Drilon ousted in Senate coup
- Efren Danao () - November 14, 2000 - 12:00am
As expected, Sen. Franklin Drilon lost the Senate presidency yesterday to Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. in a swift coup that also involved a reorganization of the chairmanship of the various standing committees.

Drilon’s ouster came despite appeals by some of his allies in the chamber to defer the revamp so that they could act speedily on the impending impeachment case against President Estrada.

Senate Minority Leader Teofisto Guingona Jr. and opposition Sen. Renato Cayetano expressed fears that the change of leadership could delay their deli-beration of the impeachment case.

"There is now talk that the Articles of Impeachment would be declared dead on arrival at the Senate," Cayetano said.

However, Pimentel gave assurances that under his leadership, the chamber would follow the constitutional processes "in a manner that is fair and just to everybody."

"I am confident that the constitutional process is strong enough to stop the moves of civil disobedience," Pimentel said in his acceptance speech.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile made the motion to declare the Senate presidency vacant. It was carried by a vote of 12-7. Sen. Sergio Osmeña III later nominated Pimentel as Drilon’s successor, while Drilon batted for Guingona.
Pimentel won by a 13-6 vote.
"My original idea was to abstain, but when I learned that a vote of 13 is needed to be elected Senate President, I voted for myself," he admitted.

Guingona and Sen. Rodolfo Biazon abstained.

Drilon, who took over the top Senate post from Sen. Blas Ople last April, graciously accepted his ouster, saying he had expected it since he bolted the ruling Lapian ng Masang Pilipino (LAMP) coalition earlier this month over charges that Mr. Estrada received more than P400 million in jueteng payoffs.

"Revamps are nothing new in the Senate. We have had a number of reorganizations in the 10th Congress," Drilon pointed out.

He recalled that previous reshuffles were marked by bitter recriminations and personal animosity, disrupting the legislative mill.

"Wounds, of course, healed over time, but time is not on our side," Drilon said, saying they have only 42 days left before the 11th Congress adjourns.

Senators John Osmeña and Teresa Aquino-Oreta said they had originally planned to allow Drilon to keep his post. "But when he joined the (opposition) rallies and flashed the thumbs down sign publicly, we decided to act against him. We became convinced that his resignation from the majority stemmed not just from personal conviction, but from something else."

Guingona insisted that there was no compelling reason to change the Senate leadership at the moment, and expressed suspicions that it had something to do with the impending impeachment trial.

Biazon said the people might not look kindly at the senators if they dilly-dallied on the Articles of Impeachment submitted by the House of Representatives.

"Nowadays, people are looking for a glimmer of hope that, in spite of the confusion that this crisis has brought to our country, institutions of principle still exists here in the midst of personal agenda and selfish motives," Biazon said.

"We need to rise to the occasion and show to the Filipino people and the world that the Senate is worthy of the honor and esteem that have been bestowed on it," he stressed.

Enrile cautioned his colleagues against casting aspersions and ascribing motives on the revamp, saying every member of the chamber is an adult.

Enrile said the future actions of the new Senate leadership would belie all the innuendoes.

Meanwhile, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago is set to take over chairmanship of the powerful Senate Blue Ribbon Committee vacated by Pimentel.

The committee has yet to wind up its inquiry on the alleged direct involvement of the President in illegal gambling operations in the country as revealed by former political ally Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson.

Santiago’s takeover of the Blue Ribbon Committee alarmed Cayetano, incumbent chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights who co-presides over the hearings on the jueteng scandal.

"I am afraid that the change would result in the shift of emphasis from the President to the alleged involvement of Singson in the illegal numbers game," Cayetano said.

This developed as Pimentel announced the cancellation of today’s continuation of the committee hearings due to the lack of a chairman.

During a majority caucus, the senators also decided to make a clearer definition of a Senate working committee.

Santiago had a run-in with Singson after the governor alleged that her husband, Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Narciso Santiago Jr., wanted to become a jueteng operator.

Santiago has admitted that under her stewardship, the Blue Ribbon Committee would look into Singson’s links to jueteng since the governor himself has publicly admitted being a bagman of the President with the jueteng operators.

She has also said the committee would drop its inquiry on the jueteng scandal after the Senate has received the Articles of Impeachment.

"When that comes, the Blue Ribbon should start its investigation of Singson," she said.

Enrile replaces Cayetano in the justice committee. Other changes involved Santiago as chairwoman of the committee on electoral reforms replacing Sen. Raul Roco, Enrile taking over the committee on government corporations and public enterprises from Santiago, and Sen. Sergio Osmeña III assuming the chairmanship of the committee on trade and commerce from Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr.

John Osmeña also replaces Magsaysay as chairman of the committee on cooperatives, Biazon loses the committee on defense to Sen. Gregorio Honasan, and Sen. Robert Jaworski takes over the committee on urban planning from Biazon.
Estrada washes hands of Senate revamp
Mr. Estrada maintained that he had nothing to do with the reorganization in the Senate that came on the heels of Drilon’s defection from LAMP.

At the same time, the President expressed confidence he would be cleared in the impeachment trial "on the basis of truth and not partisan politics."

Mr. Estrada asserted that he did not have to exercise his rights as titular head of LAMP to cause the revamp in the Senate, or even in the House of Representatives.

He also declared he was not bothered by the spate of defections from LAMP.

In an interview with the CNN Asia, Mr. Estrada said; "Here in the Philippines, turncoatism or political opportunism is very common."

Belying allegations that Malacañang was trying to manipulate the results of the impeachment process, the President said he even called on his partymates in both chambers of the legislature to speed up the impeachment case.

"I am very comfortable that the truth will come out in the end," he stressed.

Meanwhile, the Palace clarified there was nothing sinister in the steady stream of senators and congressmen visiting it even at midnight.

Press Secretary Ricardo Puno Jr. said the visits had nothing to do with the impeachment case.

"When they come here, it’s not for purposes of discussing any actions in regard to these changes in leadership (of Congress)," Puno said. — With Marichu Villanueva, Perseus Echeminada

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