Cynthia Villar refuses to sign resolution backing Sotto

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 3) — Senator Cynthia Villar refused to sign a draft resolution expressing the Senate’s “unequivocal support” for Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III as she wants to ensure that her partymates, Senators-elect Pia Cayetano and Imee Marcos, get their desired committees.

Bakit ako pipirma diyan? Kung ipahamak niyo ang aking kapartido, ako nakapirma diyan? Hihintayin ko maayos si Pia at si Imee. ‘Di ba tama ‘yun?” Villar told Senator Manny Pacquiao on the Senate floor during its session.

[Translation: Why would I sign that? If you harm my partymates, then I am a signatory to that? I would wait until Pia and Imee’s situation is resolved. Isn’t that just right?]

Pacquiao was routing a draft resolution among senators during the Senate’s session on Monday. Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson said it was Pacquiao’s idea to draft a resolution to check if Sotto truly enjoys the backing of majority of the senators.

However, Villar got irked when Pacquiao approached her to sign the resolution.

‘Wag niyo ako idadamay sa away niyo. Bakit hindi niyo kausapin si Sotto at mga kapartido niyo para matapos ang gulong ‘to? Bakit ako isasali niyo?” she told Pacquiao.

[Translation: Don’t drag me into your quarrel. Why don’t you ask Sotto and your partymates to end this mess? Why would you include me?]

PDP-Laban Senator-elect Francis Tolentino earlier said that a group of nine members of the next Senate are forming a new majority bloc. They are mostly backed by Hugpong ng Pagbabago, the regional party of President Rodrigo Duterte's daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

Villar said this was what triggered her reaction to Pacquiao. "Kaya nga sinasabi ko sa kanila ayusin nila ang partido nila. There must be something wrong there. Tapos ako ang madadamay?" she told reporters in a chance interview.

[Translation: That's why I was telling them to fix issues in their party. There must be something wrong there. And then I'm the one who will get dragged into it?]

She added that she would sign the resolution backing Sotto's continued tenure as Senate president once the issue on Cayetano and Marcos' committee chairmanships are ironed out. She also wants to talk to the two before signing on to the move.

"'Yung aking mga kapartido, nag-abroad. Pinagbilin nila sa akin na kung mayroon silang kailangan malaman, sasabhin ko sa kanila. I cannot decide na okay na sila na hindi sila nakakusap," Villar said.

[Translation: My partymates went abroad. They told me that if they need to know anything, I will tell them. I cannot decide that they are okay with it without even talking to them first.]

Squabble over committees

Sotto’s hold on the Senate presidency has been rumored to be shaky over disagreements between incumbent and incoming senators on committee chairmanships.

Marcos has said that she has heard of a plan to unseat Sotto and replace him with Villar, the Senate race topnotcher.

Villar previously said that she is open to becoming the chamber's leader, but has now told reporters that she is not interested in the top post.

However, she did not confirm or deny if Tolentino has approached her about the Senate presidency, only saying that this issue is "immaterial."

Senators who would remain in the chamber after the close of the 17th Congress insist on honoring the chamber’s tradition which gives preference to incumbent senators on committee chairmanships.

However, incoming senators are already eyeing to head committees.

For one, Tolentino wants to get the controversial Blue Ribbon and Justice committees, both led by Senator Richard "Dick" Gordon, who refuses to let go of these panels.

Tolentino also wants to lead the Public Services Committee in charge of transportation, communication, and franchise concerns. But its chairperson, Senator Grace Poe, will only leave her post if Gordon gives her the Blue Ribbon Committee.

Meanwhile, Marcos previously told CNN Philippines’ The Source that she would want to head the Senate committees on Labor and Trade, which are respectively headed by Senators Joel Villanueva and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel IV.

Cayetano, on the other hand, hopes to get the Education committee, which will be vacated by outgoing Senator Chiz Escudero.

Cat’s in the bag?

Sotto only needs a majority of 13 votes to keep his post, while any contenders for the post would need the same number of votes.

As of Monday’s session, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, and Senators Pacquiao, Lacson, Villanueva, Pimentel, Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, Poe, Nancy Binay, Loren Legarda, Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian, Escudero, Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, and Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara have signed the resolution.

Pacquiao, after being asked by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon for clarification, said Gordon will also sign the resolution.

“Tapos na ‘yung issue ng [Senate presidency] race. Ito na lang ‘yung mag-divide ng mga committees,” Pacquiao told reporters before the Senate’s session, confident that more than 13 would sign the resolution.

[Translation: The issue of the race for Senate President is over. The only issue that remains is the division of the committees.]

However, only 10 of the 13 senators who signed the resolution would remain in the chamber. Honasan, Legarda and Escudero would be stepping down from the Senate in the next Congress.

CNN Philippines' Joyce Ilas and Xave Gregorio contributed to this report.