The Senate merry-go-round

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The election fever is definitely on. This we saw last Monday with the long incoming Senate leadership shake-up finally and quickly carried out. However, ousted Senate president Juan Miguel Zubiri quietly stepped down without a fight. But he had the last say at his valedictory speech on why he was replaced at this juncture of the 19th Congress. After their closed-door caucus, the new Senate majority agreed to allow the outgoing Senate chief to steer for the last time the approval of several bills, pending either on second or on third reading.

Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero was sworn in to become the new Senate president and immediately took over the Senate helm on the very same day. Despite being amiable and charming even to his most severe critics, Zubiri failed to woo back the support of the Senate majority that installed him into office in June 2022 as Senate chief.

Zubiri admitted he was “heart-broken” by the decision of the 15 colleagues who signed the Senate Resolution calling for his removal as Senate chief two days before the second regular session adjourned sine die. “I am not an enemy of the powers-that-be but perhaps I was not following the instructions,” Zubiri declared in between sniffles while delivering his valedictory speech.

There is no saying on how the country’s political landscape will further unfold. This is especially for those in Congress where 12 “graduating” senators and House lawmakers are up either for re-election or to run in the local government elections. The official campaign period starts once the certificates of candidacy are filed at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in October this year.

While it is practically cramming in the preparations for the May 12, 2025 national and local elections, the Comelec is still being hounded though by the ghosts of the last elections in May 2022. The Supreme Court (SC), in its April 16 ruling, reversed the Comelec decision that dismissed the disqualification (DQ) petition against Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba. Acting on the SC order, the Comelec affirmed the DQ petition and subsequently Mamba was finally removed as governor for violation of the 1985 Omnibus Election Code prohibiting the release and disbursement of public funds during the election period.

Just recently, the governor came under fire for complaints of Cagayan residents on the rising number of Chinese nationals supposedly enrolled as foreign students in a privately run college in the province.

Another incumbent local government official might soon find herself probably be removed also from office. Bamban municipal mayor Alice Guo in Tarlac is initially being investigated for her alleged failure to check the presence of illegal “scam hub” operations under her area of jurisdiction.

Mayor Guo’s woes began in the aftermath of the raid last March 13 after a licensed Philippine Online Gaming Operator (POGO) was found engaged also in criminal activities as a “scam” hub. The raiders, led by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC), discovered other illegal activities operating inside a ten-hectare compound leased to the POGO entity by the Guo-owned Baofu Land Development Inc. But Guo claimed she already sold her shares in Baofu.

On April 5, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr. ordered the creation of a task force initially to investigate the Bamban POGO. The DILG secretary is the head of this agency that oversees all local government units (LGUs).

At a joint public hearing last May 7, Mayor Guo appeared and testified under oath her denials on the allegations against her.

However, her evasive answers about her childhood, including where she was born and her education, raised more suspicions than answers. Responding at times in clear Tagalog, she claimed being “supported by the administration” candidate when she won in the May 2022 elections.

Incidentally, the Senate hearing on the POGO and Mayor Guo’s alleged links with the Bamban POGO resumes today.

Before the social media posts went viral showing him and Mayor Guo together in photo poses, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) earlier remarked no single politician from Tarlac even knows the mayor. Acting on PBBM’s remarks on Mayor Guo, Abalos recommended before the Office of the Ombudsman a preventive suspension on her. Abalos invoked Section 61 of Republic Act (RA) 6770, or the Local Government Code of the Philippines, which stated, among other things, the Office of the President (OP) cannot directly suspend elective officials of municipalities.

A few days later, Abalos further ordered the DILG task force to also conduct fact-finding on the concerns regarding the citizenship and eligibility for public office of the 38-year-old first termer Mayor Guo. The Office of the Solicitor General has initiated actions on a possible quo warranto case to be filed in court on Guo if she is “illegally exercising a public office.”

And as the chairman of the National Police Commission, the DILG Secretary recommended last Monday that Mayor Guo be stripped of her control over the Bamban local police.

In the meantime, PBBM will have to wait for these government agencies as well as these LGU bodies to act on the specific case or cases involving Mayor Guo.

But appearing in a TV talk show last Monday night, Mayor Guo was more forthcoming in disclosing her personal information. She claimed she is a “lovechild” whose biological mother was a “kasambahay” in her father’s household. She explained she was evasive about such personal details because her father is a married man. Most of all, she swore before the TV audience, she is a Filipino. It was in response to allegations she could be a well-trained “spy” from Beijing who could speak Tagalog very well, without any detectable Chinese accent.

Yesterday, Senator Risa Hontiveros raised another serious accusation against Mayor Guo. Two Chinese nationals convicted on money-laundering charges in Singapore allegedly once worked with the company of Guo. Even in the midst of the Senate merry-go-round, Mayor Guo will not find easy-sailing at the Senate with so much dirt being unearthed about her.

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