Zubiri denies rumors of supposed ouster as Senate president

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Zubiri denies rumors of supposed ouster as Senate president
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri holds a media interview in the Senate, December 12, 2022.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:11 p.m.) — Senate President Migz Zubiri has denied claims that he would be unseated from his position after Malacañang supposedly issued a warning against him on the slow pace of Senate approval of the Marcos Jr. administration’s priority measures.

“There has been no talk of leadership changes as well as any warnings from anyone on the low output of the Senate,” Zubiri said in a statement on Wednesday.

A Politiko story on March 7, citing unnamed sources, alleged that Zubiri's "lack of productivity" and slow pace in approving bills prioritized by Malacañang prompted the executive to reportedly “hint” to Zubiri that “if he fails to be more productive this year, someone more capable will take his place.”

The article specifically stated that Zubiri was in hot waters with Malacañang “because only three bills were passed under the current administration last year.”

It also alleged that Zubiri prevented his supposed ouster “because of his sudden inclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) in the calendar, even though it was not included in the previous agendas.”

In a statement, Zubiri said that the article is “nothing but tabloid gossip rubbish” and “a figment of someone’s boredom and in their between lucid intervals.”

“The Senate carefully studies each and every measure as we debate on this thoroughly to improve every draft legislation. With due respect, we are not a rubber stamp institution,” Zubiri said. 

Addressing the claim that Malacañang was "frustrated" by his failure to prioritize the measure on the RCEP, Zubiri said that the delay in its passage stemmed from “the lack of support it got from the main sponsor herself.” 

“I took it upon myself to take over and sponsor the measure on the floor. That has never been done before where the Senate President himself will be subject to sponsorship and interpellation, after which we approved and ratified it in three days with the highest ever vote count .... Does that not show real leadership in this institution?” Zubiri said.

The RCEP bill was previously referred to the foreign relations committee which Sen. Imee Marcos chairs, but she took her hands off the measure — and later opposed it — due to the agriculture sector’s objections to the trade agreement. Zubiri and Senate Pro Tempore Loren Legarda co-sponsored the resolution.

The Senate voted 20-1 to ratify the mega trade deal, which President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. himself supports. Imee, the president's sister, abstained from voting.

Zubiri added that he would “gladly step down” if the upper chamber decides to submit 13 votes to elect a new Senate president. 

“As far as I’m concerned, my style of consensus-building leadership where we involve all members of the Senate on discussing issues and bills are what I feel is ideal for this institution,” Zubiri said.

“My stand on Senate’s independence as an institution will never wane and my treatment of our employees in the Senate will and always will be my priority till the end of my term,” he added.

Another supposed point against Zubiri, as alleged in the Politiko article, was his public announcement of the upgraded inflation benefits for Senate employees. These were “supposed to be confidential because other institutions did not offer them,” the article stated. 

The union for Senate employees said in an earlier statement that they had long called for higher wages before the Senate granted them a significant increase in inflation assistance.

Senators say they’re happy with Zubiri

A number of senators also denied that Zubiri has lost the support of the upper chamber.

Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda said the rumors were “totally untrue” and maintained that Zubiri and the other senators “work harmoniously … even on some contentious issues.”

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva likewise denied the claims and called these “baseless, preposterous and malicious.”

“This news article is obviously a desperate and pathetic move to destroy not only the reputation of Senate President Migz Zubiri but also to destabilize the integrity of the Senate as an institution,” Villanueva said.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said that Zubiri “enjoys the full trust and support of the majority” and had “successfully steered the approval of the 2023 budget at record speed,” as well as passing the RCEP despite “stiff opposition among members.”

Gatchalian added: “I am 100% sure that the fake news is connected to the talks about constitutional amendments wherein the Senate as (a) body, will play a key role (in) its success.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Sonny Angara said that a low output was expected at the start of the lawmakers’ terms and that it is “too early to pass judgment.” 

“But after the second year, you will see that increase because committees have buckled down to work and there are outputs in terms of committee reports and laws,” Angara explained in Filipino. 

Sen. JV Ejercito also said in a statement that he "strongly disagree(s) with (the) issue" and that the majority of the upper chamber is "satisfied and happy" with Zubiri's leadership. "

“He has been supportive of the administration, but fair and allows the Senators maintain their independence on controversial issues by allowing a conscience vote,” Ejercito added.

Sen. Grace Poe and Sen. Nancy Binay also denied the rumors in separate statements. — with Xave Gregorio

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