Migz out, Chiz in as Senate chief

Cecille Suerte Felipe - The Philippine Star
Migz out, Chiz in as Senate chief
Sen. Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero, joined by wife Heart Evangelista, is sworn in as Senate president by Deputy Majority Leader Mark Villar yesterday. Inset shows Sen. Juan Miguel ‘Migz’ Zubiri speaking during a press conference after stepping down as leader of the Senate.
Jesse Bustos

MANILA, Philippines — Two days before Congress goes on sine die adjournment, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri resigned yesterday as Senate president, as some of his colleagues were reportedly laying the groundwork for his ouster.

Sen. Francis Escudero took over the position that Zubiri said he left “with head held high, knowing I did what is right for the Senate and for the nation.”

He reportedly made the decision after learning of a move by 14 of his colleagues – a simple majority – to vote for his ouster.

“I wish our new leadership the very best, and I pray that they will be steadfast in upholding the independence of our beloved institution,” he said.

In his valedictory address, Zubiri said: “Upon stepping down, I vow to serve as an independent member of the Senate – my allegiance, as ever, belonging to no one but the people.”

Escudero, for his part, said there will be “no color coding” in the Senate under his leadership.

“I ask each and every one of us members of the only Senate to have only one color – to support the flag of the Philippines,” Escudero said.

His wife, actress Heart Evangelista, joined him when he took his oath.

When asked about his plans, Escudero said, “My priority right now will be my job as the Senate president not only for the country, not only for the institution but also for my colleagues.”

After the resignation of Zubiri, the senators elected Jinggoy Estrada as the new Senate president pro-tempore, replacing Loren Legarda, while Francis Tolentino was named Senate majority leader, replacing Joel Villanueva.

Other senators who were not mentioned by Zubiri who were believed to have supported the change in leadership were Estrada, Tolentino, siblings Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano, Bong Go, Lito Lapid, Imee Marcos, Robinhood Padilla, Grace Poe, Ramon Revilla Jr., Raffy Tulfo, Cynthia Villar and son Mark Villar.

Speaker Martin Romualdez congratulated Escudero, calling him a respected figure in the political landscape, known for his dedication, integrity and commitment to the Filipino people.

“I would also like to express my heartfelt appreciation to Senator Juan Miguel ‘Migz’ Zubiri for his outstanding service and leadership as Senate President. Senator Zubiri’s dedication and hard work have significantly contributed to our legislative achievements and the advancement of our nation. His efforts in fostering a spirit of cooperation within the Senate have been invaluable,” Romualdez said.

“As we move forward, I am optimistic about the new partnership between the Senate and the House of Representatives. Our nation faces numerous challenges and opportunities, and it is through unity and collaboration that we can effectively address these and work towards a brighter future for all Filipinos,” he said.

He said the House of Representatives remains steadfast in its commitment to passing legislation that promotes the welfare and progress of the country under the Marcos administration, where “we have laid out comprehensive programs and initiatives aimed at uplifting the lives of millions of Filipinos.”

“With Senator Escudero’s leadership in the Senate, I am confident that we can further strengthen our legislative agenda and ensure the successful implementation of these programs,” he said.

“I look forward to working closely with Senate President Escudero, Senator Zubiri and all our colleagues in the Senate to build a more prosperous and united Philippines,” he added.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III manifested on Monday that, in consultation with his deputy Sen. Risa Hontiveros, they would remain in the minority bloc.

Pimentel said he and Hontiveros abstained when Escudero was elected to replace Zubiri.

The minority leader also congratulated Zubiri, who has been “very, very fair,” not only to members of the majority bloc but also to the minority bloc.

“We look forward to the same policy and attitude from our new Senate President… I think our critical collaboration improved the measure that we have passed under your leadership,” Pimentel said.

Goodbye Cha-cha

With the ouster of Zubiri as Senate president, the controversial Resolution of Both House 6 (RBH6), a proposed measure to amend the 1987 Constitution, is considered dead.

Zubiri said Escudero is one of several senators who have indicated opposition to Charter change.

The Senate’s RBH6 – authored by Zubiri, Angara and Legarda – called for easing the Charter’s foreign ownership restrictions on public utilities, the higher education sector and advertising, through legislation.

“Goodbye Cha-cha. It’s gone (Wala na),” Zubiri told Senate reporters after his resignation. “It is all canceled. Sen. Escudero is anti-Cha-cha. As far as we are concerned Cha-cha is dead.”

For his part, Escudero said he would discuss the Charter change. “We will discuss it on the part of the majority, but you know my position and I have no plans of changing my position.”

When asked what would happen to Cha-cha, Escudero replied, “Is there one now (Mayroon ba ngayon)? Again we will discuss it and I think I am one of the vocal ones during that time.”

But when asked if Cha-cha is dead, Escudero said, “It’s not for me to say because I have my old position, I have to discuss it with the majority.”

Earlier, Zubiri said Escudero, Senators Cynthia Villar, Imee Marcos, Pimentel and Hontiveros had expressed their opposition to the Cha-cha proposal.

The 19th Congress is on its last week before adjourning sine die but the Senate subcommittee on constitutional amendments has yet to wrap up public hearings on RBH6, seeking to amend economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

Congress is set to adjourn on May 25, but both the Senate and the House of Representatives traditionally hold plenary sessions from Monday to Wednesday, thus they only have three session days left: May 20, 21 and 22.

The Senate subcommittee headed by Angara scheduled two public hearings at the Waterfront in Cebu City on Thursday and Xavier Sports and Country Club in Cagayan de Oro City on Friday. — Delon Porcalla

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