What is Sotto’s plan for 2022?
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - November 9, 2018 - 12:00am

The last time he joined us in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast forum was last March 21 when Senator Vicente “Tito Sen” Sotto III was then the Senate majority leader. At that time, rumors were rife about a “Senate coup” among the members of the majority coalition after erstwhile Senate president Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, concurrently president of the ruling administration PDP-Laban party, announced his re-election plans.

Pimentel along with six other incumbent re-electionist Senators already filed last month their respective certificates of candidacy to run in the May 2019 polls.

The protracted leadership change came into reality on May 21, or this was a week before the 2nd regular sessions of the 17th Congress adjourned sine die. Fourteen Senators from the ruling majority elected Sotto as the new Senate president to replace Pimentel. Being allies in the ruling majority, there was smooth and friendly transition of power from Pimentel to Sotto.

Sotto is one of the council leaders of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC). Its founding chieftain is businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco. As the third highest elected official of the land in the succession line of leadership in the country, Sotto disclosed there are “overtures” for him to assume the NPC leadership and Cojuangco to become chairman emeritus of the party.

Attending for the first time as Senate president in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday, Sotto recalled his last appearance in our weekly breakfast forum was the time when – what he now calls as “arrangement” with Pimentel – was in the works already for implementation. He did not go into details about this “arrangement.”

Apparently, this refers to a term-sharing agreement of the members of the Senate majority coalition for Pimentel to give way to a more senior Senator to serve as the next Senate president. As a time-honored tradition in the Upper Chamber, all sitting Senators seeking second term in office must compete in the Senate race on equal terms. A sitting Senate president who is up for re-election must not therefore enjoy the edge of resources under the disposal of his office.

As the leader of a continuing body, Sotto will thus still preside as Senate president when the new 18th Congress convenes in July next year until a new Senate chief is elected. And it is not far-fetched Sotto may stay on as Senate president under the same “arrangement.”

Unless otherwise fellow Senators – who have moist eyes in the next presidential elections in May 2022 – may feel threatened. Although he temporarily quit as co-host of the long running popular “Eat Bulaga” TV noontime variety show when he assumed as Senate chief, Sotto answered us with a firm “No” when pressed if he has plans to run for higher office in the 2022 elections. Incidentally, he is currently on his second and last term as Senator also ending in 2022.

The Senate may yet lose another member who is being recruited to join the Executive Branch when they resume sessions next week. Sotto revealed his bosom buddy, Sen.Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan has already accepted the offer of President Duterte to become his new Secretary of the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT).

Honasan gave his nod during their meeting with President Duterte at Malacanang Palace last Oct. 29. Sotto said there was already an understanding that Honasan will be appointed as “acting” DICT Secretary on Nov. 12, Monday. By that time, he explained, Honasan can stay on as Senator without need of any “ad interim” appointment. Following their internal rules, Honasan is considered resigned from the Senate only after he is confirmed by the Commission on Appointments (CA), Sotto pointed out. 

Since he is a former CA member himself and not just a sitting Senator, Sotto sees Honasan going through a breeze at the 25-man bicameral confirmation body that the Senate president chairs. Honasan is cutting short on his second and last term at the Senate which will end, too, in June next year.

With Honasan going to the DICT, the Senate would have only 21 sitting Senators since one Senator (Leila de Lima) remains in detention while former Senate majority leader Alan Peter Cayetano earlier also cut short his second and last term when he resigned in May last year to become Duterte’s Foreign Affairs Secretary.  

Sotto conceded it would be more difficult to push pending tax bills endorsed for approval by the 17th Congress, especially the proposed second package of Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN)-2, now renamed as Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High Quality Opportunities, or TRABAHO bill.

The Senate chief understands the plight of Senate ways and means committee chaired by Sen. Sonny Angara whose re-election bid might be compromised if the latter will push approval of such unpopular tax bill at this time. Sotto believes the intention of TRABAHO bill will indeed help the government “rationalize” the existing tax incentives being enjoyed by big corporations while micro-small-medium enterprises do not enjoy similar tax breaks.

If it is any consolation to Angara, Sotto disclosed, the namesake son of the late Senate president Edgardo Angara will be “adopted” by the NPC in its Senate ticket in next year’s polls. He named Senators Grace Poe and JV Ejercito and comebacking ex-Sen. Lito Lapid who will lead the NPC Senate slate. Sotto revealed their party plans to field only eight to nine Senatorial candidates to allow party members to choose other senatoriables to support outside the NPC ticket.

As Senate chief of the soon ending 17th Congress, Sotto feels confident he could leave a legacy worthy of the nine Senate presidents he had worked with in the past. Sotto has no illusions of staying on as Senate president when half of the new set of the 24-man Senate come into office in June next year. 

The new Senate will decide based on what will be Sotto’s 2022 plans.

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