REPASO 2018: The year of power struggle: Who’s in, who’s out?

Marje Pelayo   •   December 31, 2018   •   3252

(L-R) House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Ousted Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III

Tension filled the House of Representatives hours before President Rodrigo Duterte’s third state of the nation address (SONA) on July 23.

Several members of the House wanted the ouster of then House Speaker and Davao Del Norte Representative Pantaleon Alvarez to give way to Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo.

Later on, the microphones at the podium went off preventing Arroyo allies to speak. The HOR’s mace or the official seal was also nowhere to be found.

But nothing could stop the pro-Arroyo lawmakers as they held their own voting and elected Arroyo as the new Speaker of the House.

The commotion delayed the President’s SONA for an hour tagging Arroyo as ‘scene-stealer’ and ‘attention grabber’.

The President’s SONA went on with Alvarez still the House Speaker alongside the Senate President at the podium.

The SONA went smooth as if nothing happened but after the President left the Lower House, over 200 congressmen resumed an extended session to formalize the voting.

184 congressmen voted ‘yes’ to Arroyo while 12 abstained.

“There are no rules being followed, walang saysay ito,” argued Rep. Edcel Lagman.

Minutes later, Arroyo sworn into office.

 

Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (right, wearing pink) being sworn into office by Ang Kabuhayan Rep. Dennis Laogan

But the drama did not end there because what followed next was dubbed as the ‘House Minority squabble’.

Most members of the House opposed Quezon Representative Danilo Suarez to be the House Minority leader as he was among the ‘front runners’ of the Arroyo-for-Speaker move.

“This will be a clear culpable grave abuse of discretion on the part of the leadership of the house to recognize Danny Suarez as a minority leader because it would be and admission by the leadership that they conspired with the minority to over throw Alvarez,” argued then House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Rudy Fariñas during the House chaos on July 23.

“Kapag ang pumili at bumasbas sa minority ay majority, ano ang maaasahan natin dito hindi tunay na oposisyon. Sabi nga company union,” said ACT Teachers Party list Rep. Antonio Tinio on August 7.

“We need to take it to the Supreme Court para may stability rin para sa House. Nakakahiya para sa ating kongreso na ang minority leader ay in-appoint ng majority,” argued Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo on August 7.

But in the end, Suarez prevailed and the House leadership approved him as the House Minority Leader.

Arroyo allies were criticized for being ‘power grabber.’

“Nakakahiya na pinapakita natin sa lahat na iyong pag-wrestle ng power, parang in full public view,” expressed Vice President Leni Robredo.

But still, the lawmakers maintained that Arroyo’s and Suarez’s position were in accordance with the law.

“There is nothing to correct we stand by our position that the proceedings yesterday were valid, legal and binding, period,” maintained Former Davao City Representative Karlo Nograles on July 24.

After a week, Arroyo and Alvarez had a one-on-one talk to iron out things between them. Arroyo, however, refused to give details on what transpired in the meeting.

When asked about the alleged power struggle, Alvarez said he already moved on.

“Okay naman ako sinabi ko nga ako the pain lasted for only 24 hours after that wala na,” he said in an interview on August 2.

Malacañang, meanwhile, clarified that President Duterte has nothing to do with the squabble in the HOR as the decision has been made purely by the congressmen.

Similar to the Lower House, the Senate of the Philippines also made a sudden turnover of leadership.

Sixteen senators voted to name Senator Vicente Sotto III as the new Senate President in lieu of Senator Aquilino Pimentel III.

In an unusual move, Senator Pimentel himself nominated Sotto for the position.

Pimentel said he decided to step down to prepare for his bid in the 2019 elections but reports said the main reason was Pimentel’s inaction on some priority bills such as the Duterte administration’s tax reform and the revival of death penalty.

On December 11, the Lower House passed the proposed Charter change but the Senate remains cold on the matter.

The Supreme Court also had its twists and turn when former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was ousted via quo warranto plea filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.

Calida argued that Sereno failed to submit her Statement of Assets Liabilities and Networth (SALN) required of a government official. Without this, Calida m, Sereno’s appointment as chief justice was invalid.

Eight magistrates voted for Sereno’s ouster while six opposed.

Justice Teresita De Castro took over the SC and was named the first (official) woman and the shortest serving chief justice in the country.

De Castro retired after six months in office and was replaced by Justice Lucas Bersamin. – Marje Pelayo (with reports from Grace Casin)

Duterte’s China visit to skip Fujian province

Marje Pelayo   •   August 23, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte and his delegation are set to fly to China for a working visit in response to the invitation from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

It will be Duterte’s fifth visit to Beijing and his eight meeting with Xi.

The two leaders will meet on August 29 when they will discuss several agreements on education, science and technology, economy and social development.

The President himself also stressed that he would insist the Hague Arbitral Ruling during his meeting with the Chinese President along with other sensitive issues like the code of conduct and joint exploration in the disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

“We cannot preempt what does the President will discuss in particular regarding the arbitral ruling. So, it will be his call during the meeting with the President with his counterpart,” explained Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Meynardo Montealegre.

