By Macon Araneta i FilAm Star Correspondent
Despite their reduced number, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon assured the minority bloc is ready to fight “tooth and nail” to uphold the Senate’s independence and block measures that would not benefit the country.
“Our number may have diminished but we can assure the public we in the minority will be more vigilant and will do everything in our capacity to protect the institution, fight for the common good, and uphold the democracy,” Drilon stressed.
“We are ready to listen and compromise as we had shown in the last Congress. But we are also prepared to fight tooth and nail if need be,” he warned.
The public , Drilon said, should not fear having a smaller minority bloc in the next Congress, saying there are mechanisms in the Senate that empower the members of the minority.
“We have a no-closure rule that you cannot cut the debate. This rule is an effective tool that empowers the minority and prevents a bill from being railroaded,” he added.
Sen. Chiz Escudero stressed “checks and balances” will prevail in the Senate although there will only be four opposition senators in the 18th Congress with the exit of two of their allies and the defeat of all “Otso Diretso” candidates, as well as the outgoing.
Escudero attributed this fact to the strong line-up comprising the opposition slate in the 24-mean Senate. They are Drilon and Senators Francis Pangilinan, Leila De Lima and Risa Hontiveros.
Except for Hontiveros, all three are lawyers. Drilon and De Lima, who has remained detained at the PNP Custodian Center in Camp Crame, were both former justice secretaries.
“Those left behind in the opposition are veterans,” said Escudero who won as Sorsogon governor.
The other members of the Minority Bloc in the previous Congress — Sen. Antonio Trillanes is a “graduating senator” whose term will expire on June 30.
On the other hand, Sen. Bam Aquino failed to get a fresh mandate for a second term in the last mid-term elections. Also, no candidate from Otso Diretso won in the last polls.
But despite the number in the Senate which is dominated by allies of the administration, Trillanes said the Minority will be in good hands as its members remain a formidable opposition.
“They are very active advocates and fiscalizers,” said Trillanes, referring to the four remaining opposition senators.
Trillanes, a staunch critic of the President, said, “They will fight more because there’s injustice and harassment like what happened to Sen. de Lima. They are doing that to scare the opposition. But it didn’t work,” he said.
While he “really plans to teach after bowing out of the Senate,” Trillanes said he would remain a “vocal and active” member of the opposition. But he will have to be a bit more “creative” in criticizing the Duterte administration and should be ready for everything.
The 18th Congress would be dominated by strong allies of the President with three senators who are very close to the President — Senators-elect Christopher “Bong” Go, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, and Francis Tolentino.
Go quit as Duterte’s aide in order to join the senatorial race. Dela Rosa served as the police chief and Bureau of Corrections director under the Duterte administration. Tolentino was Duterte’s adviser on political affairs.
However, Escudero who has been a member of Congress for 21 years, said he believed the senators would vote on legislation based on their personal conscience and not on the official line set down by their political party.
“In these bills party lines are not usually followed. The voting is not because of the party’s vote,” pointed out the veteran lawmaker.
Meanwhile, Drilon said equity of the incumbent rule must apply to all senators whether they belong to the majority or minority blocs.
Drilon issued this amidst reports that incoming Sen. Imee Marcos is eyeing the Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development chaired by De Lima, while returning Sen. Pia Cayetano is asking for the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality headed by Hontiveros.
“Sad, if true. I hope that the equity of the incumbent rule would also be applied to the committees chaired by the minority senators,” Drilon said.
“Having said that, the committee is a call of the majority. That we are stripped of the committees we now head will not diminish our resolve to scrutinize every measure and act as fiscalizers,” Drilon said.
Drilon said the two minority senators, as chair of their respective committees, worked very hard in the last Congress, which resulted in the enactment of critical laws such as the Magna Carta of the Poor, the Institutionalization of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act, and Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act, among others.
“I hope the majority can take a good look at the performance of our colleagues in the minority. They have done an incredible job as chairs of their committees and they can still do more in the next Congress,” he said.