The Senate presidency

There’s no question about it. If Senator Imee Marcos wants it, she’ll definitely get the Senate presidency. It’s hers for the asking. And her colleagues, in deference to the President, will make no issue out of it. On the other hand, Senator Imee may pass it up to avoid public censure.

The Marcoses may be taken to task if she goes for the position since another close relative, Martin Romualdez, has earlier indicated interest to become the next Speaker of the House where he is currently serving as Majority Leader. And his aspiration is fast gaining the support of many sectors, including that of former President and Speaker of the House, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. If they get the positions, the top three posts in our government—the Presidency, Senate Presidency and the Speakership—will be controlled by one family. By any measure, that is the greatest concentration of power in any so-called democratic state. 

As in the past administrations, the senator closest to the president who is likely a partymate or a major supporter of the elected president gets the post. It does not matter whether the anointed one belongs to the majority party. Senator Koko Pimentel was the lone PDP-Laban member in the Senate but he was voted by 20 of his colleagues who belonged to major political parties. In selecting the Senate leadership, what really matters is the support of the president. Despite the much-vaunted claim that the Senate is a fiercely independent body comprising 24 republics, such bravado does not exist when it comes to choosing the Senate president. In recent years, the president chooses his/her man (no woman has served as Senate president throughout its 106 years of existence) and the Senate merely formalizes it. In my recollection, the most interesting contest for the Senate presidency occurred in 1963 when the Minority Floor Leader Ferdinand E. Marcos deposed long-serving Senate President Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez in a hotly contested election for leadership in the upper chamber. The Nacionalista Party, whose president was Amang Rodriguez, had 12 seats out of the 24-member Senate. The Liberal Party led by Minority Leader Marcos had 10 senators but two members of the Grand Alliance, Raul S. Manglapus and Manuel Manahan, were caucusing with the LP. Thus, the two camps were evenly split. This was the set up when Marcos challenged Amang Ropdriguez for the Senate leadership. Marcos needed a majority vote to dislodge the incumbent, which meant that at least one Nacionalista senator should support him. Amang was confident of his partymates’ solid support that had kept him in power for 11 years, the second longest term as Senate president. During the showdown vote for the Senate presidency, Senator Alejandro Almendras of Davao shifted his support in favor of Marcos. Almendras was a diehard Nacionalista card-bearing member who was elected the youngest governor of united Davao in 1951 while a third year law student in Mindanao Colleges (now known as the University of Mindanao). He served for two terms as governor and successfully ran for the Senate in 1959 where he took the last winning slot. He was succeeded as governor by Vicente Duterte, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s father. The Senate race that year was topped by Ferdinand Marcos of the LP. Almendras was responsible for the partition of Davao province to promote its socio-economic development. On account of this, he is considered as the “Father of Davao.” In 1963, a Davaoeño helped Marcos, Sr. to become the Senate president, which eventually catapulted him to the presidency; in 2022, another Davaoeño, Sara Duterte, came to Marcos, Jr.’s aid to help elect him as the 17th president of the Philippines. Davao has played a significant role in shaping the political destiny of the Marcos family.   

The Senate presidency is a powerful position that many ambitious politicians used as a springboard to the presidency. Since its members are voted at-large and have a national constituency, the Senate is the best training ground for national leadership. Three of our presidents—Manuel L. Quezon, Manuel Roxas and Ferdinand Marcos—served as Senate presidents before getting elected as president of the Philippines. After the Edsa Revolution, former Senate Presidents Jovito Salonga and Manuel Villar ran for president but they did not succeed. And both had retired from politics when their presidential bids failed, although Villar is still young to throw his hat in the ring and has the logistics to make another run. If he succeeds next time, he will share the distinction with the late President Manuel A. Roxas as the only Filipino to hold the offices of the presidency, Senate presidency and the speakership during their lifetime. In the case of Juan Ponce Enrile, he became Senate president after his failed presidential run. At 98, he is the oldest living former Senate president. Many former Senate presidents settled for the vice presidential slot like Eulogio Rodriguez, Sr., Arturo Tolentino, Edgardo Angara, Marcelo Fernan, Aquilino Pimentel and Vicente Soto III. All of them had their eyes on the presidency and they had the qualifications but they had all given way to others that they regarded as more suited to serve as their standard bearer. Ferdinand E. Marcos was the last Senate president to become president although the Senate president is always a force to reckon with in the election for presidency. Senate Presidents Gil J. Puyat, Ernesto Maceda, Neptali Gonzales, Edgardo Angara, Marcelo Fernan, Blas Ople and Franklin Drilon’s support greatly mattered in the presidential election year that coincided with their Senate presidency. The first Senate president was Manuel L. Quezon who assumed the position in 1916 as the inaugural president of the Senate after the Jones Law creating the Philippine Senate was implemented to replace the Philippine Commission as the Upper Chamber of the Philippine legislature. He effectively used his position to upstage Speaker Sergio Osmeña Sr. and became the foremost leader of Filipinos in government during the later part of the American rule.  

In the forthcoming Senate organization of the 19th Congress, being bruited prominently as potential Senate president, aside from Senator Imee Marcos, are Senators Cynthia Villar and Migz Zubiri, the current Majority Leader. Both are veteran legislators who have established their leadership credentials in and outside the halls of the Senate. They are both part of the coalition forces, the UniTeam, which supported the victorious Marcos- Duterte tandem. Villar and Zubiri are not political neophytes and are thoroughly familiar with the back room operations where most transactions and political horse-trading are done with less transparency. If Villar gets the position, she will have the unique honor of becoming the first woman Senate president of our land. If elected, she is expected to run a tight ship of the Senate, which may augur well for efficiency. Senator Migs has better PR and consensus-leadership qualities that may work best in an institution with bloated egos. Outside of the two, there are other senators worthy of consideration and who are acceptable to the presumptive president. Senators Sonny Angara and Loren Legarda easily come to mind. Their long experience as legislators provides them mastery of the parliamentary rules and procedures and the inner workings of the Senate. But any member may spring a surprise. With its peculiar composition consisting of several family members serving simultaneously, your guess is as good as anyone’s when it comes to choosing our next Senate president. After making Robin Padilla No. 1, anything can happen.  

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