In search of leaders for 18th Congress

In search of leaders for 18th Congress Featured

SOME know-it-alls just don’t get it. Our legislative branch is bicameral, composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Their constituencies are different from each other. The Senate has a national constituency, elected at large and individual senators are independent republics, while the House is by district, hence very local in orientation.

The Senate is a continuing body while the House of Representatives is not. The Senate as a continuing body is composed of 12 members while all the House members end their terms after three years. That is why the Senate President remains while the Speaker takes a bow. The Senate President holds on to the gavel until he is removed through a motion made on the floor.

Ours is a deliberative democracy. It is built on consensus and compromise, never a dictate of the leadership. Its power is plenary; no decisions are carried without plenary debate and vote. The heart and soul of the legislative maze is the committee system and the controlling rules committee chaired by the majority leader. Quorum is an operative and controlling principle in any deliberative body. Nothing comes through without quorum, and the rules of the chamber are the holy grail in getting things done.

Congress is made up of three sessions and by noon of June 30, the rite of passage will commence for the 18th Congress of the Republic. Before the 18th Congress can deal with the business of the day, it has to organize and constitute its standing committees and elect their officers. And by the third Monday of July, Congress meets in a joint session to receive the President and listen to his SONA.

The Senate President needs a vote of 13 senators to remain or for another to assume leadership of the Senate. Among the continuing 12, four are with the Liberal Party, who constitute the minority. There were 12 elected in May 2019, two of whom are independent — Poe and Binay. The Sotto group only needs one from the new senators to constitute the majority. If the so-called new Senate bloc doesn’t play its cards well, it could potentially destroy the present majority in the Senate and create a new minority.

Sotto has been in the Senate for 26 years. He has served nine Senate presidents. Sotto is the Senate’s most senior member today. He first entered the legislative body in 1992. He had the support of 16 senators when he assumed the leadership of the Senate.

The argument that the No. 1 senator should be Senate President does not hold water in an institution steeped in tradition like the Senate. The No. 1 senators post-martial law were Salonga (1987), Sotto (1992), Macapagal-Arroyo (1995), Legarda (1998), de Castro (2001), Roxas (2004), Legarda (2007), Revilla (2010), Poe (2013), Drilon (2016) and Villar (2019). Of the 10 prior to 2019, only two became Senate presidents: Salonga and Sotto. Salonga was a hands-down favorite coming from the EDSA People Power revolution. Why is being No. 1 not a good criterion for Senate President? Because being No. 1 clouds the amygdala of the person. She or he has more votes than the sitting president of the Republic. And there is no prohibition for a sitting senator to run for the presidency and return to his or her Senate seat if she or he does not make it. Of the 10 top senators, only Macapagal-Arroyo became president by being elected VP in 1998, president by succession in 2001 and president by election in 2004. The other is de Castro who became VP to Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004.

Critics of Speaker Macapagal-Arroyo voiced their “what can she do in so short a time” objections when she was elected Speaker in July 2018. What her critics can’t handle is the fact that as a former president, she knows what it takes and what is needed for PRRD to succeed with his legislative agenda. PGMA as SGMA was quoted as saying, “I will endeavor to carry out the legislative agenda of PRRD in the lower house.” She has presided over the passage of five major pieces of legislation: BARMM (RA 11054), Rice Tariffication Law (RA 11203), Tax Amnesty Act (RA11213), Universal Health Care (RA11223) and Small-scale Mining Reform (RA 11256). Twelve priority bills of PRRD are awaiting action from the Senate: Security of Tenure Act, Coconut Industry Trust Fund, Department of Disaster and Resilience, Trabaho bill, Fiscal Reform for the Mining Industry, Amending Excise Tax on Alcohol Products, Increasing Excise Tax on Tobacco Products, Reforms in Real Property Valuation and Assessment, Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act, Revision to the 1987 Constitution, and Expanding the Scope of Reformation and Rehabilitation of Children in Conflict with the Law and Strengthening the Social Reintegration Programs. All these in 68 session days, a record in the history of the House.

There is value in having an economist, former senator, VP and president as Speaker of the House. Her work ethic is beyond question, her intellectual powers remain sharp and her ability to get things done complements what PRRD needs to get his reform agenda moving. Do you need to be a lawyer to be effective as Speaker? The answer there is a big ‘no.’ Would one need to be a specialist? Again, no. The Speaker we need for the 18th Congress should be a generalist with advanced managerial skills, can command respect of the 297 members, can reach out and obtain a bipartisan support for a major piece of legislation, has earned his spurs, and labored and toiled in the very institution he has served well. He has to be an elder statesman, someone who can dig deep from history economic models and financial reports to guide the ship of state in the remaining three years of the Duterte administration. The Speaker is crucial to get the budget passed on schedule and secure the legacy agenda of PRRD.

The names being mentioned — Martin Romualdez, Lord Velasco and Alan Peter Cayetano — are lawyers and indeed come from the next generation of leaders. Romualdez is from Leyte, Velasco from Marinduque and Cayetano from Taguig. Romualdez is an old political family dating back to the 1970s. Cayetano is from the 1990s and Velasco is an upstart when compared to the two. He is, however, the son of a former Supreme Court justice and my bias there is that he is from Mimaropa. Marinduque and Mimaropa has not had a Speaker ever. Imagine what he can bring to the province and the region.

But there is one that has not been mentioned and that is Ronaldo B. Zamora, the gentleman from San Juan. Zamora, bar topnotcher in 1969 and TOYM awardee in 1972, started his career in public service in 1978 as a member of the Batasan Pambansa from Metro Manila. He is a former executive secretary to President Estrada, and minority leader in the 14th Congress. Zamora is going on his third and last term in this 18th Congress and won’t be using the position of the Speaker as a launching pad for higher office. Zamora is not a puppet of anyone. Though admittedly a member of an oligarchic family, Zamora has the seniority needed for the position of Speaker. He has 24 years of experience as a legislator. He has the spurs to prove so and understands economic and fiscal issues like the back of his hand. Although a Marcos technocrat, Zamora may just be the compromise candidate for the speakership, a swan song to cap his years in public service.

The last three years of PRRD won’t be a walk in the park. He will have to stay the course and would need seasoned hands to help him get the ship across and ready for the next able hands. No, the idea is not to think of 2022 but of 2022 and 2028. You need 12 more years to finish the plans in Mindanao. Eleven of the top 20 poorest provinces are in Mindanao. Complete the plan for Mindanao, we win the war on poverty in the island.000
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