MANILA (2nd Update, 12:42 p.m.) -- Administration bet Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan raised the white flag on Sunday, three days after Senator Juan Ponce Enrile announced that some senators are turning to him as a compromise candidate for Senate President.

In a statement, Pangilinan said he voluntarily withdraw his candidacy to avoid leadership vacuum once the 15th Congress opens on Monday, July 26.

"The inability of a majority in the Senate to unite behind one leader does not speak well of the Senate and the individual senators. Sa halip na pagkaka-isa, ay nagkakanya-kanya. This does not serve the national interest," he said.

Thirteen votes out of the 24-member Senate are needed to clinch the presidency.

Last Thursday, Enrile revealed that three anonymous senators asked him to retain his seat following reports that both Pangilinan and fiercest rival Senator Manuel "Manny" Villar do not have the numbers to succeed him.

"They (LP senators) told me that there is a growing consensus. As far as they were concerned, there's a growing consensus that they would want me to handle the Senate. I said if that is the consensus, then so be it. But I am not going to go around and talk to all the senators to vote for me...," he said.

Enrile earlier signed a resolution supporting Pangilinan's bid for Senate President but the winds of power shifted after he told media of the development.

With this, the battle for the Senate's top post is now a toss-up between Enrile and Villar, who was ousted in November 2008 as Senate President after his colleagues mounted a successful coup due to his alleged involvement in corrupt laden activities.

Perceived to ally with Enrile are Senator Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada of Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, son of defeated candidate former President Joseph Estrada and some members of seven-man reformist bloc involved in the Senate coup in 2008.

The bloc is composed of former Senate president Edgardo Angara of Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, Loren Legarda and Vicente Sotto III of the Nationalist People's Coalition, independent Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan II, Manuel "Lito" Lapid, Ramon "Bong" Revilla, and Juan Miguel Zubiri of Lakas-Kampi-Christian Muslim Democrats.

The group has yet to build a consensus as of this posting, although Angara said his bloc will only support a candidate who will maintain the independence of the august chamber.

Villar, for his part, can count on the solid votes of senators Joker Arroyo, siblings Pia and Alan Peter Cayetano, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

Pia Cayetano and Marcos ran under the NP in the last May elections, while Santiago was a guest candidate.

Sought for comment, likely House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte (second district, Quezon City) said it is premature to speculate that the Senate would derail the legislative agenda of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

"It would have a slight effect. Both Enrile and Villar will push the president's program," he told Sun.Star.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda earlier said Malacañang wanted a "friendly" Senate although it remained non-committal on whom to support for Senate presidency as courtesy to a co-equal branch of government.

Ramon Casiple, executive director of Institute for Political and Economic Reform (Iper), shared Belmonte's observation, saying that newly-installed presidents usually enjoy harmonious relationship with the traditionally independent Senate.

"Not at the moment. Any Senate leadership will have to cooperate with a popular president. Later, it may be a different story," he told Sun.Star in a text message.

The June 25-28, 2010 survey of independent pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS) found that President Aquino enjoys the confidence of 88 percent of adult Filipinos.

Akbayan Representative Walden Bello, on the other hand, sees a bleak future for the president's agenda in the Senate.

"It's going to make the legislative agenda of President Aquino more difficult to achieve. This is a really a negative development," he said, adding that either Enrile or Villar could possibly bring headaches to President Aquino in dealing with the Senate.

The great consolation, however, is that Pangilinan and three other members of the administration's Liberal Party might provide the clincher votes on Monday.

The LP only has four members in the Senate: Pangilinan, Drilon, Ralph Recto, and Teofisto Guingona III.

"Villar and Enrile are trying to gain support of their colleagues. The LP or Kiko will decide Monday's fate," said Casiple. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)