The Philippine delegation will also attend a business forum in China in cooperation with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

The President’s itinerary includes a meeting with Vice President Wang Qishan and some relax time in the opening of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Guanzhou on August 31 in support to the Philippines’ GILAS team in their game against Italy.

Meanwhile, contrary to earlier announcements, President Duterte will no longer push through with his visit to Fujian province where he was supposed to grace the launching of a university building as tribute to his mother, Soledad.

According to the President’s close in staff, this is not the right time for it.

“But for this particular visit, there was a plan and then the recommendation now is to move it at a later date because it’s more appropriate to be done at a later date and not at this particular time,” noted Robert Borje, the Chief of the Presidential Protocol and Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs. – MNP (with details from Rosalie Coz)


Drilon, Sotto question basis for possible release of ex-Mayor Sanchez

Robie de Guzman   •   August 22, 2019

Senate President Vicente Sotto III (L) and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon (R)

MANILA, Philippines – The possible early release from jail of former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted for rape and murder of two students in the 1990s, has sparked outrage among the public including several senators.

Sanchez was sentenced in 1995 to seven terms of reclusion perpetua (or 40 years of imprisonment) over the rape and murder of Eileen Sarmenta, and the murder of her companion Allan Gomez.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) earlier said Sanchez might soon walk free due to a 2013 law that increased good conduct time allowance (GCTA) and a Supreme court ruling last June applying this law retroactively.

The application of good conduct time allowance, which reduces the years and days spent in jail has been stated in the Philippine Revised Penal Code.

But under the Republic Act 10592 signed by then President Benigno S. Aquino III in May 2013, the periods that may be credited for good conduct to inmates was expanded.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who was the country’s justice secretary during Sanchez’s conviction, said he was shocked and saddened by the news and questioned the applicability of the new GCTA rule to Sanchez.

READ: Drilon seeks Senate probe on reduced sentence of convicted rapist ex-Mayor Sanchez

Drilon cited the allegations of possession of illegal drugs against Sanchez in 2006 when a prison guard found a packet of shabu and marijuana in his jail cell. In 2010, he was again caught with P1.5 million worth of shabu.

Five years after, authorities seized an air conditioning unit and a television set from his cell.

“Ang balita ay involved siya sa drug trade sa Muntinlupa. Paano naman siya nagkaroon ng allowance for conduct of good behavior? Ang balita pa natin ay mayroon siyang aircon sa kaniyang kulungan. Paano naman naging good conduct ito?” Drilon said.

“Is Mayor Sanchez really qualified under RA 10592? This is a question of fact, so it is best for the Department of Justice to put on hold its decision until these issues are resolved,” he added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III echoed Drilon’s sentiments.

“Possession of illegal drugs is good behavior?” he asked.

Both senators warned the Bureau of Corrections and the Bureau of Pardon and Parole to carefully compute sentence reduction of Sanchez and the thousands of other inmates who may be eligible for early release under the new rule.

“Kapag sila ay hindi nag-comply sa law o nagkaroon ng maling computation they can be subject to one year imprisonment, P100,000 fine and perpetual disqualification from office pati sa mga nagko-compute ng mali aba ay mananagot pa sila,” Sotto said.

“Kung talagang ipipilit nila, I would assist the Sarmenta family to bring the case before the regular courts. Iku-question natin ang exercise of the discretion to release Antonio Sanchez,” Drilon said.

The two senators have filed separate resolutions calling on their colleagues to probe into the sentence reduction of Sanchez, and amend the provision of the Republic Act 10592 to exclude from the granting of pardon and parole those who were found guilty of committing heinous crimes.

“Basta’t classified na heinous crimes hindi dapat mag-qualify, dapat reclusion perpetua ka tutal ayaw nyo ng death penalty sige reclusion perpetua ka. You die in your cell,” Sotto said. (RRD with details from Grace Casin)

Sotto says SOGIE bill no chance of getting Senate nod if…

Robie de Guzman   •   August 22, 2019

28-year-old transgender woman Gretchen Diaz at the Senate hearing deliberating the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill. Calls for the passage of the bill sparked anew following a viral video showing Diaz being barred from using the women’s restroom at a shopping mall in the Philippines. (Prib photo: Joseph Vidal/20 August 2019)

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the proposed Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality bill has no chance of passing in the Senate.

In a message to reporters, Sotto said the Senate could pass an anti-discrimination bill but not one that is focused only on members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community.

“Anti-discrimination on persons pwede. Pero focused on gays, which the SOGIE bill is, and religious and academic freedom impeded plus smuggling of same sex marriage? No chance!” he said on Wednesday.

Sotto clarified his statement on Thursday, saying the bill has no chance of getting Senate’s nod if it violates certain freedom, including women’s rights.

“It has no chance of passing in the Senate, ‘IF’ it transgresses on academic freedom, religious freedom, and women’s rights,” he said in a statement.

The SOGIE bill, filed by Senator Risa Hontiveros, seeks to criminalize discrimination on basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

She earlier urged her colleagues to immediately pass the measure following the incident where a transgender woman was barred from using a female comfort room at a mall in Quezon City.

Hontiveros refiled the bill in the 18th Congress after the previous Congress failed to approve the measure.

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