Escudero admits instigating Zubiri ouster

Cecille Suerte Felipe - The Philippine Star
Escudero admits instigating Zubiri ouster
Senate President Francis “Chiz” Escudero on May 20, 2024.
STAR / Jesse Bustos

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Francis “Chiz” Escudero admitted instigating the coup in the Senate by calling other senators to support his efforts to take over the presidency of the chamber, amid doubts about the leadership of Sen. Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri.

In an interview with Senate reporters, Escudero admitted that he started calling his senator colleagues on the move to oust Zubiri, but refused to divulge his reasons.

He said that he started talking with his colleagues because “there were many at the time who had doubts.”

While Zubiri earlier said he heard about the attempt to oust him on Wednesday last week, Escudero claimed he started making calls to fellow senators on Thursday.

Escudero clarified that neither Malacañang nor the House of Representatives had anything to do with changing the Senate leadership.

He, however, claimed that he met with House Speaker Martin Romualdez at a birthday party of a congressman last Wednesday. He noted the issue of Senate leadership was not discussed.

Escudero said that out of 24 senators, 15 signed a resolution calling for the leadership change. He, however, refused to provide a copy of the resolution that would allow the Senate to move forward.

Escudero said he gathered the support of 15 of the 24 senators.

And while Escudero did not name those who signed the resolution, Zubiri thanked seven in his valedictory speech – Senators Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, JV Ejercito, Joel Villanueva, Loren Legarda and Bato dela Rosa.

Dela Rosa, however, admitted being the 15th senator to sign the Senate resolution to oust Zubiri, who claimed he was dumbfounded about Dela Rosa’s revelation.

Zubiri did not thank Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Francis Tolentino, siblings Allan 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.

Meanwhile, Senate pro-tempore Jinggoy Estrada admitted that after he and Escudero talked about the change in the Senate leadership, he also called another senator colleague to join the call for Zubiri’s ouster.

Estrada, however, did not name the senator.

Like Escudero, Estrada maintained that the Palace has nothing to do with the change of leadership in the Senate. When pressed for his reason for removing Zubiri, Estrada said: “There are a lot of factors and issues that led me to sign the resolution. I’ll just keep mum on it, there are several issues and factors.”

Zubiri dumbfounded

Zubiri yesterday said he was “shocked” to know that Dela Rosa voted to remove him from his post as Senate president.

Zubiri thanked Dela Rosa in his farewell speech during Monday’s session.

“To Bato Dela Rosa, who stuck it out with me to the very end. I salute you sir,” Zubiri said, reducing Dela Rosa to tears.

An emotional Dela Rosa even hugged Zubiri’s wife Audrey before Escudero’s election as Senate president.

But it turns out, Dela Rosa opted to join the majority in booting Zubiri out of the Senate presidency.

In an ambush interview yesterday during session, Zubiri said: “I still could not understand, I am in shock.”

“But that’s politics. There are no permanent friends, only permanent interests,” Zubiri said.

Mistaken into thinking that Dela Rosa was with him throughout his ordeal, Zubiri at a press conference on Monday said that he would campaign for Dela Rosa in Bukidnon for his re-election bid.

But upon knowing that Dela Rosa apparently did not side with him after all, Zubiri said yesterday: “Strange things have happened in my political career, and this happens to be the strangest.”

He said he could not understand why Dela Rosa did not back him up when it was Dela Rosa’s Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) leaks investigation that contributed to him being stripped of the top Senate post.

“If I was heartbroken yesterday, today I am dumbfounded. I defended him as chairperson of the Senate public order and dangerous drugs and because of that, I was sacrificed and lost my position.”

“I even raised his hand during my birthday bash in Bukidnon. It hurts. But it’s OK. That’s the life of a politician. It’s very surreal, I could not understand it, it’s like I’m in the Twilight Zone,” Zubiri said.

Asked if Dela Rosa talked to him since the change of leadership, Zubiri said he told him to give him some time. “I could not process what happened. I said, give me time. You even hugged my wife,” Zubiri said he told Dela Rosa.

In a separate interview yesterday, Zubiri’s erstwhile majority leader Joel Villanueva said he was surprised Dela Rosa did not support Zubiri after all.

“I think we are all surprised. That’s the greatest surprise of all, probably in the entire history of leadership change. But you know it is what it is. And we respect everyone’s judgment, opinion, even decision,” Villanueva said.

“It’s kind of weird, of course. But it is what it is. I think it’s just a footnote anyway,” he added.

Independent Magic 7

Asked by reporters if Zubiri, Villanueva and five others who did not vote for Escudero as Senate president –Legarda, Binay, Ejercito, Angara, and Gatchalian – would join the minority bloc of Senators Koko Pimentel and Risa Hontiveros, they said they were still studying their options.

“What we talked about is that our seven-member bloc would be independent. Call us whatever you want – Magic 7. Our bond as seatmates just became stronger,” Zubiri said.

“We’re still studying all possibilities. I can only speak for myself that I could join the minority. There are some committees being offered to me as well by the new leadership. I’m also studying that option. As of this time, we are seven independent senators,” Villanueva said.

A day after he assumed the helm of the Senate, Escudero said there would be no rigodon yet in the Senate committee chairmanships.

He said some senators could still pursue the investigation of their respective committees, including the probe in the so-called PDEA leaks by the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs.

“The change of Senate president is always arrived at through a gentlemanly conduct…the Senate President is not removed, only resigning. So, there is no need for declaring vacant so it’s seamless, it’s not messy,” Escudero said. — Marc Jayson Cayabyab, Helen Flores, Evelyn Macairan, Delon Porcalla

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