MANILA, Philippines — The coveted Senate committee on accountability of public officers and investigations, popularly called the blue ribbon committee, went to opposition Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano Monday night as the Senate began organizing its 36 standing committees.
Although a neophyte senator, Cayetano bagged the blue ribbon committee which has been the subject of a tug-of-war between the administration and opposition blocs in the Senate.
The opposition had wanted the blue ribbon committee to go to an opposition senator, while the administration bloc wanted Sen. Joker Arroyo to retain leadership of the committee.
Arroyo refused to chair any other committee at this time. Opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who made no secret of wanting the blue ribbon committee, also declined to chair any other committee.
The rest of the 21 senators, including detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, were given committees.
During his last term as Taguig congressman, Cayetano was suspended by the House of Representatives committee on ethics for failing to support his accusation that the President’s husband Juan Miguel Arroyo had secret bank accounts in Germany.
“As long as the person is not a rabid or radical or an extreme pro-Arroyo or anti-Arroyo person … then that person would be mutually acceptable to the administration and the opposition,” said administration Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
Santiago retained her chairmanship of two major committees: Foreign relations and energy.
Most incumbent administration senators got their wish to retain their current committees.
Arroyo and fellow administration Sen. Richard Gordon tried to block the nomination of committee chairs Monday night, insisting that the committee members should be named first.
Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, however, said the committee members were traditionally named after the chair had been selected.
Arroyo and Gordon were overruled by an 11-2 vote, with three senators abstaining.
As expected, most of the 14 senators in the majority bloc got major committees.
Aside from the blue ribbon committee, Cayetano will also head the education committee.
Fellow neophyte Sen. Francis Escudero took the powerful ways and means committee that deals with taxes. He will also chair the oversight committees on the Lateral Attrition Act, the National Internal Revenue Code and the Special Purpose Vehicle Act.
Escudero also got the committee on justice and human rights previously chaired by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who was given the powerful committee on finance that handles the national budget.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada got his wish to chair the committee on labor, but he did not get the committee on public services that approves franchises. The committee was given to Arroyo who declined it.
Pangilinan was given the committee on accounts that was previously held by Arroyo.
Sen. Edgardo Angara got three committees — agriculture and food; banks, financial institutions and currencies, and science and technology.
Gordon retained his three committees — constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws; tourism, and government corporations and public enterprises.
Sen. Pia Cayetano kept her two committees — environment and health.
Sen. Lito Lapid retained the committee on games, amusements and sports. Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. also retained his committee on public works and also public information.
Returning Sen. Gregorio Honasan also got a major committee — public order and illegal drugs.
Not his forte
Only neophyte Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri was not satisfied with his two committees –urban planning and housing and cooperatives. Zubiri said the committees were not his “forte” but he said he knew it was not his right to complain.
The eight members of the minority bloc all got committees except for Lacson who declined any.
Sen. Manuel Roxas II retained his committee on trade and commerce.
Sen. Rodolfo Biazon kept the committee on national security and defense.
Sen. Loren Legarda will handle two committees — economic affairs and social justice, welfare and rural development.
Sen. Jamby Madrigal will hold three committees — cultural communities; peace, unification and reconciliation; and youth, women and family relations.
Neophyte Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III will handle the committee on local government.
Trillanes was given the committee on civil service and government reorganization. But since he is not allowed to attend Senate sessions, Lacson was asked to temporarily head the committee as vice chair. Lacson declined, so Legarda took the post.
Of the 36 committees, only three committees do not have their chairs yet — the committees on ethics and privileges, agrarian reform and public services.
The Senate next has to appoint the committee members. Senate President Manuel Villar will also appoint the members of the Commission on Appointments and the Senate Electoral Tribunal.
The Senate pushed through with its organization while opposition senators in the majority and minority bloc began moves to “reunify” their ranks in the face of perceived domination by the administration senators.
The main protagonists in the two factions, Estrada and Lacson, have made moves to bury the hatchet by meeting over lunch last Friday.
The two have exchanged harsh words when they could not agree on the Senate presidency. Lacson voted for eventual Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. while Estrada favored Villar.
“What I heard is there are informal talks with some members of the ‘Villar Group.’ Maybe the fact that Manny is being held hostage by the minority, if you want to look at it that way, prompted the talks,” Pimentel said.
“There’s really a desire to be together … for the Senate to be opposition-dominated,” Legarda said. She said the talks may no longer affect Villar’s hold on the Senate presidency.
Both Estrada and Lacson agreed with Pimentel’s observation that the administration bloc continued to hold sway in the Senate even though the opposition dominated the last elections.
“I am quite disappointed because it is quite pathetic that we, the members of the opposition, actually have the numbers here in the Senate but the administration is the dominant bloc,” Estrada said.
“That is my opinion. I have never abandoned the opposition,” he added.
“We want the opposition to stay as one whole opposition,” said Lacson.
“It’s really hard to accept that nine administration senators, upon instructions of Malacañang, have effective control of the Senate and its committees. Isn’t that anomalous? And it’s a shame on us,” he said.