Winning senators in the midterm elections pose for a group photo during proclamation rites at the PICC Forum in Pasay City yesterday. From left: Ramon Revilla Jr., Francis Tolentino, Lito Lapid, Ronald dela Rosa, Christopher Lawrence Go, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, Pia Cayetano, Juan Edgardo Angara, Imee Marcos, Aquilino Pimentel III and Nancy Binay.
Geremy Pintolo
‘We’re no rubber stamps’
Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - May 23, 2019 - 12:00am

Duterte allies strengthen hold on Senate

MANILA, Philippines — Poised to dominate the Senate following their victory in the midterm elections, allies of President Duterte made it clear they would not be rubber stamps of the administration, but vowed to push his legislative agenda during their proclamation yesterday.

Eight reelectionists and four neophytes were officially proclaimed as newly elected senators who will serve a six-year term until June 2025.

Sitting as the National Board of Canvassers, the seven-member Commission on Elections (Comelec) convened to declare the “Magic 12” as duly elected senators, having obtained the highest number of votes.

Last week’s vote has been seen as a gauge of public support for Duterte, who is midway through his single six-year term. His anti-drug crackdown, unorthodox leadership style, combative and sexist joke-laden outbursts and contentious embrace of China have been the hallmarks of his presidency.

“Do I look like a rubber stamp?” Senator-elect Christopher “Bong” Go, a longtime Duterte aide, replied when reporters asked him about concerns that the new Senate would be beholden to Duterte.

But Go stressed he would back the President’s war against criminality, corruption and illegal drugs, and would support a bill to reimpose the death penalty for heinous crimes and drug trafficking.

Go said Duterte has not given any illegal orders to him or anyone he supervised.

“I will support President Duterte’s legislative agenda. In the past 21 years that I’ve known him he has not given any flawed order,” Go told reporters in Filipino.

“It’s always been his wish to put the interest of every Filipino above everything. So I know, whatever he tells us to do is for the good of Filipinos, so I support him,” Go said.

Senator-elect Ronald dela Rosa, a former national police chief, said the President himself had asked him to put the interest of Filipinos above everything. He stressed that Duterte respects the opinions of his allies and is always open to suggestions.

“Never,” he said when asked if he would be beholden to the President.

He recalled calling the Chief Executive the other night to seek some advice on legislative matters only to be told: “Bato, you are now a senator of the Filipino, you are not a senator of Duterte. Do your job for the good of Filipinos because 19 million voted for you and I believe in your capacity.”

Dela Rosa said he simply replied, “Yes sir.”

“It’s different for a senator to be cooperative, supportive but not under the dictates of Malacañang,” he added.

For his part, Senator-elect Francis Tolentino said the Senate should always be viewed as an institution and not just an assembly of personalities.

“I’ll make sure of that, hindi sunudsunuran (no pushover) si Bong Revilla,” said comebacking Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr.

He and fellow actor and former senator Lito Lapid declined to be interviewed after their proclamation.

Another Senator-elect, Imee Marcos, also said the people can always trust her independence. “Dami namin pasaway, kasama na ako dun (There are many of us irritants),” she said.

Like giving birth

Reelectionist Sen. Nancy Binay, the last in the so-called magic 12, said she was so excited about being reelected that it felt like giving birth.

“I feel like giving birth for the 4th time. It’s the feeling that something good is gonna come out but it’s held back,” said Binay, who got 14,504,936 votes, or 200,000 more than those garnered by 13th placer, outgoing Sen. JV Ejercito.

Reelectionist Sen. Sonny Angara said the proclamation was a bit delayed compared to the formal announcement of winners in the 2013 elections.

“It took a little bit longer than 2013 pero hindi naman kami nainip (but we didn’t lose our patience),” he told reporters.

Leading the pack of senators proclaimed was Sen. Cynthia Villar, who garnered 25,283,727 votes, representing over 50 percent of the 47 million votes cast during the May 13 elections.

Villar came with her husband, former senator Manny Villar, and their children for the official proclamation held at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).

In her speech, Villar thanked President Duterte for letting her join the administration senatorial slate as well as presidential daughter Sara for her support during the campaign.

Another re-electionist, Sen. Grace Poe, was at 2nd spot with 22,029,788 votes. Her mother, actress Susan Roces, and other family members joined her at the proclamation ceremony.

Go landed in third place with a total of 20,622,925 votes. Go attended the proclamation alone. Duterte accompanied Go when he filed his certificate of candidacy for the senatorial race.

Dela Rosa obtained a total of 19,004,225 votes placing him at fifth. Only one of his children accompanied Dela Rosa, though members of his class at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and other ranking police officers were at the PICC to witness his proclamation.

Marcos got a total of 15,882,628 votes to catapult her to eighth spot. It was the first time for the daughter of the late strongman to run in the senatorial race. She was with her mother, Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos, and siblings former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Irene Araneta during the proclamation.

Tolentino obtained a total of 15,510,026 votes. Senators who were given fresh mandate were Angara, Aquilino Pimentel III and Binay who obtained total votes of 18,161,862; 14,668,665 and 14,504,936, respectively.

Binay, who ranked 12th in the polls, was accompanied by her father, former vice president Jejomar Binay and brother, former Makati mayor Junjun.

Cayetano got 19,004,225 votes and Lapid, 16,965,464 votes.

Comelec Chair Sheriff Abas congratulated the 12 new senators and thanked all those who helped the poll body facilitate credible and orderly elections.

In her remarks as poll topnotcher, Villar vowed to continue creating more livelihood opportunities for the poor and strengthening the agriculture sector.

“Our countrymen can be assured the trust they bestowed on me was worth it,” Villar said.

She said she hopes to retain the chairmanship of the committee on agriculture and food, which puts her in “a better position to advance legislation that will ensure affordable and adequate supply of food for all Filipinos.”

“We’ll continue our hard work and I’ll really strive to present more balanced views in the Senate. Being an independent candidate, that’s the track I’ll follow,” Poe, for her part, said.

“We’ll do whatever we can to help the administration but there’ll also be times when we would speak out when there are things that need changing,” she said.

“The victory is as much the result of the long hours and hard work we and our supporters poured into the campaign, as it is an affirmation that the Filipino people want to continue the present momentum for reform towards building a government that actively cares for every member of the Filipino family,” Angara said. – With Paolo Romero

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