By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he hopes to iron out the conflict between incumbent and incoming senators over the chairmanship of committees in the Upper Chamber.
Sotto, when asked an interview over radio DZMM Wednesday, did not deny the dispute between incumbent senators and senators-elect who are lobbying for their preferred Senate committees for the next Congress.
Returning senators, he said, expressed intentions to get the committees they formerly held; while neophyte senators also want committees currently chaired by incumbent senators.
While he understands the respective advocacies and expertise of the senators, Sotto, however, maintained that the chamber follows the “equity of the incumbent” rule.
The Senate President, he repeated, does not decide on the committee chairmanships but the whole majority bloc.
“Bobotohan ng mga miyembro ‘yon, bobotohan sa floor ‘yon…Ang akala nung mga bago, ang may hawak nito si Senate President lang (Members of the majority will vote on the chairmanships in plenary. The new members thought the Senate President only has a say on it),” Sotto said.
In a separate television interview, the Senate leader said the tight race for chairmanship concerns four committees: Blue Ribbon, Justice, Education and Public Services.
“As a matter of fact, right now there are probably only two or three committees that are really giving us a headache,” Sotto told ANC. He later corrected it to four.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, currently chaired by Senator Richard Gordon, tackles and conducts legislative inquiries into the possible malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance by public officials and employees, and other matters of public interest.
Sen. Grace Poe, who won another term in Senate, earlier admitted wanting to chair the said Blue Ribbon committee. Senator-elect Francis Tolentino was also reported as eyeing the chairmanship of the major Senate panel.
But Gordon, reportedly, has no plans to relinquish his chairmanship.
Gordon also chairs the Justice and Human Rights panel, which handles measures relating to organization and administration of justice, civil courts, penitentiaries, and reformatory schools; as well as impeachment complaints against impeachable officials in government.
Poe, on the other hand, chairs Senate Public Services. She earlier expressed plans to keep her chairmanship of the said panel tackling public utility and transportation, among others.
Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Joel Villanueva have also been very vocal about their desire to chair the Senate Committee on Education, Culture and Arts, which is currently held by Sorsogon governor-elect and outgoing Sen. Francis Escudero.
But the two would also have to compete with returning senator Pia Cayetano, who, Sotto said, wants to get the committee she previously handled.
Senator-elect Ronald dela Rosa, meanwhile, is poised to get the chairmanship of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs after Sen. Panfilo Lacson agreed to relinquish his post for the former police chief.
Former presidential aide Christopher “Bong” Go is also expected to take over the Health committee now being led by Sen. JV Ejercito, who lost in his bid for reelection.
Sotto said Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos also expressed interest to chair the Ways and Means panel tackling tax measures. Reelected Sen. Sonny Angara was reported having plans to vacate his chairmanship of the committee to lead the Finance committee instead.
Sotto urged those jockeying for the same committees to talk among themselves to settle their conflicts.
“Pwede nang magpakiusapan. Kung tatlo kayo, kursunada ninyo yung isang committee, mag-usap na kayong tatlo, di ba?…Pag hindi kayo magkasundo-sundo, kami ang magdedesisyon, bobotohan namin,” Sotto explained to DZMM.
He noted that the majority bloc senators usually prevent voting on disputing aspirants for the same committees. Because losing senators, he said, might join the Senate minority bloc.
Sotto said incumbent majority senators and incoming senators will meet next week to clarify with their new colleagues the traditions and processes being followed in the Upper Chamber.
“Hopefully, sa awa ng Panginoon, baka mahilot naman natin. God-permitting,” the Senate chief said.