After being reelected Senate President the second time around, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile on Monday thanked his colleagues for electing him once again to the third highest position in the land.
His anticipated grand sweep was broken after three senators decided to become the minority “out of necessity.”
In the Lower House, Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr., a Liberal Party colleague of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, was elected the 18th Speaker of the House of Representatives in one of the most lopsided speakership contests in the chamber’s history.
Enrile was pitted against Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano who was nominated by Sen. Joker Arroyo.
Out of necessity
Arroyo admitted Cayetano’s nomination was borne “out of necessity” over an overwhelming vote for Enrile.
“We must maintain a healthy Senate. A Senate not beholden to anyone,” Arroyo said.
Those who voted for Cayetano included Enrile, Arroyo and Sen. Pilar Juliana Cayetano.
Under Senate rules, a person who runs for the Senate Presidency but loses automatically becomes the minority leader.
With only four votes, the younger Cayetano was delegated the minority leader.
“I never expected nor had I anticipated that you would accord to me such an honor. I am deeply grateful to all of you,” Enrile said during his speech.
Enrile lauded his colleagues for being able to set aside the partisanship that threatened to divide the Senate in order to arrive at a consensus that would unify the Upper House.
“What happened here today is unique in our long political history. We have set aside the partisan political divide that separates us to arrive at a consensus to elect the head of this house. This noble act is not my triumph. It is yours. It portrays your patriotism as responsible leaders of the country and your devotion to the interest and welfare of our country and people,” Enrile said.
“It also signals the unity that is sorely needed by our country. It is a sign of the emerging spirit in our land, and augurs well for our national community. This senate will be strengthened by this singular act of unity,” he also said.
“On my part, I do not consider myself as a superior. I am your ‘primus inter pares,’ your co-equal whom you selected to administer the affairs of this institution. In accord with your mandate and trust, I shall discharge my duties and responsibilities with honor, with total devotion to our institution, and with fairness to all members,” he added.
Arroyo, in an interview, said they insisted on becoming a minority to ensure the integrity and independence of the Senate.
He said they are avoiding the possible scenario that the majority senators would be the ones to create the minority which he said would merely act like a “company union.”
“If they insist, otherwise, they will appoint the minority. Of course, you must remember we have 21 members, the majority can make a configuration that they can create a minority within the majority,” Arroyo said.
“We need a minority here in the Senate, otherwise, we will have minority which is like a company union,” he further said.
Arroyo, however, said it is apparent that the Liberal Party in the Senate lost its grip in the chamber. What happened is that it was the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) that obviously retained its control over the chamber, according to Arroyo.
Those who went up the rostrum aside from Enrile, were Sen. Jinggoy Estrada who was reelected Senate President Pro Tempore and also ran with Enrile under the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP).
Former President Joseph Estrada, also a stalwart of the PMP and who ran for president during the last election, also went up the stage to witness his son’s oath-taking.
Cayetano, in an interview said, that unlike in the past the Senate minority this time would work as the “fiscalizer” for the good of the administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
“We were able to discern that in a democracy kailangan may nag co-constructive criticism. So the goals of the President must be the same (with the minority). That’s why I’m saying usually ang opposition at administration iba ang goals eh, iba ang pananaw,” Cayetano said.
“Ngayon, we fought side by side with Sen. Aquino versus the Arroyo administration and I’m sure we would agree with a lot of things he would be saying in his State-of-the-Nation Address (SoNA),” he said.
“So I think the super majority that we have now in the Senate is not because Sen. Enrile is a compromise candidate but because he’s the best man for the season for the job right now and most of us in the Senate wants the President if not all to succeed,” Cayetano said.
Enrile’s election came after the two early candidates for the Senate presidency – Senators Manuel Villar Jr. of the Nacionalista Party (NP) and Sen. Francis Pangilinan of the pro-administration Liberal Party (LP) – backed out after failing to get 13 votes to capture the post.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, a Villar ally, was the lone member of the 23-man Senate who was absent. She was reported sick.
