Orocan moments

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Juan Miguel Zubiri says he was forced out as Senate president because he had riled powerful groups due to his stand on Charter change, the Senate probe on the so-called PDEA leaks linking President Marcos to illegal drugs, and his signing of the Senate’s arrest order for Kingdom of Jesus Christ leader Apollo Quiboloy.

With the leadership change, will Cha-cha push through, and will the PDEA leaks probe stop?

The fate of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency controversy is easier to predict. Sen. Ronald dela Rosa turned out to be the 15th senator who signed the statement of support for the leadership change.

Dela Rosa explained that he had a long-standing gentleman’s agreement with Senators Bong Go and Francis Tolentino to vote as one. When he failed to persuade the two to back Zubiri, Dela Rosa said he honored the agreement and stayed with the majority. He keeps his chairmanship of the panel on public order and dangerous drugs. And the panel continues its PDEA leaks probe even during the sine die congressional adjournment.

Zubiri could only say yesterday that he was dumbfounded by this “et tu, Bato?” development.

Last Monday, Dela Rosa was teary-eyed at the session hall as Zubiri bid his colleagues an emotional farewell. Zubiri also received hugs from those who gave him the boot. Such Orocan (plastic) moments are not surprising in Congress.

Will Charter change now proceed? On the contrary, Zubiri said it’s “dead,” as he noted that his replacement, Francis Escudero, is also against Cha-cha.

Escudero said he was not changing his stand against Cha-cha, although he would consult his colleagues on their sentiments. This was the same stand of Zubiri as he proceeded with public consultations on Cha-cha, of which the last two for this regular session, scheduled this week, have been canceled.

Even Sen. Cynthia Villar, however, whose Nacionalista Party reportedly supported the replacement of Zubiri with Escudero, has said there aren’t enough votes in the Senate for Cha-cha.

As of last night, there was no announcement of Senate hearings or public consultations on Resolution of Both Houses No. 6. Congressmen had lamented the Senate’s slow action on RBH6, which the House of Representatives had rushed to pass.

*      *      *

With a national constituency, senators tend to be keenly sensitive to public opinion polls, and behave like independent republics even when allied with the administration. And that recent non-commissioned survey conducted by reputable pollster Pulse Asia – derided by certain congressmen, but defended by the pollster – showed a high 88 percent of Filipinos against Cha-cha.

Since Jan. 23 this year when senators unanimously rejected the people’s initiative to amend the Constitution, rumors have swirled that Zubiri’s days as Senate president were numbered.

It turned out that the initiative, carried out as sloppily as previous efforts in past administrations, had the backing of Speaker Martin Romualdez and his chamber. Whether he was doing the work for his cousin President Marcos is unclear.

Zubiri did not name names when he lamented on Monday that he lost his post because “I failed to follow the instructions of the powers that be.”

But the Senate under his leadership managed to disrupt the House timetable for Cha-cha.

The House had passed RBH6 ASAP, to prove that this is truly economic Cha-cha, amid accusations that the chamber actually wanted to rewrite the Constitution for political reforms that would prevent Vice President Sara Duterte from becoming president in 2028.

RBH6, however, went against President Marcos’ pronouncement to Zubiri and Romualdez that the Senate would take the lead on Cha-cha. Since the people’s initiative came to light, senators have lamented that they were being stampeded into Cha-cha. Their timetable is to discuss Cha-cha and present the results in October, and submit the proposed reforms to a national plebiscite coinciding with the midterm elections in May 2025.

House members think this is too slow, and have decried the slow pace of the Senate. The House rush has stoked suspicions that congressmen in fact simply want to open the doors to Cha-cha for political reforms that will benefit members of the 19th Congress, whose three-year term ends next year.

Zubiri stepped down with just two more session days to go before the 19th Congress adjourns, and a Senate subcommittee just starting public consultations on RBH6.

*      *      *

So if the PDEA leaks probe will continue and the Senate can be expected to pursue its original timetable for Cha-cha, why was Zubiri forced out?

Senators in the majority refused to give the reason; some probably didn’t even know, and simply signed on the dotted line. In exchange for what? Surely the senators didn’t simply get bored with Zubiri.

In his statements, Zubiri harped on his efforts to maintain the Senate’s independence. Escudero, who admitted gathering the signatures supporting Zubiri’s ouster, pointed out that he also has a record of independence, even during the presidency of his friend Noynoy Aquino.

Does the coup expand the ranks of the Senate minority or opposition? Zubiri says he will belong to the independent bloc. Considering that he saw the hand of the “powers that be” behind his ouster, can he be expected to be more vocal in opposing administration initiatives with which he disagrees?

As for his colleagues who didn’t join the 15, they are supposed to belong to the Senate minority, but they will also likely describe themselves as independent. “Political opposition” – which is actually needed for a strong, healthy democracy – seems to have taken on a negative connotation these days.

As for Escudero, how cooperative will he be toward Malacañang and the House? Personality-wise, Zubiri has more charm; Escudero seems to have an even lower threshold for being pressured by the House leadership on anything. Also, in 2022, Escudero was seen to have supported his fellow Bicolano, Leni Robredo.

Why did the senators change their leader? At this point, it looks like someone simply made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with