Sotto: 'It must be an independent Senate'

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

A senator is not a mere follower of the President.

This was Senate President Vicente Sotto's reminder to Sen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa and other neophyte members of the Upper Chamber, who had reservations voting on the resolution that might put into question President Duterte's authority to terminate treaties without the Senate's concurrence.

Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III gestures after elected as a newly Senate President at Senate Building in Pasay city, May 21,2018.(Czar Dancel) Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III

Seven administration allies abstained on the adoption on Monday of Senate Resolution No. 337, which asks the Supreme Court to rule on whether or not the concurrence of the Senate is needed in the abrogation of treaties and international agreements.

They believe Duterte, as the architect of the Philippines' foreign policy, has the sole authority to scrap agreements that were ratified by the Senate.

During the voting, Dela Rosa aired ill feelings about the adoption of the resolution, saying that Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, being a member of the opposition, should be "thankful" that the majority of the chamber voted to adopt the resolution.

"Hindi naman tamang thinking 'yon (That is not the proper way of thinking)," Sotto told reporters when asked to comment on the first-time lawmaker's remarks.

"Perhaps later on, he (Dela Rosa) will realize that being a senator is different than just being a follower of the administration," he added.

Sotto maintained that the Senate should be independent from the executive branch. "You should always side on what is good for the people. And you should always side on what is good for the Senate."

Sotto said seeking the SC's ruling on the dispute over treaty abrogations does not equate to going against the President's decision, but to assert the authority of the Senate as an institution.

"We're protecting the institution. It must be an independent Senate. That is the reason the Constitution made it that way. Otherwise mag-unicameral na lang tayo, alisin na natin 'yong Senado (let's shift to a unicameral government, remove the Senate), kung gusto niyo lahat ng sasabihin ng Presidente ay pwede (if you want that everything the president orders will be allowed)," he pointed out.

"So again, there must be check and balance, that is the reason why we have three branches of government."

Ill feelings

Dela Rosa on Tuesday lamented feeling left out as a member of the Senate majority bloc after more of his colleagues, including opposition senators, voted to pass the resolution asking the Supreme Court to clarify the Senate's role in the abrogation of treaties.

He said he felt his opinions were "not valued" by his fellow senators, claiming their group were usually "overruled" in several issues.

He said he was expecting that the majority bloc "should always win" against the chamber's minority group, which had not been the case in the adoption of the Senate Resolution No. 337.

"Meaning kami na ang minority dito sa Senado, hindi na kami majority (we are the new minority here in the Senate and not the majority anymore)," he told reporters.

Sotto was surprised with Dela Rosa's lamentations, and denied that they were alienating the first-time senators in their discussions.

"Hindi pwedeng all the time, porke majority ka, pag member ka ng majority, hindi pwedeng all the time ay lahat ng gusto mo, pagbobotohan mo, mananalo, hindi ganoon (That's not possible, that just because you are a member of the majority, your votes will always prevail, that's not how it is). This is the Senate, the Philippine Senate. It’s a different story. It’s not like any other institution in the Philippines," he said.

Sotto said he does not have any plans to talk about Dela Rosa and the new Senate members about their grievances.

" when you're a senator, you should know your job, what your work is. You don't need to vote in favor of everything, you don't need to vote against everything," he said.

Time to learn

Sotto, on the other hand, surmised that Dela Rosa was just being a "normal" neophyte senator, especially having been one of Duterte's men as a former Philippine National Police director-general, and later on as a Bureau of Corrections chief.

"Minsan kasi (Because sometimes) if you are a fledgling senator, you will need more time to get the ins and outs of the Senate," he said.

"Natututunan lang 'yon (That is learned). Mas madali 'yon pag galing ka sa local government legislative body, o sa House of Representatives (It would be easier if you came from a local government legislative body, or the House of Representatives). Pero pag ikaw ay galing sa executive, iba ang dating sa'yo (But if you came from the executive, you will really have a different perspective)," he added. "Probably this would be a learning curve for some of our colleagues in the Senate on how the Senate works."

As for the others, Sotto surmised that that "they did not want to offend the President."

He said two of the seven senators approached him last night to explain that they were only "nakikisama (getting along)" with the other administration allies.

"Siguro (Maybe) they know the resolution is correct. I feel that some of them know the resolution is correct. That is the reason why they abtstained and did not vote against. Because if you think the resolution is wrong, then you vote against, 'di ba (right)?," Sotto said.

He refused to name the two senators.