Villar keeps Senate presidency
SENATE President Manuel Villar on Monday retained his hold on the third highest position in the land at the cost of a divided opposition.
Villar was elected by 14 colleagues–nine from the administration, two independent and three from the opposition–who formed the new Senate majority bloc.
The remaining eight opposition senators who called their group the “Solid 8” formed the new minority bloc led by Sen. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr.
The vote was marked by scathing exchanges between the two camps.
Villar said he tried not to be affected by attacks from his fellow opposition members. He said this meant a “vibrant” Senate and was a “good sign.”
“A legislative body like the Senate is an effective instrument of check and balance,” he said. “But the grandeur of this purpose is lost on some who think that the Senate’s role is one of unfailing negative criticism bordering on sheer obstructionism.”
He said the Senate should work to promote national economic growth by addressing inefficiency, instability and corruption.
“[There is] the urgent need to rise above political differences and destroy the walls of divisiveness that get in the way of progress. We must seek to collaborate and find workable solutions under the guidance of a shared national vision,” Villar added.
Opposition Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, who backed Villar, assumed the second highest position of Senate President Pro Tempore unopposed.
Estrada echoed Villar’s position that the Senate should extend its “critical collaboration” with Malacañang, borrowing a term applied by the late Cardinal Jaime Sin to the Catholic Church’s relationship with the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“I take this position to assume a position of principled and critical collaboration, but never subservient and docile obedience to Malacañang or to any powerful and vested interest,” said Estrada.
He said he voted for Villar for the sake of “continuity.”
“But once he is shown to be consorting or conspiring with Malacañang, I will not hesitate to withdraw my support,” said the son of deposed President Joseph Estrada.
“I ask those who criticize me unfairly to look beyond the narrowed division of administration and opposition,” he added.
Villar also said the Senate would continue to carry out investigations of anomalies despite Malacanang’s refusal to have its officials testify in congressional inquiries.
“We will continue to carry out our investigative duties as part of our power of oversight. Shenanigans in government should never be condoned,” he said.
Independent Sen. Francis Pangilinan also retained his position as Senate majority leader.
The new majority bloc is composed of administration Senators Edgardo Angara, Joker Arroyo, Pia Cayetano, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Juan Ponce Enrile, Richard Gordon, Lito Lapid, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Juan Miguel Zubiri; independent Sen. Gregorio Honasan and opposition Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Francis Escudero and Estrada.
Those in the minority bloc are Senators Benigno Aquino III, Rodolfo Biazon, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Jamby Madrigal, Manuel Roxas II, Antonio Trillanes IV and Pimentel.
In the coming weeks, Villar would negotiate the tricky assignment of committees. Members of the majority bloc usually get to choose first among the 36 standing committees.
Lacson has also expressed interest in the “blue ribbon” committee that investigates public accountability, which was previously chaired by Arroyo, who has been criticized by the opposition for not fully investigating the Jose Pidal secret bank accounts controversy involving First Gentleman Juan Miguel Arroyo.
Estrada has said he would withdraw from Villar if Arroyo retains the blue ribbon committee.
Villar, who has stayed abroad the past couple of weeks during the word war within the opposition, was suddenly noncommittal Monday about the committee assignments.
Administration senators reportedly expect a “status quo” in their committee assignments.
“Maybe it’s better that everyone does not have any committee yet so we can have fresh discussions, to be fair with everybody,” Villar said.
After the nominal voting for the Senate President, Estrada took the opening salvo when he took the floor to explain his vote and lambaste Lacson who has likened him, Villar, Cayetano and Escudero to “political mongrels.”
“There is no room for animosities and sarcasm with such uncalled for language and labels … in the arena of statesmanship. These are plain gutter talk that should remain in the gutter,” said Estrada.
He alluded to Lacson’s decision to run against Fernando Poe Jr. and President Macapagal-Arroyo in the 2004 presidential election. “Because we were not united, because we cannot restrain personal ambitions, Mrs. Arroyo was able again to steal the (2004) elections,” Estrada said.
Lacson countered that he was simply glad that the “political conundrum of the past weeks has been solved and clarified” with the division of the body.
While he congratulated Villar, he said he voted for Pimentel out of “gratitude” to those who voted for seven senators from the GO ticket, out of the total 12 winners.
Escudero quickly took his turn, saying no one had the right to judge who is really with the opposition and who is not.
“I ran under the opposition, I will remain in the opposition and no once can claim the title and the right to judge who is the opposition and who is not,” he retorted.
But Madrigal fired the worst salvo, attacking Villar’s capability as a leader.
“I believe that Senator Pimentel is the right statesman for the Senate presidency. We need statesmen and not businessmen to run this country. Statesmen are willing to be jailed for principle; businessmen are not made of the same mettle,” said Madrigal, a scion of an old rich family.
She also lashed out at her opposition colleagues for collaborating with administration senators.
To dispel further animosity, Pimentel assured Villar that he deserved the support of the “solid minority.”