Sotto is new Senate President

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 20) — Former Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente "Tito" Sotto III on Monday took his oath as new Senate President, taking over Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel.

Sotto is the country's 29th Senate President, and the second to lead the chamber in the 17th Congress. Senator Miguel Zubiri replaced Sotto as Majority Floor Leader.

"To my colleagues and to the Filipino people, I am committed to do my very best, and with your help, I am confident that I have in my background the template of nine other Senate Presidents that I have served," Sotto said in his acceptance speech.

He then named former Senate Presidents Neptali Gonzales, Eduardo Angara, Ernesto Maceda, Marcelo Fernan, Blas Ople, Franklin Drilon, Nene Pimentel, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Koko Pimentel who held the top post in the chamber since the senator was elected to office.

"I hereby pledge to continue in helping the passage of laws that will be beneficial to the country and to every Filipino," he said, adding he had helped pass bills into landmark laws.

Some of the laws authored and sponsored by Sotto are Republic Act (RA) 8369 or the Family Courts Act of 1997, RA 8750 or the Seat Belts Use Act of 1999, RA 7925 or the Public Telecommunications Policy Act of the Philippines, and the RA 9165 or the Comprehensive Drug Act of 2002.

Pimentel steps down

Pimentel nominated Sotto as his successor.

"I step down knowing that I tried my best. I wish my successor Senator Sotto good health and Godspeed, and pledge to help the new leadership," he said in a media briefing.

Sotto took his oath of office after a caucus where the senators discussed the leadership transition.

Pimentel said the majority of Senators expressed support for the new Senate President, promising minimal disruption in the workflow following the turnover.

"This is a peaceful and willing transfer of power in the Senate," he said.

Sotto was nominated by the majority bloc through a resolution signed by 16 senators, including Pimentel.

Senator JV Ejercito on Monday said Pimentel did nothing to merit a coup within the Senate, but noted his inaction in important matters.

"There were attacks from the other House. Some of my colleagues feel the Senate was not defended during those times," he told CNN Philippines.

In January, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez called the Senate "mabagal na kapulungan (slow chamber)" because of delays in passing important bills.

Ejercito said Pimentel's quiet demeanor worked against his favor when the Senate's integrity was attacked.

"I don't think he is weak. He is good and probably he was just too good. Sometimes he has to be more assertive and show leadership at times....The majority leaders just wanted change in leadership," he said.

Ejercito added Pimentel seemed to have shifted his focus.

"Personally, the leadership concentrated on the party strengthening of the PDP-Laban," he pointed out.

Pimentel, president of the said ruling party, said he would now concentrate on PDP-Laban's preparation for the 2019 elections.

Ejercito said Sotto was chosen to replace Pimentel because he was the most senior among incumbent lawmakers.

Sotto was Majority Floor Leader from July 2010 to June 2016. He was  reelected to the post in July 2016. Sotto also served as senator from 1992 to 1998, ending that term in 2004.

"Under the Sotto leadership, I hope he will be more assertive to defend the institution. I am hoping he will be able to defend the interest and integrity of institution," Ejercito said.

Expectations set for Sotto

Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chair Richard Gordon said Sotto should focus on pushing further President Rodrigo Duterte's legislative agenda.

"We should concentrate more on legislation and important investigations that need to be resolved," Gordon said, referring to the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia controversy and the charter of the state-run pension fund Social Security System.

Minority Senator Franklin Drilon, on the other hand, said the challege to Sotto is to assert the Senate's role in foreign relations.

He said the country should take a stand against Beijing's actions in the South China Sea, as it might interfere with the 2019 elections next.

"Ang importante, kung sino man ang tatayong namumuno ng Senado ay mayroon talagang pwersa na manindigan sa aming posisyon na ipaglaban ang posisyon ng Senado," he said.

[Translation: Whoever will lead the Senate, it's important that he stand and fight for the position of the Senate.]

Ejercito echoed Drilon, saying he hoped Sotto would help the Senate have a more defined stand on the maritime dispute in the South China Sea.

Senator Grace Poe said Sotto should show he can defend the Senate's position on pressing matters.

Aside from the Senate leadership, the majority senators will also discuss on Monday possible changes in committee chairmanships.

CNN Philippines' Rex Remitio contributed to this report.