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Tough to get through next Senate

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - July 23, 2021 - 12:00am

With only 12 of the 24 Senate seats up for grabs on May 9, 2022 elections and nine of the candidates are all re-electionists, the race among senatorial wannabes would be a tough contest. This situation is especially daunting for the candidacy of certain self-proclaimed senatorial aspirants and other popular personalities whose names are being bruited about to run as administration bets in next year’s Senate race.

The nine re-electionist Senators are, namely: Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Rissa Hontiveros, Leila de Lima, Panfilo Lacson, Manny Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, Joel Villanueva and Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Only three Senators of the current 18th Congress are “graduating” or on their second and last term of office. Like President Rodrigo Duterte, their six-year term all end on June 30, 2022. These are, Senate president Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Senate President pro tempore Ralph Recto, and Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon.

The challenge for so-called “senatoriables” becomes doubly difficult with return of veteran Senators whose comeback bids have been announced by political leaders wanting them in their tickets. In particular, we were glad and excited to welcome the announcements made in behalf of Sorsogon Governor Francis “Chiz” Escudero III and Antique Congresswoman Loren Legarda. We sort of had a reunion with the two ex-Senators as featured guests in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay Zoom Webinar last Wednesday.

Actually, the Senate comeback bids of Escudero and Legarda were announced ahead by Sotto as the party chieftain of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC).

Sotto disclosed Escudero and Legarda who are NPC card-bearing members are listed in their 12-man Senate ticket in next year’s elections. Escudero chuckled to relate with us he could not interrupt our talks during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual news forum to answer the phone rings coming from Sotto. Escudero was using his smartphone at the Legazpi airport while waiting for his flight to Manila. On the other hand, Legarda informed us that she and Sotto already talked hours earlier over the telephone while we’re talking with Escudero at Kapihan sa Manila Bay.

Our country’s 1987 Constitution allows only one re-election for incumbent Senators. A new term for a Senator is only possible if there is a break of one election. In their specific cases, Escudero opted election for a three-year term as local government executive while Legarda chose to serve for the lone congressional district of Antique. She is concurrently one of the 33 deputy speakers at the House of Representatives.

Legarda told us she is keeping an open mind to run as “common” senatorial candidate by other political parties. This, after she learned from media, is reportedly included in the possible Senate ticket of the ruling PDP-Laban administration party. “I thank President Duterte for his trust in my capability,” she quipped.

Legarda’s single-minded advocacy for climate change, disaster risk reductions and the protection of the environment are her strongest suits that kept her as a champion for the Filipinos here and before the international arena. Walking the talk, she shepherded the passage into law of the Climate Change Act; the creation of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council; the Solid Waste Management Act, just to name some of the landmark statutes she worked for during her three terms at the Senate in the past.

Such advocacies, considered as non-gut issues by traditional politicians, though did not win her VP bids in 2004 and 2010 elections. Escudero, on the other hand, also run but lost during the May 2016 elections as VP runningmate of Sen. Grace Poe who lost to former Davao City Mayor Duterte.

Legarda and Escudero both consider the Senate as their “second home” as they try to endeavor to get back to the national mainstream politics. In the specific case of Legarda, she topped twice the Senate race in 1998 and 2007 elections.

“There’s much more I want to do in the Senate. My advocacies are not just on environment and climate agenda. We should prioritize livelihood of small entrepreneurs and individuals so they wouldn’t have to congest Metro Manila or find jobs abroad,” she pointed out.

Also included in Sotto’s list is Gatchalian, another NPC member. That is unless Gatchalian changed his mind already after he earlier announced his possible entry in the VP race. Now that Sotto declared his VP bid, the NPC could not afford to get into similar intramurals wracking the ruling administration party Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). Perhaps, Gatchalian’s VP bid would be treated as the other nominee to their forthcoming party convention. This will give it a semblance of friendly contest at the NPC.

Likewise expected to join the NPC Senate slate include Sotto’s fellow Senators Gordon, Villanueva and Zubiri. Duterte Cabinet member, ex-Senator-turned Information and Communications Secretary Gregorio Honasan, former senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, Leyte Rep. Lucy Gomez, and ex-Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal compose the other probable NPC Senate ticket. Zubiri, Ejercito and Honasan are included, too, in the PDP-Laban tentative list of senatorial bets. Sotto disclosed the NPC would hold its party convention on Aug. 4 to officially proclaim their slate of candidates in next year’s national elections.

Incidentally, the drafting of the NPC senatorial candidates coincided with Sotto’s admission that he will run for vice president. Lacson will be the NPC standard bearer in the next presidential race under an alliance with the Reporma Party. The NPC, Reforma currently headed by Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez are rumored to join forces in next year’s elections. Lacson will become Reporma party chairman and Alvarez as its party president.

The forthcoming Senate race will be as much as hotly contested as the VP contest in the light of the PDP-Laban’s declared intention to field their nominal chieftain, no less than a sitting President. But that is another story altogether.

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