The next time Congress meets in session, it will be the 18th Congress, with an entirely new membership of district congressmen and party-list representatives in the House elected last May 13, although many of them were also members of the 17th Congress. As for the Senate, 12 are holdovers from the previous body and 12 were elected last week.
In the old 17th Congress, the Duterte administration had a super-majority of party members and allies in the House, that cooperated readily with the administration in its legislative program. The Senate, however, proved to be a more independent chamber, with so many parties represented and not one majority party in control.
One reason Congress failed to approve the 2019 National Budget in time was the inability of the legislators to agree on so many provisions, with the senators questioning funds suspected to be “pork barrel” inserted by the congressmen. Congress eventually approved the national budget in March with all the disputed fund provisions included, but the President had the last say when he vetoed them.
In the coming 18th Congress, some fears have been expressed that with the victory of so many of President Duterte’s candidates in the Senate elections, there will now be a super-majority of pro-administration senators in the chamber that it may no longer be as independent as previous Senates have been known to be.
Senate President Sotto sought to allay this fear Tuesday when he said, ”I am sure the Senate will remain independent and I will endeavor to keep it that way if our leadership remains intact. I am sure the incoming senators will be aware of this importance.”
In Malacanang, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo also gave his view: “The history of the Senate shows members of that chamber independent ever since. No Senate has ever been under any president. They always rise above parties and considerations, when issues involve national interest, national security, and the interest of the Filipino people.”
Indeed, senators, driven and inspired by their national constituency, have been known to rise when holders of executive power appeared to be getting to be overly authoritative. It was two senators – Benigno S. Aquino Jr. and Jose W. Diokno – who dared to speak out against President Marcos in the months before the declaration of martial law in 1972, that landed them in jail.
The Senate has also become a principal training ground for those who might want to move up and seek the presidency of the country.
We have today several members of the Senate who have been known to take independent stands on many issues. Sen. Panfilo Lacson has long carried on his crusade against congressional pork barrel. Sen. Grace Poe was a steady voice against powerful forces in the previous administration in the Mamasapano and in the MRT cases. Sen. Franklin Drilon has been a steady independent voice on many national issues.
With history behind them and with the national interest so powerfully driving them, we are confident our senators – all of them – will be carrying on the independence of the Philippine Senate.