Senate shakeup ‘unsurprising,’ says former president

By Joseph Bernard A. Marzan

The recent ouster of Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri from the Senate presidency and the subsequent installation of Francis Escudero should not have been surprising, former Senate President Franklin Drilon said on Tuesday, May 21.

Drilon explained that the shakeup on Monday, May 20, was a result of the flaws in the country’s political party system.

The ‘Big Man’ himself was no stranger to this flaw, as he was ousted from the Senate presidency in November 2000, when he opposed then-president Joseph Estrada, in a controversy that led to Estrada’s removal from office in January 2001.

Drilon was a member of Estrada’s Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino (LAMMP) until that point. His term as Senate President was under a term-sharing agreement with fellow Senator Blas Ople after the death of Marcelo Fernan in 1999.

He first entered electoral politics in 1995 under the then-Lakas-National Union of Christian Democrats (now known as Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats or Lakas-CMD).

Despite his previous party switches, he has remained a member of the Liberal Party since 2003, having served as Senate President from 2004 to 2006, and again from 2010 to 2016.

“This indicates the weakness of our political party system, because decisions are not made on the basis of any political party platform, but on the basis of personal agendas, not only of the senators but all those players in the political field,” Drilon said on the sidelines of a briefing on the Jalaur River Multipurpose Project Phase II.

“In mature democracies abroad, you will see that decisions are made based on political parties’ platforms. Here, there’s nothing like that. But having said that, it’s a consequence of a lack of a robust political party system,” he added.

Drilon had no bad words to say about the new Senate President, Francis Escudero, citing their experience as colleagues from the 15th Congress in 2010 to the end of the 17th Congress in 2019.

However, he refused to comment on Escudero’s position against charter change, stating that he had no inside information on the matter.

“[Escudero] is an experienced legislator. I have worked with him; he is a very diligent guy, very knowledgeable, and I have no questions about his qualifications to become Senate President,” he said.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism on Tuesday reported that 15 senators voted to oust Zubiri on Monday, including Escudero.

The other 14 include siblings Alan Peter and Pilar Juliana Cayetano, Ronald dela Rosa, Jose Estrada, Christopher Lawrence Go, Manuel Lapid, Imelda Josefa Marcos, Ramon Revilla Jr., Francis Tolentino, Rafael Tulfo, Robinhood Padilla, Grace Poe-Llamanzares, and mother and son Cynthia and Mark Villar.

Another seven senators voted to keep Zubiri, including himself, and senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay-Angeles, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Sherwin Gatchalian, Lorna Regina Legarda, and Emmanuel Joel Jose Villanueva.

Estrada replaced Legarda as Senate President pro tempore, and Tolentino replaced Villanueva as majority leader, while Ejercito resigned as deputy majority leader. The status of this post remains unknown as of this writing.

Angara and Binay-Angeles stepped down from their leadership of the committees on Finance and Youth, and Ethics and Tourism, respectively.

The chamber’s new list of committee chairpersonships indicated blank spaces for the two senators’ portfolios.

Senators Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel and Aquilino Pimentel III, who have been from the minority bloc since 2022, did not vote and are expected to stay in the minority.