Updated 17:34 PM PHT Tue, February 28, 2017
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — A long-simmering feeling of discord within the so-called supermajority, not an attempt to silence the opposition, triggered the surprising revamp in the leadership of the senate and its committees, Senate President Koko Pimentel said Tuesday.
This, amid claims of three Liberal Party (LP) senators and one LP ally that the ouster from a key leadership position and from chairmanships of senate committees on Monday was meant to stifle them after their vocal dissent over the administration's policies such as the return of capital punishment and the recent arrest of fellow LP senator Leila De Lima on drug charges.
"It's not about Leila. It's not about death penalty. It's not about the Lascañas issue," Pimentel said, referring as well to former police officer SPO3 Arturo Lascañas who last week recanted testimony to the senate last October and on February 20, implicated Duterte in the alleged vigilante group known as the Davao Death Squad.
"It's the result of an eight-month relationship within the supermajority, where a bigger majority felt that there was a subset within the supermajority that was not giving its full cooperation to the so-called supermajority," said Pimentel said in an interview on CNN Philippines' New Day.
The country was briefly taken aback on Monday when, in Senate proceedings carried live on television, boxing champion Senator Manny Pacquiao moved to declare the second-highest position of senate president pro-tempore and leadership of three senate committees vacant. The senators in these positions concurred.
Franklin Drilon of the Liberal Party was ousted from the pro-tempore position, which went to fellow LP member Ralph Recto, while LP senators Bam Aquino and Kiko Pangilinan, and LP ally Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan lost their committee chairmanships.
Pimentel told CNN Philippines the reorganization was long time coming, as some of their colleagues in the majority felt the presence of opposing senators dismantled the dynamics of the supermajority.
The reorganization also clearly defines who the senators are of the minority bloc. After Monday's events, Drilon, Aquino, Hontiveros, and Pangilinan now join temporary Senate Minority Leader Antonio Trillanes, a vocal Duterte critic, in the minority.
"Drilon, Pangilinan, Aquino, Risa (Hontiveros) have declared that they are now part of the minority. So the lines have now been drawn very clear that to the left side of the presiding officer are the members of the minority, to the right side would be the members of the majority," Pimentel said.
Pimentel: "We did not strip them of committee chairmanships"
Pimentel denied that all the senators were divested of chairmanship of their committees, and that Monday's shakeup was not unheard of in senate.
"We did not strip them of all their committee chairmanships. We just reorganized three committees. So Senator Aquino used to have two committees — education and science and technology. Now he has one, science and technology. Risa used to have two, health and women. Now she has one, women. Senator Drilon retains his committee, Senator Leila retains her committee," he said.
Drilon still heads the senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes, while De Lima heads electoral reforms and people's participation.
"The problem now is Senator Pangilinan who has only one committee (food and agriculture) and we got it from him. Hence, I have given instructions to look for a committee for Senator Pangilinan,' Pimentel added. Pangilinan is president of the LP.
Pimentel said his colleagues can still pursue their advocacies and remain productive members of the Senate even with fewer committees under their jurisdiction.
"It's good, (because) I know these people. I know Senator Drilon when it comes to legislative work-- processing bills, processing resolutions. Their active involvement will improve actually the output of the Senate," he said.
Pimentel said the lines of communication with the minority are open.
"I told Senator Drilon the communication lines are open. They just tell me how I can help the minority and how I can help individual senators," he said.
Pangilinan: Admin wants senators to toe the line
But on Tuesday, Pangilinan insisted that the revamp was due to hindrances in moving the work of the senate forward, but by the administration's desire to have senators conform with the administration's wishes.
"It is therefore inaccurate and factually erroneous to say that the reorganization was due to hampered work. On the contrary it was undertaken to ensure that the Senate toes the line on issues that may have a negative impact on the administration," Pangilinan said in a statement.
Pangilinan said the four senators including himself only departed from the supermajority on three key issues, but agreed on most of the agenda.
"The only instances we were divided in the majority were on the issues of the Marcos burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the extra-judicial killings, the investigation of corruption in the Bureau of Immigration, and the Lascañas testimony. In these instances the LP asserted the independence of the Senate and it was in these instances that Senators allied with Malacanang opposed our efforts," he said.
Pangilinan said despite the shakeup they will continue to support administrative policies that are for the good of the people and speak out against those that threaten the country.
Pacquiao last October led the motion to strip De Lima of her position as chairman of the senate committee on justice, now headed by Senator Richard Gordon. De Lima is now remanded in the Philippine National Police custodial center on three illegal drug charges she faces in the Muntinlupa Regional Trial court.