist” upper chamber.

He went on to explain the importance of installing, at the helm of the Senate, a senator with an independent mind.

“History has shown that the Senate is the only institution that can stand up to the other institutions of government, especially as its members are elected nationally like the President and the Vice President. Hence, the Senate must be protected as an independent reformist institution because the Senate is elected at large,” Angara said in his statement.

He said the people wanted the Senate “to be identified as a reformist institution because that is the call of the public and that’s what we need to attract support to our Senate work.”

“We are looking for someone who can uphold the independence of the Senate. We will elect whoever presents a genuine and strategic legislative reform agenda for the Senate. We want someone who has vision and foresight, and who will prioritize laws that will propel the country’s growth, create jobs and ensure the delivery of basic social services,” Angara said in that statement.

Check and balance

He also said no other institution, whose members are elected nationally, could perform a similar check and balance function other than the Senate.

“Therefore, the principal qualification we are looking for in the Senate presidency is someone who will uphold the dignity and independence of the institution, who will lead a reformist agenda and someone who will not just criticize for the sake of criticism,” Angara said in his statement.

He confirmed that several Senate President aspirants had been talking to his group, but said they had not reached a consensus on whom to support.

“We will pick someone who will act for the higher interest of our country and the institution of the Senate,” he said.

LP has a plan

The LP had resolved the looming tug-of-war between Senators Franklin Drilon and Pangilinan for the Senate presidency to be able to court the support of other senators.

The party claims that it now enjoys the support of nine senators out of the needed 13 votes.

But it’s still anybody’s game based on the Inquirer’s count.

So far, Pangilinan could depend on the support of seven senators: party mates Drilon, Ralph Recto and Teofisto Guingona III, Sergio Osmeña III, who ran independent but was supported by LP, and Francis Escudero, the architect of the “Noy-Bi” tandem of Aquino and Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Estrada, Enrile votes

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada confirmed to the Inquirer on Friday that Pangilinan would get his vote, and that former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile might follow suit.

Enrile had publicly declared that he would never support Sen. Manny Villar should he seek to reclaim the Senate presidency.

Villar, meanwhile, has the support of Legarda, Revilla, Lapid—all members of the Angara bloc—as well as Senators Miriam Santiago, Alan and Pia Cayetano, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Joker Arroyo.

Estrada said that Angara and Zubiri were holding talks with Villar, “but I don’t know if they already said yes to him.”

Swing votes

Besides the Angara bloc, Senators Vicente Sotto III and Gregorio Honasan have yet to make their decision and could provide the swing votes.

The two had earlier vowed to support Enrile “if” he would be interested in the post.

“But it’s a different story if Senator Enrile will not run,” said Sotto in a phone interview.

Detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who disappeared after he was charged in connection with the Dacer-Corbito double murder case, are not expected to show up at the opening of the Senate session on July 26.

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