The sad state of the Philippine Senate

From the looks of it, incumbent Senate President Vicente ‘Tito’ Sotto will remain as head of the upper chamber of the country’s bicameral Congress.

This is important because under the Philippine Constitution, the Senate President is next in line after the Vice President should anything happen to the President.

While the country’s political system is closely patterned after the US, one big difference is that the Speaker of the House in the Philippines does not have the same clout nor the respect of his/her US counterpart.

At the start of this week, 13 of the 24 senators have indicated that they are still backing Sotto, or at least they said they would by virtue of their signing a resolution supporting the continued stay of the current Senate president.

The resolution was unnecessary, according to senior Senator and minority head Franklin Drilon, since there was no official move to unseat the former TV-movie comedian.

Since it was Senator Manny Pacquiao who sponsored the resolution, Drilon was again given the chance to question another seemingly illogical step taken by the professional boxer-turned-politician.

As usual, the pugilist known as PacMan struggled to give a rational answer, and he again failed miserably.

One popular video clip doing the rounds of social media has Drilon questioning Pacquiao’s bid to set up a boxing commission, a step that the senior senator from Iloilo found to be a total waste of time.

Fans of the so-called Pambansang Kamao say that Drilon was plain and simply bullying their idol. Critics say that the minority leader is simply teaching the youngish lawmaker valuable lessons in legislative work.

This week, it was Senator Cynthia Villar’s turn to put Pacquiao in his place.

Fresh off her ending up as the topnotcher in the May mid-term elections, a handful of senators have been egging the wife of brown taipan Manny Villar to seek the Senate presidency.

Straying from her usual soft spoken persona, Villar put Pacquiao down when he tried to get her to sign the resolution. Speaking in the vernacular, she very icily told him, “Why should I sign that?”

This, after Villar noted that Pacquiao had been causing dissention within the Senate by misleading some members who may or may not be supportive of Sotto in a gathering where the idea for a resolution was initially broached.

Of course, Sotto wants to stay on as Senate president. He even said that President Duterte should not support any move that would revamp the present leadership, as this would negatively affect his priority bills. Sotto went so far as to claim that removing him as Senate president would turn Mr. Duterte into a lameduck president.

The Senate majority is a fragile gathering since the 20-members belong to different parties, each with its own agenda.

Sotto belongs to the Nationalist People’s Coalition. Villar is with the Nacionalista Party, and reliable sources informed yours truly that her husband is seriously thinking of running for president in 2022. Manny Villar came close, but fate intervened and Noynoy Aquino became president in 2010. The others are mostly with the PDP-Laban, including Senator Koko Pimentel, who did not know what hit him when he was voted out of the Senate presidency by his own partymates.

Why then did the PDP-Laban remove Pimentel and replace him with Sotto?

The short answer is because Philippine senators, just like congressmen (or representatives as they prefer to be called), have no sense of party loyalty. They shift from party to party as a matter of convenience.

Unlike in the US where anyone elected as a Democrat will most likely remain a Democrat until the end of his or her days. Ditto with the Republicans.

When the two-party system was eradicated after Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, the country’s democratic institutions were permanently weakened. The Senate is the prime example of a once respected institution going to the dogs because party affiliations are basically meaningless.

Both the pre-martial law Nacionalista Party (now headed by Manny Villar) and the Liberal Party (with Vice President Leni Robredo as titular head) are still around, but today’s version is a hollow shell of what they once were.

As with all the parties represented in both houses of Congress, no one really knows what they represent.

The only good thing about today’s Senate? There are no party-list senators.

This useless party-list system we now have is another political animal that has lost its reason for being. I will delve on this in a future column.