All the President’s Men: Independent or Rubber Stamp?
UNRESOLVED IRREGULARITIES in the recent midterm elections did not stop the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from proclaiming the new senators last May 22. Nine out of the 12 are administration allies, including Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. who is facing graft charges, Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, who, as chief of the Philippine National Police, was the first enforcer of President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war, and Imee Marcos whose family history is marred by plunder and fascism.
As senators both old and new, scrambled for key committee posts, most media reports failed to discuss the implications of the current composition of the 18th Congress.
CMFR cheers broadcast reports that analyzed how the upcoming Senate plays into the president’s agenda, including the shift to federalism, the restoration of the death penalty and Duterte’s pro-China foreign policy.
During TV5’s live Election Day coverage, Ed Lingao did an explainer discussing the “balance of forces” between the incumbent and upcoming members of the Senate. He classified the Senate membership into anti- and pro-administration, and independent or swing vote groups. Lingao said that political analysts still expect political alliances to shift before the elections of 2022.
ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol report on May 18 noted that the projected majority in the Senate could reach twenty members, further marginalizing the dwindling opposition. Reporter Christian Esguerra pointed out that this would push Duterte’s drive for federalism should the 18th Congress opt to vote separately in the Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass). Prof. Julio Teehankee claimed, however, that the issue is more complex as it requires charter change. “The president is still not sure that all the members of the supermajority are open to the idea of charter change, more so to the idea of federalism,” Teehankee said.
In ANC’s The World Tonight report on May 22, reporter Sherrie Ann Torres discussed the possible reshuffle of committees in the new Senate. The report also noted the senators’ views on the chances of federalism. University of the Philippines (UP) Political Science Prof. Ranjit Rye said that the new Senate, which is dominated by re-electionists and returning lawmakers, presents a vision of ‘continuity’ rather than change. “The speech of Sen. Villar was quite revealing. The people she thanked, Pres. Duterte and Sara Duterte…You have this impression that these are the key forces that will help shape the legislative agenda in the coming year,” he said.
Most reports merely carried the new senators’ denial that they will be the president’s rubber stamp without critically presenting the implications of a supermajority in both chambers of Congress. In the 17th Congress, the administration had a supermajority in the House of Representatives. Under Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez (1st Dist., Davao del Norte) and Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2nd Dist., Pampanga), both allies of the president, the House showed unwavering support for his legislative agenda. The Senate then, with its members being from different parties, showed more independence and conscientiousness. In a true democracy, the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, each with specific independent roles, are expected to check and balance each other. While majority control provides a coherent framework of governance, the press and the public should be skeptical about the unquestioned acceptance of the president’s agenda and check the abuse of executive power. Given the plan for charter change and the shift to a federal government, the Filipino people deserve to be involved in a vigorous and open debate on these and other issues.