Charter change, Maharlika, drugs

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

If it’s any consolation, the recent coup at the Senate was at least wildly entertaining. What was seemingly an ordinary Monday turned out to be an edge-of-your-seat drama. We really have to hand it to our lawmakers. They never fail to deliver our dose of dark comedy every now and then.

Even some Senate staffers, I heard, were surprised to wake up to a new era at the chamber.

Actually, sources said, even fashion icon Heart Evangelista, wife of newly installed Senate President Chiz Escudero, arrived at the Senate on Monday seemingly not totally prepared as she was not yet suited up and was just carrying with her the outfit she was going to wear for the oath-taking of her husband.

She arrived just hours before Monday’s ceremony which started at 4:20 p.m., with her brown neat suit from Italian fashion house Schiaparelli. She changed at the Senate and was ready by the time she stood by her husband’s side as he took his oath before Senator Mark Villar.

Not in the photo that filled the newspapers’ front cut the following day was Evangelista’s fur baby. Indeed, sources said, she arrived at the Senate that day with her dog.

It seemed that she might have been told to just be on standby that day in case the leadership change proceeded as planned, according to my sources. It was around noon – when 14 senators already signed the resolution calling for a leadership change in favor of Sen. Escudero – when she was told to get ready to go to the Senate.

The joke among Senate reporters was that it was quite a relief that the social media celebrity – who has 15.9 million followers on Instagram – did not preempt the announcement of a looming leadership change ahead of everyone else.

If she did, the Senate media would have been outscooped by entertainment journalists, as what happened early this year when celebrity Vilma Santos proudly confirmed the appointment of her husband Ralph Recto as Finance Secretary.

But while the Senate drama seemed sudden, it was actually brewing for a long time.

Charter change

Rumors that Senate President Migz Zubiri would be booted out of office have swirled on and off since March last year over a host of reasons.

There is, for instance, the issue about the Senate’s stance against Charter change, putting it at loggerheads with the House of Representatives led by House Speaker and presidential cousin Martin Romualdez.

In June 2023, rumors surfaced again that Sen. Zubiri would be ousted, this time because of the Senate’s approval of the Maharlika Investment Fund bill.

Lack of decorum

Around the time, former Senate presidents Franklin Drilon and Tito Sotto III also ranted about the Senate’s affairs, with Drilon saying the institution’s prestige was eroding, pointing to the “lack of decorum of some noisy senators.”

On both times, Sen. Zubiri’s fellow senators issued separate statements of support, dousing cold water on the rumors. Sen. Zubiri, for his part, consistently asserted the independence of the Senate.

A third round of rumors once again swirled in our Republic of Marites just last February, which Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito suspected had something to do with the controversial people’s initiative which had caused a rift between the Senate and the House.

But the February episode was somewhat different as Senate insiders told me that there was already a very big possibility back then that Sen. Escudero would be taking over the Senate leadership.

Around the time, Sen. Escudero was even reportedly overheard telling some Senate insiders that he was not quite excited about it. But obviously, he would change his mind just a few months later.

The nail on the coffin for Sen. Zubiri, as he himself said, was his defense of Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa’s inquiry into the alleged leak of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency papers that supposedly links President Marcos to illegal drug use.

Sen. Zubiri allowed Sen. Bato to proceed with the hearings even if the investigation turned out to be a dud, as the supposed drug links to Marcos could not be established.

In contrast, Sen. Escudero, the lawyer that he is, used his law background to show that Sen. Bato’s hearings were just going around in circles. He also raised a point of order, suggesting potential legal improprieties in the proceedings.

Little did Sen. Zubiri know that at the end of the day, the PDEA hearings which he allowed to run its course would cost him his job and Sen. Bato, the man he defended, would even add his signature to the 14 senators who called for a change in the Senate leadership.

It seems that Sen. Bato, who only added his signature at the last minute, according to former Senate president Franklin Drilon, shed crocodile tears and was on survival mode all along. This isn’t surprising considering that the rumored issuance of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court remains a dark cloud hanging over his head.

And so it goes.

The coup is over; a dumbfounded Sen. Zubiri is down and out as Senate president; Sen. Chiz is in, with his lovely Heart; Marcos’ links to illegal drugs remain a mystery; economic bills are pending; midterm elections are just around the corner and national interest remains the least priority.

It’s just another day in our Netflix-like republic.

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Follow her on X, formerly Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen (Iris Gonzales) on Facebook.

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