Koko Pimentel wants to keep post until October 2018

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
Koko Pimentel wants to keep post until October 2018
Talks of Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III replacing Pimentel have been circulating in the chamber in the past months. The change in leadership is apparently because of a term-sharing agreement between Pimentel and Sotto in 2016.
Geremy Pintolo

Sotto vows Senate independence

MANILA, Philippines — While his colleagues in the majority bloc want him replaced next week, Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III is reportedly asking that the change in leadership be postponed to October, when he files his certificate of candidacy for reelection in the 2019 midterm polls.

Talks of Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III replacing Pimentel have been circulating in the chamber in the past months. The change in leadership is apparently because of a term-sharing agreement between Pimentel and Sotto in 2016.

Some senators, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Pimentel should not insist on hanging on to his post as they want to give him a graceful exit.

Pimentel and Sotto are expected to have a private one-on-one meeting before Monday to settle issues over the Senate leadership.

If Pimentel’s appeal will be granted by his colleagues in the majority, this means that he will be Senate president when President Duterte delivers his third State of the Nation Address.

Asked about the possible election of Sotto on Monday, Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said: “That’s the way it is.”

“It’s inevitable, but maybe, it’s just timing so they should talk to have a peaceful or smooth transition,” he said.

Pimentel on Thursday told reporters “nothing will happen on Monday” but confirmed a caucus of the majority bloc that day.

Yesterday, however, Pimentel reiterated he was “very open” to any reorganization in the Senate.

He said the caucus on Monday will be to determine when the possible reorganization will happen and to determine the “sentiment of the majority because I’m still a member of the majority.”

Pimentel believes his colleagues were not staging a coup since he knows he can be replaced anytime if the majority bloc wants to do so.

Sotto vows Senate independence

Meanwhile, Sotto vowed to defend the chamber from attacks as well as threats to its independence.

Sotto is seen to take over Pimentel’s post next week after 14 members of the 17-member majority bloc signed a resolution seeking a reorganization in the chamber and the election of the majority leader.

“By a majority of all the senators, Sen. Vicente C. Sotto III is hereby elected as the new Senate President to discharge the duties and powers granted to him by the rules of the Senate,” the resolution read.

“It is hereby resolved by a majority vote of all the senators, to express its sense to reorganize its leadership, and hereby electing Sen. Vicente ‘Tito’ Sotto III as the new Senate President,” it added.

Those who signed the resolution were Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Sens. Ejercito, Nancy Binay, Juan Edgardo Angara, Francis Escudero, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Manny Pacquiao, Joel Villanueva, Cynthia Villar and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Sen. Grace Poe is expected to sign the resolution on or before Monday.

Sotto and Pimentel, who both belong to the majority bloc, have not signed the resolution.

Zubiri is being groomed to replace Sotto as majority leader while Recto is expected to remain in his post.

Zubiri said he was honored that his colleagues wanted him to be majority leader.

The minority or opposition bloc in the Senate generally has little say in the reorganization of the chamber. At present, the minority bloc has five members in the 23-member Senate in the 17th Congress.

“The Senate has a special place in my heart. I will not allow it to be degraded, trampled, attacked or unfairly criticized without responding fairly or violently, if necessary,” Sotto told reporters.

Ejercito said that while senators have no major quarrels with Pimentel, the latter is sometimes seen as not assertive enough on issues affecting the chamber as an institution or defending his colleagues.

“SP Koko (Pimentel) is a good person, we don’t dispute that, but maybe he was too kind,” Ejercito told reporters.

He said Sotto, being the most senior member of the chamber, can not only provide stronger leadership but also whip non-performing government agencies into shape whenever the Senate discharges its oversight functions.

“We’re confident that when someone attacks the Senate, we know there is someone tough who’ll defend the Senate,” Ejercito said.

Binay said she expects the Senate to act more independently under Sotto’s leadership.

She said the Senate’s demeanor could be “less politicized” since Sotto does not belong to the ruling PDP-Laban of Duterte and, unlike Pimentel, is not seeking reelection in 2019.

Pimentel is the current president of PDP-Laban.

“We think we could become more neutral and more focused on work if the one sitting (as Senate president) is not a re-electionist,” Binay said.

Palace optimistic

Malacañang is optimistic that the relationship between the Senate and the executive branch will remain cooperative, especially in terms of pushing the legislative agenda of the administration, once Sotto becomes Senate president.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr., however, said the President did not intervene in moves to install Sotto to the top Senate post once Congress resumes on Monday, to replace Pimentel.

“We respect the rights of the senators to choose their own leader. The President or the Palace is not meddling in the process to choose a new Senate president,” Roque said.

“I believe and the Palace believes that whoever is designated as Senate president, the news is Sen. Tito Sotto, he is a close ally, nothing will change on the close relations and the cooperation which we have now between the Senate and the Palace,” Roque said in Filipino.

Roque’s statements came after the draft resolution circulated this week. – With Christina Mendez

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