Senate to remain independent, Koko vows

Jose Rodel Clapano, Perseus Echeminada - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III vowed yesterday that the Senate would still be independent although the majority had agreed to support the legislative agenda of the new administration.

“We want president (Rodrigo) Duterte to succeed in his agenda,” Pimentel said, adding that he will also lead the chamber in pursuing efforts to shift the form of government and help the incoming president in the campaign against crime.

Except for senator-elect Joel Villanueva who is abroad, re-elected Sen. Vicente Sotto III said the members of the emerging majority have signed a resolution signifying support for Pimentel.

Pimentel said the agreement contained the reasons they have banded for a common goal for the country.  

Pimentel said he is “now excited to be the orchestra conductor” at the Senate.

If Pimentel becomes Senate president, it will be the first time that a father and son have been elected to the post. The senator is the son of former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who was Senate president from 2000 to 2001 during the 11th Congress.

Although Senate President Franklin Drilon said the agreement is virtually cast in stone, Pimentel hopes that his colleagues will keep their support until the 17th Congress starts on July 25.

Speaking at the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay hosted by The STAR associate editor Marichu Villanueva, Drilon revealed Pimentel now has the support of 17 senators, excluding Sens. Alan Cayetano, Cynthia Villar and Joseph Victor Ejercito, and senators-elect Richard Gordon and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Senator-elect and boxing champ Manny Pacquiao, who had early signified support for Cayetano, had jumped to Pimentel’s camp. According to Pimentel, Pacquiao had explained to his colleagues his change of heart.

Drilon announced yesterday the unprecedented alliance after the senators reached an agreement to support Pimentel, leaving another Duterte ally –Cayetano – out in the cold.

As part of the agreement, Drilon will not contest the Senate presidency. Drilon will slide down to Senate president pro-tempore, replacing Sen. Ralph Recto, while Sotto will regain his post as majority leader.?Drilon is bringing with him the entire LP bloc and some allies, including Sens. Recto, Bam Aquino, Leila de Lima, Villanueva, Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan.

Asked why they chose to support Pimentel, the lone member of PDP-Laban that fielded Duterte as president, Drilon said they were united in supporting the legislative agenda of the new administration.

“We did not bow. Those are provocative adjectives. We decided on Koko. He is very qualified. We want to show support, in general, for the legislative agenda of the Duterte administration, as we recognized that they have the mandate of the people,” he said.

 Extending hand of cooperation

 Pimentel said he is ready to extend his hand of friendship and cooperation to Cayetano and his team, including Zubiri with whom he figured in an election protest in the past.

In separate interviews, Pimentel and Drilon noted that Cayetano could be chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee since no senator has expressed interest.

Pimentel was quick to defend the possibility of an ally of Duterte heading the Blue Ribbon, which conducts inquiries into abuses in government. 

“Why, did you ask that same question when Sen. Teofisto Guingona III was appointed to the Blue Ribbon? He was a member of the Liberal Party,” he asked, adding that being a Duterte ally would not be a hindrance for a senator to do his job as head of the Blue Ribbon committee. Guingona failed in his re-election bid.

Pimentel added that there was no compromise on principles following the coalition with other political parties in order for him to bag the Senate presidency.  

“There might be compromises in terms of first preferences of senators (on committee chairmanships)… just to come up with this super coalition,” Pimentel said. “In terms of principles, there were no compromises.”

Initially, Pimentel said the Senate finance committee will likely be retained by Sen. Loren Legarda, while returning senator Panfilo Lacson would be heading the committee on public order and dangerous drugs.  – Christina Mendez, Alexis Romero

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