Battle for Senate committee chairmanships far from over - sources

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 17 2019 07:59 PM

MANILA - The battle for the chairmanship of highly coveted committees in the Senate is far from over, sources have told ABS-CBN News.

The sources disclosed that at least three senators from the Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) regional party are still eyeing to head the committees on education, arts and culture; constitutional amendments and revision of codes; and electoral reforms and people’s participation.

The education committee was vacated by former senator and now Sorsogon Governor Francis Escudero.

The constitutional amendments committee, meanwhile, is chaired by minority Sen. Francis Pangilinan, while the electoral reforms committee is led by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III.

Pimentel has agreed to relinquish the committee chairmanship as he would take the place of former senator and now Antique Rep. Loren Legarda as chair of the foreign relations committee.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson has also expressed interest in the electoral reforms committee, a panel also being eyed by neophyte senator Imee Marcos, who herself has filed a bill seeking to end the “dominance” of automated election system provider Smartmatic in the Philippine electoral system.

One of the sources said the majority bloc of the 17th Congress does not want to give the committee to Marcos due to “conflict of interest.”

The source was referring to the electoral protest of Marcos’ brother former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo. The electoral protest is currently being heard by the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

Meanwhile, Sen. Pia Cayetano is said to be batting for the education committee for her “strong advocacy" on the sector. The panel, which will be split into the basic education and higher education committees in the 18th Congress, was already committed to Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian and Sen. Joel Villanueva, respectively.

Villanueva and Gatchalian in recent interviews have already expressed their determination to get the education committees. Both senators are up for reelection in 2022.

The issue will be “put into a vote” if it remains unsolved until July 22, the opening of session, sources privy to the talks said. 

HNP EYEING CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS COMMITTEE

The Senate leadership has already committed the constitutional amendments committee to the minority bloc led by Sen. Franklin Drilon. 

The panel, considered critical amid the administration's push for charter change towards the federalism shift, is currently led by Pangilinan, an opposition stalwart. 

But the sources said that following a recent meeting, senators from HNP, a party led by the President's daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, asked that the panel be given to one of them.

One of the sources said the HNP is eyeing Tolentino for the post.

Asked what could be the agenda of the HNP for asking for the said committee days before the session formally opens on July 22, one of the sources said: “Baka gusto nilang itulak ng husto ang federalism… eh gusto ng maraming senador economic provision lang (ang baguhin)… saka constitutional convention kung sakali.”

(Maybe they want to push for federalism, but many senators want to change just the economic provisions of the Constitution and amend the charter through constitutional convention.)

The administration prefers to change the charter through a constituent assembly, where lawmakers themselves would convene to tackle proposed amendments. It believes that this mode is more cost-effective compared to a constitutional convention, where the delegates would have to be elected.

In a text message, Drilon said Senate President Vicente Sotto III has already committed that the constitutional amendments committee would still be headed by Pangilinan “under the equity of the incumbent principle which SP Sotto used as a guide.”

“Having worked with and known SP Sotto for more than two decades, I can rely on that commitment,” Drilon added.
As for the HNP’s intention to snatch the constitutional amendments committee from the minority bloc, Drilon said: “No. I have not received that information”.

Meanwhile, the chairmanship post for the ways and means committee, led by Sen. Sonny Angara, remains vacant.

The panel remains to be the most unpopular committee in the Senate as it deals with proposed tax measures.