How independent will the Senate be in the incoming 19th Philippine Congress, the country’s bicameral legislature? What will constitute the majority in the upper chamber of the Congress is certainly the newly elected, reelected and holdover senators who are either allies of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte or President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
The opposition in the Senate in the 19th Congress will have no strong voice, as it only has reelected Sen. Risa Hontiveros as its clear voice of the minority. An Inquirer.net report interviewed three academics, and they have said that a diminished opposition poses a risk to democracy because it could turn the Senate into a rubber stamp of incoming President Marcos; it might also not serve the public interest if it is subservient to the new administration.
The 19th Congress—composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives (lower chamber)—will be opened by President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. after his swearing-in on June 30, 2022.
Hontiveros had hoped that the incoming minority bloc would be composed of at least three senators. She could be joined by Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III as his faction in the PDP-Laban did not support Marcos in the May 9 general elections. The third member is not yet known.
The other senators who will be part of the Senate in the 19th Congress are Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, siblings Alan Peter Cayetano and Pia Cayetano, Francis Escudero, Ronald dela Rosa, half brothers JV Ejercito and Jinggoy Estrada, Win Gatchalian, Bong Go, Lito Lapid and Loren Legarda.
Other members of the Senate are President-elect Marcos’ sister Imee Marcos, Robin Padilla, Grace Poe, Bong Revilla, Francis Tolentino, Raffy Tulfo, Joey Villanueva, mother-and-son tandem Cynthia and Mark Villar, and Juan Miguel Zubiri.
Go figure on who among them will join the minority bloc.
Marcos-ally Zubiri, the majority leader in the 18th Congress, is expected to take the Senate President’s seat in the 19th Congress, replacing outgoing Senate President Tito Sotto.
Opposition with a weak voice in the legislature is bad for democracy here in the Philippines. This is because the opposition plays a vital role in a liberal democracy—it questions government actions, especially those that do not best serve the public interest.
A weak minority would be dismissed outright by the lawmakers who belong to the super majority.
The weakened opposition’s alternative positions to government positions or legislative agenda of the majority lawmakers could be thrashed right away.
It is still good to note that the Senate in the incoming 19th Congress still has an opposition in the name of Senator Hontiveros. The lawmaker is not known to back down, she is known to speak her mind.
One may hope that the Senate under the Marcos Jr. presidency would not become a rubber stamp. It must be subservient to the public interest.
A thriving democracy needs not a rubber stamp legislature as such belongs to autocratic states. A thriving liberal democracy needs a clash of ideas and positions—and it must have a diversity of voices.
June 15, 2022
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