The Senate in the 18th Congress

By: Jason A. Baguia May 26,2019 - 06:47 AM


I wrote most of these thoughts on May 13:

If the latest Pulse Asia survey proves prescient (and it might not, since there is a history of pre-election surveys proving wrong once the electoral dust settles, so vote according to conscience, and not to surveys), all opposition candidates will be locked out of half of the Philippine Senate.

The remaining half that was elected in 2016 includes four members of the Liberal Party (Franklin Drilon, Leila De Lima, Francis Pangilinan, and Ralph Recto), and one member of Akbayan (Risa Hontiveros) who will play their part as members of the political opposition, with the incarcerated De Lima being able to make limited interventions but not to vote.

To charter change (cha-cha), a few other senators are skeptical or opposed: Richard Gordon, Panfilo Lacson, and Joel Villanueva.

If at least one senator who will not automatically concur with Malacañang’s diktat is reelected today (Nancy Binay?), the 18th Congress will see at least nine of 24 senators opposing amending the 1987 Constitution.

That number is more than enough to stop cha-cha, based on an interpretation of the Constitution as stipulating that charter changes under Congress convening itself into a constituent assembly require approval by three-fourths the members of the Senate and the Lower House, voting separately.

House Speaker Gloria Arroyo had opened up to this interpretation that effectively — for the moment — stops the cha-cha train.

(Note that there was an Arroyo version of cha-cha, scrapped following public outcry, that would have paved the way to her becoming head of state anew: that version proposed the Senate President as potential successor to the President, skipping the Vice President. Had that version been approved, it would not have been far-fetched for Arroyo return to the Senate and get elected Senate President ready to succeed any President).

The entire membership of the House may back cha-cha all they want, but they can do nothing about having less than 16 lawmakers (only 15 senators), or less than three-fourths of the Senate supporting them.

A similar number of senators — 16 out of 24 — is required for the successful removal of Vice President Robredo within an impeachment trial.

If the Senate decides along party lines rather than on evidence in case of a trial, it will have the numbers to remove the Vice President — at least 10 senators who will be elected today, and at least seven of the sitting ones from 2016.

An impeachment complaint might be endorsed at the Lower House as soon as any ally of Malacañang recognizes that Robredo is the winner of the vice presidential contest. So far, House members who are pro-administration seem to recognize the absurdity of endorsing a complaint against someone whom they do not deem legitimately elected, and they appear sensitive to flak from Robredo’s supporters.

If the Senate’s ethics committee acts on the complaint against Senator De Lima (now incarcerated as a matter of injustice), she may be expelled by a plenary that is subservient to Malacañang.

But in doing so, members of the Senate may risk losing their political capital, and the ones among them who are facing possible expulsion via standing ethics committee complaints will be on more precarious ground.

Lacson, Gordon, and the Senate President himself — Sotto — are also facing ethics complaints, along with De Lima and Hontiveros. The complaint against Antonio Trillanes IV may become moot and academic since he is reaching the end of his second consecutive term as senator June 30.

A third telecommunications company (telco) cleared franchise problems with the help of the current Senate. China Telecommunications has a 40-percent share of ownership of this third telecommunications company.

Approval to operate had been opposed by Senators Drilon, Hontiveros, and Lacson. Two violations were cited: Mislatel had been taken over by new owners without seeking congressional approval, and the company had failed to operate within one year of the granting of its franchise or for three consecutive years.

Sen. Grace Poe shifted the blame to the Department of Information and Communications Technology. Sen. Miguel Zubiri said we should not be so strict in dealing with businesses since many of them commit violations with regard to franchise, anyway.

After hurdling its franchise problem in 2018, the telco said it will start operating only in the middle of 2021 (once again going around the “operate within one year” provision).

With a Senate majority that is friendly to Malacañang, expect businesses, including those in which China has high stakes to wear the cloak of senatorial concurrence in flouting the rule of law.

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