Changing the Senate

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is doing battle on several fronts for the May 2022 elections: ensuring there is honest, orderly and peaceful elections by warning that he would use the military, getting ahead of the Commission on Elections, which technically has control over the military and police during the campaign period and on election day; signing his certificate of nomination and acceptance, and making the affair public for everyone to see that he is serious about running for vice president; and releasing the names of the administration's Senate slate.

This article was originally published in The Manila Times on September 28, 2021

The administration party, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) Cusi wing, has released a lineup of candidates that does not carry any reelectionist for May 2022, another first. The individual names are made up of Cabinet members and two members of the House, a total of eight names: Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez, Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, and Cabinet Secretaries Arthur Tugade, Salvador Panelo, Silvestre Bello 3rd, Greco Belgica, Mark Villar and Harry Roque Jr. Belgica, Marcoleta, Villar and Roque are guest candidates since they are from other national parties.

The jockeying for the last four slots to be included in the slate is fierce in light of what Duterte was able to accomplish in the midterm: win 12-0 and getting three of his personal bets in from a strategy that was practiced only in Davao. That Duterte was able to have two slates for the Senate in the midterm is already proof of his prodigious political acumen and strength. His daughter led a regional party barnstorming the country with her endorsed slate and a PDP-Laban slate that saw Duterte campaigning for certain candidates heavily via tv ads. Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go, Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa and Francis "Tol" Tolentino were individual proof of the different strategies Duterte tested during this election cycle. Mercurial was Go who by only the second week of the campaign period, rose to fourth then third and remained there until the end.

Out of the two slates identified with the administration, nine individuals won while three independents made it. The three independents were Mary Grace Poe, Maria Lourdes "Nancy" Binay and Lito Lapid and the nine were Cynthia Villar, Go, Pia Cayetano, de la Rosa, Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, Maria Imelda Josefa "Imee" Marcos, Tolentino, Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel 3rd and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr.

Today, the following are re-electionists: Leila De Lima, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Ana Theresia "Risa" Hontiveros, Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao, Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, Emmanuel Joel Villanueva and Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri. Lacson and Pacquiao have declared their intention to run for president in May 2022. And considering Duterte didn't have any Senate slate when he ran in 2019, there are no re-electionists that owe their victory in 2019 to Duterte. In fact, De Lima, Hontiveros, Lacson, Pangilinan and Villanueva ran under the Koalisyon ng Daang Matuwid in 2013. Gordon ran as an independent and guest candidate of United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) and Pacquiao was with UNA. Zubiri was independent but was adopted by Partido Galing at Puso, and Gatchalian was Nationalist People's Coalition and in the slate of Partido Galing at Puso.

Why do we need to change the composition of the Senate? Because any constitutional amendment or revision needs seven votes, and it is in this realization that no constitutional change has taken place because of the inability to move from committee to plenary and secure the votes in the Senate as compared to the House of Representatives, which has passed several measures seeking a shift from unitary to federal and presidential to parliamentary system.

No political reform measure has been passed from 2010 to 2021 save Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Our parties are weak and turncoats abound. Worse, in the run-up to 2022, moribund political parties have been bought lock, stock and barrel for the use of those who failed to get the support of their parties for the presidency. Others arrived at a quid pro quo (something for something) arrangement so an individual can be adopted in exchange for the inclusion of some names in the Senate slates or even at the local level.

Who remains in the Senate for the 19th Congress? The Senate is a continuing body unlike the House of Representatives (HoR). There are eleven remaining senators: Angara, Binay, Cayetano, dela Rosa, Go, Lapid, Marcos, Pimentel, Poe, Tolentino and Villar. Who among these will support the federal/parliamentary shift? But even if some may have run under the administration banner, the Senate remains a body of 24 independent republics and there lies the challenge. They think, act and feel like presidents than the president himself and that aggravates the effort to push for constitutional reform.

Based on a Pahayag-Q2 survey, the re-electionists are not performing well. They were occupying ranks 6, 9, 13, 18, 21, 25 and 48. The returning senators are performing much better than the re-electionists such as Francis "Chiz" Escudero, Loren Legarda, Marcos and Cayetano.

Lessons learned from previous administrations are such that the change/revision of the Constitution can only be made during the early part of a term or at the midpoint and never towards the end. Advocates are looking early on how to push this agenda. The People's Draft, a crowd-sourced, 10-page draft constitution, is being pushed by various organizations and individuals who recently filed petitions this September for indirect initiative before the HoR and the Senate. The issues are being pushed in this presidential campaign, in the hope that it can frame the debate to shape the agenda for the next administration.


May 2022 therefore, is not just a mere election for leaders, but an understanding of where the nation should be, how it can achieve those objectives and regain the economic gains pre-pandemic. Continuity will be high in the minds of the voters with the Build, Build, Build and the frontline services the Duterte administration has established and sustained. After all, nation building can be a people's movement. Six years after Duterte, we just might have a real people's movement led by citizens and assisting the government to achieve more for the future.


About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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