President Rodrigo Duterte shows the ring worn by Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo during the meeting with the Filipino community at the Grand Hilton Convention Center Seoul in South Korea on June 3, 2018.
Presidential photo/Toto Lozano
Palace expects winners of Senate race to be independent
Alexis Romero (Philstar.com) - May 14, 2019 - 7:10pm

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang is expecting incoming senators, including President Rodrigo Duterte's closest allies, to be independent and to rise above partisanship when tackling issues involving national interest.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo allayed concerns that the administration coalition's victory in the midterm polls would affect the checks and balances in government, saying no Senate "has ever been under any president."

"The history of the Senate shows (that) members of that chamber (have been) independent ever since. No Senate has ever been under any president. They always rise above parties and considerations when issues involve national interest, national security and the interest of the Filipino people," Panelo said in a press briefing Tuesday. 

"We expect them (senators) to be fealty to the duties imposed to them by the constitution and the laws. They have to support the president when the agenda of the president is for the good of the people and they will have to oppose it if they feel in their conscience that it ran counter to the interest of the nation," he added. 

Panelo said Duterte would not mind his allies criticizing his policies if they have "valid" reasons for doing so. 

"If you noticed during the campaign, he keeps on saying about Sen, Angara that 'I like this man who keeps criticizing me and yet he has reasons, valid reasons for that,'" the presidential spokesman said. 

'Duterte magic'

Senators aligned with the administration are dominating the senatorial race based on the latest election results released by the Commission on Elections. Some analysts are worried that the results of the poll would erode the independence of the Senate, a body that has traditionally been critical of the actions of the executive branch. 

As of Tuesday, eight candidates endorsed by Duterte are in the top 12 namely Sen. Cynthia Villar, former presidential aide Christopher Go, Taguig Rep. Pia Cayetano, former police chief Ronald dela Rosa, Sen. Sonny Angara, Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, former presidential political adviser Francis Tolentino, and Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III. No member of the opposition coalition Otso Diretso made it to the top 12. 

"While the results of the elections are unofficial, there appears to be an unstoppable trend towards a resounding victory of the administration’s favored candidates; undoubtedly, the Duterte magic spelled the difference," Panelo said. 

"The overwhelming majority of the electorate have responded to the call of the president to support those whom he said would help pass the laws supportive of his goal to uplift the masses of our people and give them comfortable lives they richly deserve," he added.

Panelo said voters have rejected what he called the "negative propaganda" unleashed by members of the opposition, including their statements on extrajudicial killings, the war on drugs, and the South China Sea dispute. 

"The victory of the administration’s candidates and the shoutout of the Otso Diretso candidates send a strong message that our people yearn for stability and continuity of the genuine reforms that this administration started. They yearn for a constructive and not obstructionist Senate which will help in crafting the president’s legislative agenda," Panelo said. 

"We therefore laud the Filipino electorate for expressing their will in the strongest and unequivocal manner. They have sent a message and we hope that the opposition and the rest of the country will receive that strong and resonant voice with acceptance," he added. 

Panelo said the recently concluded election demonstrated that Filipinos "have a great order for democracy that can rise above the loud political noise."

Palace vows to respect dissent

Malacañang thanked Otso Diretso and their supporters for "fighting a good battle" and expressed hope that their expression of dissent would be fair. 

"To the Otso Diretso candidates and their supporters, we thank you for giving your best shot and fighting a good battle. As we have said repeatedly, we respect dissent as it vitalizes the democracy of our nation. In the end however, it is the will of the people that prevails and we must respect the same," Panelo said. 

"While we expect dissent to continue, we hope that the same be demonstrated with fairness and within the bounds of the law, as well as with deference to the leaders duly chosen by us, electorate," he added.

Panelo expressed hope that the opposition would work with the administration in pushing for laws that would benefit the public.

"We have only one government, one nation, one flag; together, let us support it for the betterment of the Philippines that we all love," he said. 

Among the administration's priority bills that are pending in Congress are the measure amending the constitution to pave the way for federalism, the measure reimposing death penalty and tax reform packages. 

Panelo also expressed hope that the dominance of administration allies in the Senate would prevent a budget impasse similar to what happened last year. The delay in the passage of the 2019 budget has been blamed for the slower economic growth in the first quarter. The Philippine economy expanded by 5.6 percent in the first three months, the slowest in four years.

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