Cayetano dead; Senate coup in the offing?
- Jose Rodel Clapano () - June 25, 2003 - 12:00am
After undergoing liver transplant in the United States last February, Sen. Renato Cayetano died of abdominal cancer yesterday, possibly tipping the balance of power in the Senate and making another shakeup likely in the chamber whose members are down to 22.

The possibility of yet another Senate coup emerged as the 68-year-old Cayetano, a steadfast supporter of the Arroyo administration, died at 3:54 p.m. at his home in Ayala Alabang subdivision in Muntinlupa City.

The senator’s son, Taguig-Pateros Rep. Allan Peter Cayetano, said his father died of intra-abdominal cancer that was discovered three months after the senator underwent a successful liver transplant at the University of Southern California Medical Center in Los Angeles, California on Feb. 5.

An emaciated Cayetano returned to the country on June 5 after US doctors transplanted to him part of the liver of his 25-year-old son Lino.

There was no evidence of abdominal cancer at the time of the surgery, Congressman Cayetano said. But the late senator’s old liver, which was afflicted with chronic hepatitis B, apparently caused the cancer which was found only last month.

The senator had been under round-the-clock medical care since his return. His condition deteriorated yesterday afternoon. Doctors said nothing more could be done for the senator, his son said.

President Arroyo and other government leaders issued statements of condolences immediately upon learning of the senator’s death but they refused to comment on its impact on the balance of power in the Senate in deference to his mourning family.
The balance of power
But Senate observers said Cayetano’s death could spark serious realignments in the 22-member chamber, which now consist of 12 pro-administration and 10 opposition senators.

The possibility of another Senate coup became more real as Sen. Ramon Revilla, 77, continued to nurse a bad back that has already prevented him from attending most Senate sessions in the past few months.

Revilla’s became the swing vote last year when the opposition tried to wrest control of the Senate in the absence of Cayetano, Revilla and Sen. Robert Barbers. The revamp was only averted when a weak Revilla returned to the country in a wheelchair and scotched opposition hopes of gaining the Senate majority.

Cayetano was a leading candidate for Senate president when the 12th Congress convened in July 2001, but he forged a "gentleman’s agreement" with incumbent Senate President Franklin Drilon.

Under the agreement, both senators would take turns of 18 months as Senate president but Cayetano was already seriously ill when his turn came up in January this year.

Shortly before he returned, some senators made it known that they would welcome a reorganization in the Senate because it appeared that Cayetano would not be able to fill his part of the bargain. But Drilon managed to close the ranks of the majority, especially after Cayetano returned.

Senate observers said Drilon’s insistent rejection of the House-initiated move to convert Congress as a constituent assembly to amend the 1987 Constitution will be the linchpin of a revamp in the Senate.

Drilon insists that any move to amend the Charter should be done via a constitutional convention which is being opposed by some senators, particularly administration Barbers and opposition Sen. Edgardo Angara.

The administration bloc in the Senate comprise of Drilon, Senate President Pro Tempore Juan Flavier, reelectionist Senators Barbers, Revilla, Robert Jaworski, Loren Legarda, first-term Senators Noli De Castro, Joker Arroyo, Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Francis Pangilinan, Manuel Villar and Ralph Recto.

The opposition is comprised of Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Senators Sergio Osmeña III, Edgardo Angara, Panfilo Lacson, Luisa Ejercito, Gregorio Honasan, and reelectionist Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr. Teresa Aquino-Oreta, John Henry Osmeña, and Rodolfo Biazon.

However, Revilla, who is on his second and final term, and his re-electionist son-in-law Jaworski are known to have been "less than constant" in their political alliances. Revilla has also been on leave after suffering from several mild strokes.

Both senators aligned themselves with the bloc of jailed former President Joseph Estrada during Estrada’s impeachment trial in December 2000 but later shifted to the camp of then Vice President Gloria Arroyo during the popular uprising that later caused Estrada’s ouster.
Malacañang insisted that talk about senatorial alignments should be deferred in deference to the Cayetano family.

Presidential Legislative Liaison Office head Secretary Gabriel Claudio said the ruling Lakas-Christian-Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) party will be greatly affected by Cayetano’s death bit it would "not be appropriate to talk about politics" at this time.

He said the Lakas-CMD will review the alignments in the Senate after the period of mourning.

After learning of Cayetano’s death, the President issued a brief statement lauding the late senator’s great vision for the country.

"Sen. Renato Cayetano had a great vision for our country under the caring hands of the Lord. He was stalwart of good governance and public service. He underwent pain and sacrifice for the people and for God," Mrs. Arroyo said in a brief statement.

Speaker Jose de Venecia also cited Cayetano’s achievements and said his death "created a vacuum that will be hard to fill in the Lakas-CMD where he was party stalwart who seemed destined for higher office.

"We mourn the passing of a brilliant legal mind who popularized legal aid program on radio and made the language of justice more understandable and accessible to the common man.

"Senator Cayetano blended his extensive knowledge of the law with the broadcast medium and his enduring success in this field was a testimony to how warmly people in search of justice received him."

"A sad day for all, especially young legislators, as Senator Cayetano takes with him a whole era of lawmaking and governance. My condolences to my friend Allan and his family," said Ilocos Rep. Imee Marcos.

Villar, for his part, said the country "lost a good statesman who has dedicated his entire life (to) serving the Filipino people."

"He will be remembered for his dedication and wholehearted service to the nation. The loss of our Compañero leaves a hole in the hearts of many people he had helped," Villar said in a statement. — With Marichu Villanueva, Paolo Romero

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