“Issues such as China deals, drug war, war against the revolutionary movement, corruption etc. will not go away and these will be the considerations of administration candidates, except for those who are rabid supporters or are unthinking.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — After the Commission on Elections (Comelec) proclaimed the 12 new Senators early this week, concerns have been raised on the Senate’s independence from Malacanang.
Nine of the 12 proclaimed senators were endorsed by President Duterte. During proclamation, only two — Senators Grace Poe and Nancy Binay — refused to do the Duterte fist bump.
In her speech, frontrunner Cynthia Villar vowed, “A strong and independent Senate has always been our goal ever since.” Two of Duterte’s closest allies, Ronaldo “Bato” dela Rosa and Christopher “Bong” Go, also allayed fears that they would be Duterte’s rubber stamp.
What should the public expect?
In an interview with Bulatlat, veteran activist Dr. Carol Araullo, said Duterte’s allies would push for repressive and anti-people legislations such as the Charter change, Human Security Act amendments, lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, privatization of public utilities, among others.
Still, Araullo, chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), maintained that the political and economic crises plaguing Duterte would define the actions of the senators.
“Issues such as China deals, drug war, war against the revolutionary movement, corruption etc. will not go away and these will be the considerations of administration candidates, except for those who are rabid supporters or are unthinking,” Araullo told Bulatlat.
With the rottenness of the system, Araullo predicts Duterte’s popularity ratings would dip in the next three years.
“Duterte’s justification for iron-hand rule is all fake,” she said. “His hankering for strong-man rule did not end the illegal drugs and criminality.”
Therefore, Araullo said, “the capacity to influence or dictate the voting of senators is directly proportional to the president’s political capital.”
Dr. Temario Rivera, who has a doctorate in political science, shares the same opinion.
In a separate interview with Bulatlat, Rivera said that although technically, the administration has the numbers, there are no guarantees that Duterte can fully control the Senate. The national electoral constituency and the six-year term, for instance, are crucial in the decision-making of Senators, he said.
“Senators will decide based on the impact of the bill on their electoral base,” he said.
In particular, Rivera said the China case is divisive and a very contentious issue. “Who would want to be identified with a pro-China policy?” he said.
Rivera added that even administration senators would think twice in passing the second tranche of tax reforms or TRAIN 2 bill. “They are afraid to be another Recto,” he said.
Former Senator Ralph Recto, main author of the Expanded Value-Added Tax (VAT) Law, lost in a bid for reelection in 2007.
“There are institutional differences and dynamics in the Senate that provide a little more independence and flexibility unlike the members of the Lower House,” Rivera said.
Both also factored in the political ambitions of the Senators.
“Would they allow Sara [Duterte] or any Duterte candidate to be the next president?” Araullo said.
Araullo said the Duterte camp wants to ensure that the next chief executive would not hold Duterte accountable for his crimes.
Rivera said alliances for 2022 would compel some senators to distance themselves from the President.
“The infighting within the ruling clique is bound to escalate,” Araullo said.
Role of the opposition, mass movement
As for the opposition, Araullo said, “they have to realize the evilness of the Duterte-Marcos-Arroyo combined, realize their weaknesses, rise above their silly prejudices, and recognize the need for unity against a big, common enemy.”
“I’m hoping that those who ran will not just fade away. They must capitalize on the prominence they gained to expand and organise,” Araullo said.
Araullo said the mass movement plays a key role to prevent the Senate from being subservient to the President.
Araullo said Duterte’s fascist forces are poised to intensify political repression not only of the Left but all groups and individuals critical to the President. “They’re trying to nip it in the bud, all those who dissent — the Left, the Church hierarchy, the media, the opposition, local government,” she said.
“It’s a big challenge for the progressive forces how to be creative and effective in agitating, organizing and mobilizing the masses in the midst of all-out attacks,” Araullo said.