In a letter to Enrile yesterday, Santiago said that she is serving notice that ‘’I shall be on sick leave starting today (and) I request that my urgent official communicaton should be coursed to my satellite office in Quezon city, and not to my house.’’
She has been complaining of a fatigue syndrome.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson remains at large, evading a court warrant for a double murder case while Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV is detained at Camp Crame on rebellion and coup d’etat charges.
Newly elected Majority Floor Leader Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto expressed optimism that the re-election of Enrile as Senate President and other officials will result into an independent and productive Senate whose ultimate goal is to craft laws that will benefit the people.
“Well, it was a very promising line up as far as new Senate leaders are concerned,” said Sotto in an interview.
Enrile identified committees that already have appointed heads.
* Sen. Franklin Drilon – Committee on Finance
* Sen. Edgardo Angara – Committee on Science and Technology; and Committee on Education, Arts and Culture.
* Sen. Sergio Osmena III –Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions, and Currencies
* Sen. Gregorio Honasan –Committee on National Defense and Security.
* Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago - Committee on Foreign Relations.
* Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. – Committee on Economic Affairs.
* Sen. Francis Pangilinan – Committee on Agriculture; Blue Ribbon Committee (temporary)
* Sen. Vicente Sotto III – Committee on Rules
At the Lower House, Belmonte, who received 227 out of the possible 258 votes, bested Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman who got 29 votes, mostly registered by Lakas-Kampi-CMD congressmen who have remained loyal to its chairperson, former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In observance of tradition, Belmonte took his oath of office before the youngest member of the Lower House, Kalinga partylist Rep. Abigael Ferriol, 25.
Lagman automatically assumes the post of minority leader. He nominated Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez as the senior deputy minority leader.
Three solons failed to show up , namely Reps. Ronald Singson of Ilocos Sur; Julius Ledesma of Negros Occidental and Arroyo, failed to show up at the first session of the 15th Congress.
Singson and Arroyo are both in Hong Kong. The Ilocos Sur solon is detained in Hong Kong on alleged drug charges while the former president flew there Sunday night to accompany her husband, former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, for a medical checkup.
Re-elected Secretary General Marilyn Yap said Ledesma, a frequent absentee during the 14th Congress, failed to answer the roll call.
The chamber also elected six deputy speakers, namely: Reps. Lorenzo Tanada II (LP, Quezon); Pablo Garcia (Lakas-Kampi-CMD, Cebu); Arnulfo Fuentebella (NPC, Camarines Sur); Raul Daza (LP, Samar); Crispin Remulla (NP, Cavite) and Isabel Climaco (LP, Zamboanga City).
Returning as speaker after serving for nine years as Quezon City mayor, Belmonte won the support of all political parties represented in the chamber. He said the feat is a clear manifestation that there is likewise a strong backing for unity in pursuing change.
“We must see to it that the House of Representatives contributes to this remarkable crest of change and works further to maximize the advantage that we are beginning to gain,” he said.
Belmonte rallied his colleagues to help the Philippines regain economic growth that put it among the fastest in Asia decades ago.
“Pwede ba nating ambisyunin ito?” he asked.
The new speaker also urged lawmakers to be “judicious and prudent in crafting the national budget.”
“Let us use the power of the purse to prod government agencies to meet their performance targets. Let us clearly delineate the duties and responsibilities of government officials to prevent abuses and minimize opportunities for graft and corruption,” Belmonte stressed.
The former QC mayor also called for greater transparency in pork barrel expenditures as he declared that the legislative agenda will include the setting of “policy blueprint for national growth and national reform.”
Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya, who is expected to be elected chairman of the appropriations panel, nominated Belmonte, describing the new speaker as a “turnaround expert” for successfully transforming government agencies “in rut” into successful enterprises.
By HANNAH L. TORREGOZA and BEN R. ROSARIO, Manila Bulletin