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Koko vows to work for justice, electoral reforms

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III delivers a privilege speech during his first plenary session at the Senate yesterday. MANNY MARCELO

MANILA, Philippines - Newly installed Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III vowed to work for justice, freedom and peace in a privilege speech during his first Senate plenary session yesterday.

He also committed to make the electoral process more resistant to corruption and cheating.

In his speech, Pimentel said he is “awed by the thought that the voices of some of the country’s leading political figures – Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, Manuel Roxas, Jose P. Laurel, Claro M. Recto, Lorenzo Tañada, Jose Diokno, Jovito Salonga and Ninoy Aquino, to name just a few – had in their times reverberated in the halls of the Senate.

“Humbly however, I am determined to do whatever is needed to advance the cause of freedom, peace, justice and the development of our country and people who expect no less from me,” he said.

Pimentel said his character of optimism brought him to victory, especially during his electoral protest when “pessimists had told me to give up.”

“They were of the pragmatic view that I should just run for senator in the 2010 elections and that I would surely win,” he said. “Had I acceded, I would have turned out to be a real incarnation of the boy who cried wolf. That would have been a fantastic stuff of which fables are made. But it would have been at the expense not only of my sense of integrity but at the expense of the truth and the people’s right to demand truly, free, clean and honest elections.”

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Before the session, Pimentel told reporters that he would not demand any committee chairmanship.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile scheduled the caucus today to determine which committee may be given to the new senator.

Pimentel is joining the Senate majority bloc.

He paid Enrile a courtesy call before greeting well-wishers and supporters at Senate room 512, the office vacated by ex-Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Running priest Fr. Robert Reyes celebrated a Mass in the office of the new senator, who has about two years left out of a six-year term that ends 2013.

The young Pimentel will have his lawyer-sister Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana as his chief of staff and Omeng Maglangit as part of his media team.

Bomb blast victim Raissa Laurel will also be part of the senator’s staff.

Pimentel took his oath as the “12th duly elected senator in the May 14, 2007 elections” before Enrile.

He was accompanied by his father, former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., and his wife.

Senate coup looms

With the entry of Pimentel, a possible leadership shakeup looms in the Senate.

This developed as two Senate leaders yesterday assured Enrile of their full support following reports that he may be ousted by yearend if he would not accede to the stand of members of the administration Liberal Party to investigate the alleged massive poll fraud in the 2004 and 2007 elections.

Some of President Aquino’s allies at the Senate are pushing for the reopening of legislative inquiries into the alleged “Hello, Garci” controversy in 2004 and the subsequent vote padding and shaving in 2007.

Enrile has been very vocal that the poll fraud investigation should be conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano doused reports that Enrile may be replaced by end of the year purportedly due to some clash of opinions with his colleagues.

Sotto branded the reports as mere intrigues, noting that the Senate leader still enjoys the trust of the majority of senators.

“Maybe that is just in the text messages. But I seriously doubt it and that (Senate coup) may be hard to achieve right now since the Villar and Enrile groups remain solidly behind the Senate president,” Sotto told The STAR in an interview.

The return of Sen. Panfilo Lacson from hiding early this year and the presence of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV have reportedly bolstered the chances of an administration-supported coup in the Senate by yearend, sources said.

Rumors of a possible Senate coup cropped up following former senator Zubiri’s resignation two weeks ago.

But Enrile maintained that he is not holding on to his position. The Senate presidency is a game of numbers, he said. 

Balance of power

Sotto, however, said the “equilibrium of power’’ has been evenly distributed among senators so there should be no reason for discontent.

While there could be some concerns on the handling of Senate investigations, Sotto said these issues are part of the healthy exchange of ideas within the chamber.

“That’s not a problem, the Senate is not always 100 percent (in agreement) in all issues. I don’t think there’s a problem whether on the investigation on poll fraud or the (ones handled by the) Blue Ribbon,” Sotto added.

He said the “equilibrium of power” under Enrile’s watch is balanced, and any attempt to change the present leadership may cause an imbalance.

“All (the committees) are well distributed even in the minority, I seriously doubt that there will be a leadership change. This would disrupt the even distribution of committees which might make (a new leadership) shaky if there would be imbalance,” Sotto explained.

In a radio interview, Cayetano said he does not hear of any discontent from his colleagues.

“At this point in time, I haven’t heard of any time limits. They are focused on passing the budget, and what needs to be done,” said the minority leader, who is also calling for a parallel inquiry into the electoral fraud.

“There could be some disagreements regarding issues, policies or on the investigations but I haven’t heard of major disagreement that would lead to a re-organization,” Cayetano added.

The senator stressed that the Senate presidency, just like the House speakership, is a position held with respect to the pleasure of the leader’s colleagues.

“Let me give you two sides of the coin. The first side is that the Senate President or the Speaker of the House (of Representatives) serves at the pleasure of his colleagues. This means that at any time, the Senate President or House Speaker can be replaced, unlike the President,” Cayetano explained.

He added that right now, there seems to be no disgruntlement with the majority or the minority.

“Having said that, I am not laying the predicate because, why? Because people are happy, the majority are happy with the leadership of the Senate President. Usually, the minority wants to become the Senate President or the majority but there are only three of us in the minority and we are happy with our roles,” Cayetano said.

“The President (Aquino) needs partners and if he thinks the Senate President at this point in time can be his best partner, then that is between them. We are supportive of that,” he added.

Solid support

The support of the bloc of Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. composed of senators Bongbong Marcos, Loren Legarda, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Joker Arroyo, and siblings Alan and Pia Cayetano solidified the backing of Enrile’s group which included Sotto, Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada and Sen. Gregorio Honasan at the start of the 15th Congress last year.

The group of Sen. Edgardo Angara which included senators Lito Lapid and Bong Revilla and now resigned Zubiri were also on Enrile’s side. Apparently, these groups remain intact in support of an Enrile-led chamber.

Liberal Party senators led by Franklin Drilon were forced to abandon plans to take over the Senate leadership at the start of the 15th Congress, prompting them to join Enrile rather than become minority senators under the Aquino administration.

The LP bloc is composed of Drilon, senators Francis Escudero (originally NPC), Francis Pangilinan, Teofisto Guingona III, Ralph Recto and Sergio Osmeña (originally PDP-Laban).

Koko joining majority bloc

In his first official working day in the Senate, Pimentel said he would join the majority bloc of senators supportive of President Aquino.

Pimentel told a local television program in Dagupan City yesterday that although he is not particular about “labeling” (referring to majority or minority), he would most likely join the majority.

He added that his office is dedicated to the fight against injustice.

Pimentel said that many victims of injustice whose cases are still pending litigation saw a ray of hope with what happened to him.

He said it took him four years to fight for his victory and many had been lost but eventually he proved that justice is alive in the country.

Pimentel said he would also fight for electoral reforms even as he called on the Comelec to prepare early for the 2013 elections.

He said the poll body should not use the same technology used in the 2010 elections to avoid electoral cheating. With Eva Visperas

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