EDITORIAL - Leadership change

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Leadership change

It has happened many times in the history of Congress, so it was no big surprise that Juan Miguel Zubiri was replaced yesterday as Senate president. Zubiri, who held the post in the first two years of the Marcos administration, was accorded a graceful exit, by officially resigning instead of being ousted in a vote, although he counted 14 colleagues who wanted him out.

Zubiri cited the Senate’s opposition to the people’s initiative to amend the Constitution and its timetable on economic Charter change that is deemed too slow by the House of Representatives, along with the ongoing probe of the so-called PDEA leaks, as key reasons for his ouster. With his replacement, Senate committees are also being reorganized, with Sen. Ronald dela Rosa likely to lose the panel on public order and dangerous drugs.

The panel is undertaking the probe on the alleged inclusion of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on the watchlist of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in 2012. The PDEA allegedly failed to validate this raw intel because it was stopped by the executive secretary at the time, Paquito Ochoa, a partner in the law firm of Marcos’ wife Liza. Ochoa faced Dela Rosa’s panel yesterday and denied stopping the PDEA surveillance. PDEA officials had previously denied the existence of any document that mentioned Bongbong Marcos as a drug personality.

Ironically for Zubiri, as he was forced to step down yesterday, Dela Rosa himself cited in contempt his star witness, former PDEA agent Jonathan Morales, along with another person for inconsistencies and lying to the committee. President Marcos had earlier dismissed Morales as a “jukebox” that would play any song when a coin is inserted.

An emotional Zubiri explained yesterday that he was forced out of his post because “I failed to follow the instructions of the powers that be.” He stressed that he had no regrets, and he took pride in maintaining the independence of the Senate amid pressure from those powers on various issues. Although the probe on the PDEA leaks was among the factors believed to have led to his ouster, Zubiri congratulated Dela Rosa for standing firm in efforts to ferret out the truth.

The Senate has in fact been seen as a chamber that shows independence even when its members are predominantly allies of the administration. Senators can even be deemed independent to a fault; their description as “independent republics” is not always given as a compliment. Still, the public has come to expect this independence from senators. Under new leadership, the senators must not forget that their loyalty is not to whoever is in power, but to the nation and the Filipino people.

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