Villar ousted; Enrile elected Senate president
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - November 18, 2008 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Manuel Villar jumped the gun on a leadership coup in the chamber and resigned yesterday as Senate president.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile was named as his replacement.

Members of the minority group – Senators Loren Legarda, Panfilo Lacson, Jamby Madrigal, Manuel Roxas II and Rodolfo Biazon – joined administration senators Edgardo Angara, Richard Gordon, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Gregorio Honasan, Lito Lapid and Bong Revilla in pushing for Villar’s ouster.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada and Francis Escudero also jumped ship and expressed support for the Enrile-led Senate.  

Enrile also signed a resolution withdrawing support for Villar as Senate president. 

Fourteen senators voted to oust Villar. Six abstained: Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, Joker Arroyo, siblings Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano, Francis Pangilinan and Aquilino Pimentel Jr. 

Interviewed before he formally stepped down from his post, Villar conceded that the new majority gathered 13 votes with Estrada, whom he had appointed Senate President Pro-Tempore, and Escudero tilting the vote against Villar.

“I am resigning. They now have 13 votes. I lost Chiz (Escudero) and Jinggoy,” Villar said after emerging from the Office of the Senate President where he met with Pimentel, Alan and Pia Cayetano, before going to the session hall at past 4 p.m.

Prior to this, Villar had a meeting with Enrile, who was accompanied by his protégé Honasan, at noon inside the Senate President’s office. Enrile and Honasan informed him about the resolution signed by a majority of 14 senators.

Asked if he felt betrayed by Estrada and Escudero, Villar said:  “I have no problem. I congratulate JPE,” referring to Enrile by his initials. 

“I have no hard feelings. I have more time to campaign, I have more time with my family,” he said. 

The minority group composed of opposition senators finally succeeded in ousting Villar from the presidency after three attempts – with the help of the administration senators.  The administration bloc was also instrumental in helping Villar get the leadership back in 2006 after then Senate President Franklin Drilon relinquished his post following their agreement for term sharing.

The most serious attempt was during the opening of the 14th Congress in July last year after Villar coalesced with administration senators and opposition senators Estrada, Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano.

Asked if his ouster had something to do with the upcoming presidential elections in 2010, Villar replied “Yup,” before taking the elevator down to the second floor to the session hall to announce his resignation.

At the Senate President’s office, members of his staff said they were saddened by the ouster of their boss, who enjoyed a high popularity rating based on the latest Pulse Asia survey.

Villar said he suspected that his leaderhsip’s decision to tackle anew the P728-million fertilizer scam and the so-called “euro generals” controversies also had something to do with his ouster.

In a later statement, Villar said he would now concentrate on being a fiscalizer.

New president

It was Lacson who nominated Enrile as the new Senate president, seconded by Honasan. Gordon closed the nomination, saying 14 voted in favor of the motion nominating Enrile.

Enrile was sworn into his new position by Honasan.

Upon Enrile’s designation, Senate majority leader Francis Pangilinan, minority leader Pimentel and Blue Ribbon’s Cayetano resigned from their respective chairmanships.

In his acceptance speech, Enrile vowed a leadership that would strengthen the integrity of the Senate. “I can only accomplish so much with your help and support,” he said.

Enrile, 84, said he was informed about the coup only Monday morning. He said he had to postpone his eye operation yesterday afternoon to accept the offer from his colleagues to lead the Senate.

“Allow me at this opportune time to ask you, my colleagues, to forgive my shortcomings. I’m an old man, ranked with years who has acquired some bad habits of sometimes being arrogant, rude, harsh with my words, insensitive and impatient. Yet you have kindly overlooked the shortcomings and generously chose me to be your leader,” Enrile said in his acceptance speech.

He said he was honored to lead the Senate “with its great minds, strong advocacies, varying and independent political beliefs and leanings.”

Although an ally of Mrs. Arroyo, Enrile has also maintained his communication with ex-President Estrada, who is patriarch of the Partido Masang Pilipino (PMP) with which Enrile is affiliated.

“It’s not an easy task but it is precisely this variance in points of view that will provide the dynamism we need to craft legislation that takes into account and balances the competing interests involved, with the end in view of serving the greater good of the people to whom we owe our mandate,” he said.

Enrile referred to Villar as a “good friend” who has “always shown me kindness candor, trust and respect.”

“As in politics, at my ripe age, at its best and at its worst, but even at its worst, politics cannot destroy true friendships. I’m hopeful that ours will remain,” Enrile said.

Enrile had backed Villar in previous coup attempts.

Message of gratitude

Villar, in his speech at the session hall, noted that the tenure of the Senate President depends on the number of his supporters.

Villar, president of the Nacionalista Party, has declared his intention to run for president in 2008. 

“I have been informed just this afternoon that I no longer have the support of the majority of my colleagues. I now therefore formally tender my resignation,” Villar said.

“I congratulate the new Senate President. You have my support in seeing to it that this chamber continues to maintainits unquestionable independence and its solid reputation as a bulwark of democracy,” Villar said.

Villar also thanked “all those who gave me the trust and confidence during the more than two years that I served as Senate President.” 

“I know one can serve fully and sincerely even if he or she is not the leader of this Chamber,” he said.

“I have pledged my loyalty to our fellowmen – that I will continue.  I am now released from the burdens of the Senate Presidency. I shall be happy now to devote more time as a fiscalizer. I shall now have more time with our people in the countryside, and also with my family,” Villar said.

Don’t look at us

Malacañang denied it played a role in Villar’s ouster and said it was looking forward to better relations with the Senate under Enrile.

Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio said Malacañang had nothing to do with the removal of Villar under whose leadership investigations had been launched into alleged irregularities perpetrated by Mrs. Arroyo’s allies.

“We respect the independence of any action taken by the Senate regarding its own organization,” Claudio said. “The Palace has no involvement whatsoever in the Senate’s leadership change,” he said.

“Nonetheless, we extend our warm felicitations and congratulations to the new Senate President and look forward to fresh opportunities for greater cooperation between the Executive and Legislative branches in addressing the pressing challenges and problems confronting the nation,” he said.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo described Villar’s resignation as “most admirable” and congratulated Enrile.

“Both senators will undoubtedly continue to serve the country and maintain the integrity and eminence of the Senate,” Fajardo said in a statement.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said the leadership of the Senate is “determined by the collective decision of this august body whose judgment the Executive Office fully respects.”

“We leave it to them to decide on this important matter,” Dureza said.

He also congratulated Enrile and said the country will “definitely benefit from his wealth of experience and proven competence.”

“At the same time, we thank Sen. Manuel Villar for his outstanding service to the nation during his stint as Senate President,” he said. With Marvin Sy

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