Expert warns of 'tyranny of majority' in Senate

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 07 2019 04:52 PM

MANILA – A governance expert has warned of a “tyranny of majority” in the Senate if the leaders of 24-member upper chamber of Congress fail to give some key committees to members of the minority.

Dr. Maria Fe Villamejor-Mendoza, Dean of the University of the Philippines’ National College of Public Administration and Governance, noted that minority senators should have a say on committee chairmanships.

She added, committee chairmanships should be given according to a senator’s capacity and advocacy.

“It’s a tyranny of the majority. Tatatlo na lang nga physically present dun tapos parang yung minority will just be given the leftovers,” Mendoza told ABS-CBN News.

(It’s a tyranny of the majority. Only three of the minority senators will be physically present in the Senate and they will just be given leftovers.)

“Their hands are tied. Iyung power and authority nila wala na, clipped na. Paano pa sila gagalaw? Second-class citizens sila doon ang mangyayari,” she added.

(Their hands are tied. Their power and authority have been clipped. How will they move? They will become second-class citizens.)

The remaining minority senators are all incumbents and thus, following the “equity of the incumbent” principle, have the say whether to keep or let go of their committee chairmanships.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, however, said some incoming senators are eyeing the committees chaired by minority senators.

None of the 8 candidates of opposition slate Otso Diretso snagged a slot in the recently concluded midterm polls, providing the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte an avenue to consolidate its power and push for its legislative priorities with little to no hurdle.

Already decimated in the 17th Congress, the Senate minority is expected to see its influence further diminished in the 18th Congress when two of its members - Senators Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV and Antonio Trillanes IV - leave the chamber. 

Come the opening of the new session of Congress in July, the Senate minority will only have four members – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, detained Sen. Leila de Lima, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, and Sen. Francis Pangilinan.

“Ang hirap ng ganoong arrangement kasi kung majority ka you have all the perks. Tapos kung minority ka, yun na lang natira.”

(That’s a difficult arrangement because if you’re in the majority you have all the perks. The minority senators get what’s left.)

Despite the so-called “distribution of spoils,” Mendoza’s only hope is seeing Sotto maintaining an independent institution in the next Congress.

Sotto, in his valedictory address at the closing of the 17th Congress, touted of a “cooperative but independent, balanced, transparent and sincere” Senate under his leadership, as his colleagues praised how he managed the affairs of the chamber.

Trillanes, who will formally end his term on June 30, for his part, said the minority will still be potent in the upcoming Congress even if its membership has dwindled.

Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon, a veteran in the upper chamber, can still efficiently lead the bloc with the help of Hontiveros, De Lima, and Pangilinan, Trillanes said.

“They are very good legislators and at the same time, very active advocates and fiscalizers, so hindi mapipilayan ang minority in any way (the minority will not be handicapped),” Trillanes said in a news forum on Thursday.

Even outgoing Sen. Francis Escudero who used to be a part of the minority bloc doesn’t see any problem with only four opposition figures in the Senate.

“Sa mga nakaraang Senado nga minsan ang oposisyon, isa o dalawa lang pero nagampanan pa rin nila ang kanilang tungkulin, lalo na siguro kung apat sila,” Escudero said.

(In past Congress, sometimes the Senate opposition was composed of only 1 or 2 members, what more now that they are 4?)