SEVERAL Liberal Party (LP) senators have lost their committee chairmanships and were kicked out of the majority bloc during the Senate reorganization on Monday, February 27.
On Senator Manny Pacquiao’s motion, LP Senator Franklin Drilon was removed from his post as Senate President Pro-Tempore.
Drilon, who second Pacquiao’s motion, was replaced by Senator Ralph Recto, who switched to the majority from being the minority leader.
Pacquiao also moved the chairmanships of the committees on agriculture and education, which were both chaired by LP members, be declared vacant.
During the plenary session, Senator Cynthia Villar replaced LP president Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan as chair of the Senate committee on agriculture.
Leaving the minority bloc, Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero meanwhile replaced LP Senator Benigno Paolo “Bam” Aquino as chair of the Senate committee on education.
Hontiveros, who ran under the LP during the last May 2016 senatorial election, was replaced by Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) Senator JV Ejercito.
Drilon, Pangilinan, Aquino, and Hontiveros are now part the Senate minority, led by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte.
In a press conference on the same day, Pangilinan claimed that the revamp was planned by the Duterte administration.
“This is a part of their plans because this administration is not comfortable with our criticism of some of their policies,” the senator said. “We voice out our opinions on certain policies and orders. It seems that the administration wants total support, may they be right or wrong, and we can’t allow that.”
Notably, the four senators stripped of the chairmanships in their respective committees earlier expressed their support for LP Senator Leila De Lima, a staunch critic of Duterte’s war on drugs and the alleged rise of extrajudicial killings in the country.
De Lima was arrested last week after a warrant of arrest was issued for the drug-related charges filed against her by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The LP senators also reportedly attended a rally on Saturday, February 25 as part of commemorating the 31st People Power anniversary that ended the regime of late President Ferdinand Marcos as the country’s dictator.
“If this is the price to pay to show up in the streets of EDSA talking about democracy, talking about the issues of violence in our streets, if this is the price to pay then I gladly pay this price,” Aquino said.
Hontiveros, for her part, remarked that she’d “whole-heartedly accept being a part of the minority” if staying with the majority means associating herself “with a violent administration that has no respect for human rights.”
‘Clear lines have to be drawn’
Sought for comments, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo clarified that Duterte did not play a hand in the recent reorganization of Senate leadership.
“I think the policy of the president is not to interfere with the other branches of the government,” Panelo told reporters on Tuesday. “If I hear right, those who replaced the current senators belong to the same party. Otherwise, the allies of Malacañang should have been placed there.”
Following the reshuffling of positions on Monday, Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel assured that the Senate will remain “independent and true to its role as the last bastion of democracy in our country.”
Pimentel said that the majority of the senators decided that “clear lines have to be drawn” in order for them “to best achieve the Senate’s legislative agenda.”
“Work in the Senate has been hampered by the blurring of the lines between the majority and the minority to the detriment of public interest. There have been instances where the majority, instead of closing ranks, ended up divided,” Pimentel said in a statement.
Pacquiao, who initiated the motions to strip the LP members of their chairmanship posts, also insisted that Duterte played no hand in the reorganization of the Senate positions.
Like Pimentel, Pacquiao also stressed that the revamp is needed for legislative processes to move.