Senators say Sotto poised to keep Senate presidency

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 6) — A number of senators said Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III would stay as the chamber's leader in the 18th Congress following a meeting between incumbent and incoming senators last night where they fixed the kinks in “95 percent” of the committee chairmanships.

“Yes. It’s [still] Senate President Sotto,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, who was at the meeting last night, told reporters after being asked if Sotto would remain as the Senate’s leader.

Senators Sherwin "Win" Gatchalian and Joel Villanueva, who were also present at the meeting, also said that Sotto would remain at the helm of the Senate.

"I think even before the dinner last night, most of us, if not all of us were already aware of what’s gonna happen join the 18th Congress. 'Yung support naman [The support] for Senate President Sotto ay [is] solid po. I don’t think nagkalamat [it was damaged] at all," Villanueva told CNN Philippines' Balitaan.

Committees fixed

Zubiri said Sotto managed to iron out the issues surrounding committee chairmanships — which has been a thorn in the side of Sotto's leadership, with incoming senators reportedly plotting his ouster for failing to get chairmanships of the committees they want.

READ: Resolution to keep Sotto as Senate President making the rounds

May kaunti na lang na contentious na [There are only a few contentious] committees. Ninety-five percent, complete na,” Sotto said in a text message. “We assume all is well. Just one or two committees na lang.

He said incoming senators Francis Tolentino and Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa are expected to chair the Local Government and Public Order committees, respectively. Senator-elect Christopher "Bong" Go, meanwhile, is expected to head the Health, Housing and Sports panels.

Sotto said returning Senators Ramon Bong Revilla and Lito Lapid will respectively head the Civil Service and Games and Amusement committees.

During the meeting on Wednesday night at Senator Manny Pacquiao’s home in Dasmariñas Village in Makati, senators listed down the committees that they wanted to chair in the next Congress.

Sotto said he still needs to talk to incumbent senators about the committees sought by Senator-elect Imee Marcos. He said Marcos wants to chair the Social Justice, Public Information and Agrarian Reform committees.

Senator-elect Pia Cayetano wants to lead the Education panel, but since Gatchalian and Villanueva are also seeking this, Sotto said the majority will instead offer her the Ways and Means committee.

Equity of the incumbent

Marcos and Tolentino have been vocal in interviews about the issue on committee chairmanships. Tolentino has said that there is a plan to form a new nine-member bloc mainly consisting of Hugpong ng Pagbabago’s Senate bets, while Marcos has said that she has heard of a plan to unseat Sotto and replace him with Senate race topnotcher Cynthia Villar.

Villanueva called the posturing of some incoming senators for committees "a little aggressive."

Some incumbent senators insist that they follow the Senate's tradition of giving preference to incumbent lawmakers for committee chairmanships, which Go said incoming senators respect.

"We, as newly-elected senators, respect the tradition of ‘equity of the incumbent’ and we appreciate how the senior senators have been very accommodating with our requests and concerns," he said.

However, Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero denied the existence of the tradition.

"Wala akong inabutang ganoong tradition sa Senado, gayun din sa [Kamara,]" said Escudero, who has served as senator for 12 years.

[Translation: I did not get to experience that tradition in the Senate and even in the House.]

But Escudero added that it is up to the majority bloc if they would still prioritize incumbent lawmakers for leadership roles in committees.

"Hindi naman siya rule na dapat sundin at 'di pwedeng mabali. Nasa kamay ng mayorya ang pagpasiya tungkol sa bagay na 'yan o hindi," he said.

[Translation: That's not a rule that needs to be followed and cannot be broken. It's in the hands of the majority to decide about this matter.]

Marcos and Tolentino were present at the dinner meeting at Pacquiao’s place, while Villar skipped the occasion.

Villar has denied that she is interested in the Senate presidency, but refused to answer whether she has been approached by Tolentino about the position.

She also refused to sign a draft resolution backing Sotto’s continued leadership as she wants to ensure that her Nacionalista Party colleagues, Senators-elect Marcos and Pia Cayetano, get their desired committee chairmanships.

Cayetano was also absent at the meeting, along with Senators Panfilo “Ping” Lacson and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, president of the administration party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan.

Despite their absence, all seemed to be well after the senators’ meeting last night.

Naging maayos naman ang working relationship ng Senado at ehekutibo noong 17th Congress sa pamumuno ni Senator Tito Sotto bilang Senate President. With his continued leadership, we can solidify the support of the Senate to the legislative agenda of President [Rodrigo] Duterte,” said Go, who served as Duterte's special assistant.

[Translation: The working relationship between Senate and the executive branch during the 17th Congress was smooth with Senator Tito Sotto as Senate President. With his continued leadership, we can solidify the support of the Senate for the legislative agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte.]

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