By Alvin Capino
Manila Standard Today
I said in my earlier blog entries that the political season will officially begin in November of this year. Ooops, I was late by a month. I agree with the reading offered by Alvin Capino, with whom I worked at the Observer, the Independent, the Daily Globe and Today, under the editorships of the country's best -- Yen Makabenta, Alfrredo Navarro Salanga, and Teddy Boy Locsin.
Where the C-5 chuvaness will go, I do not know. What I know is that I see the faces of Ace Durano in the newspapers, with a list of fiestas of the month, and on TV, with his unconfirmed figures of imaginary tourist arrivals. And Health Sec. Francisco Duque's face on black-and-white print ads and the more alive, colorful ads on TV. And of course, Pia Cayetano with her Downey, Manong Frank Drilon attending the traslacion at the Penafrancia Festival wearing shoes (the de rigeur is no shoes at all), Cesar Montano with his daily TV show and weekend seminars for masons sponsored by Hocim Cement, and Bong Revilla attending all the fiestas in the country.
Welcome, indeed, to the political season. Hala bira!
Veteran political watchers say that the current conflict in the Senate could be the most serious division to have ever hit the upper chamber of Congress.
True, there have been tumultuous occasions in the Senate, especially under the Fifth Republic. Most Senate presidents during this period—Jovito Salonga, Ernesto Maceda, Edgardo Angara, Neptali Gonzales, Nene Pimentel and Franklin Drilon—faced ouster bids and coups triggered by their colleagues.
There was even an incident in the past where the Senate mace, the symbol of authority of the chamber, was snatched to prevent the Senate from holding a session.
But none has been as noisy and rancorous as what we are witnessing today. The language we are hearing in the exchanges between the quarreling senators is certainly sharper and more acidic than what we have heard in the past. All these are punctuated by personal diatribe.
In the past, bids to oust a Senate President were usually premised on questions regarding leadership capabilities. More often, the exit of one and assumption by another was simply the product of simple arithmetic—a shift in the number of solons belonging to the different power blocs in the Senate.
But within memory, this is the first time that a Senate president is facing possible ouster based on allegations of irregularities related to so-called “congressional insertions.” Senate President Manny Villar—the second to declare a bid for the presidency in the 2010 elections (the first being MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando)—is sailing through rough seas in the aftermath of accusations that he “inserted” some P200 million in funding for a road project that already had an earlier P200-million budgetary earmark.
The attack on the double insertion has shifted to conflict of interest and the critics of the Senate President are now saying that there is, at the very least, an ethical question for Villar if he indeed pushed for the funding of a road project where the main beneficiaries were companies owned by his family.
We have not seen a Senate president as badly pummelled by his own colleagues from the Senate floor.
And the turn of events is surprising to most.
Just months ago, the Senate was an almost-solid phalanx, conducting one probe after another on several controversial issues—all directed at the administration.
Then, at the flick of a finger, what appeared to be an unshakable alliance vanished. Now, the senators are going after each other.
The alliance landscape dramatically changed. Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Ping Lacson, for example, were the inseparable duo who gave us a parade of “star” witnesses on the national broadband network controversy. That partnership was responsible for bringing the likes of Rodolfo Lozada and Dante Madriaga into the center of national consciousness.
Cayetano and Lacson marched in near-perfect cadence during that episode. And except for the Leo San Miguel debacle, it must be conceded that they masterfully gave the public a sumptuous fare of controversies.
That partnership is no more. Cayetano has taken Villar’s side in the latter’s duel with Lacson.
And Cayetano is showing Lacson that he is no longer the “Robin” in their erstwhile tandem. He is now a seasoned politician is choosing to stick it out with the embattled Senate President who, of course, holds the key to Cayetano’s continuing clout in the powerful Blue Ribbon committee.
Most political observers believe that the subtle bid for a coup against Villar must be seen in the context of his earlier, and perhaps premature, announcement that he is tossing his hat into the 2010 presidential derby. The demolition was ignited soon after that announcement.
On one hand, this development is unfortunate. This is the first time after a long while that we are seeing the Senate divided within its walls. And this is the first time a Senate president could be unseated following allegations of irregularities involving people’s money.
But observers are also quick to point out the positive note in this raging conflict.
Political pundits believe that the bitterly divided Senate is a clear signal that the political season culminating in 2010 has begun.
The fight for the proverbial “survival of the fittest” in the political jungle has commenced.
The destructive conflict in the Senate douses cold water to the assertion by some groups that the President is plotting stay in office beyond 2010. Given what is happening in the Senate, it appears the allegation is farthest from the truth.
Obviously, our senators have smelled the blossoming of the political cherry blossoms that signalled the country’s entry into the next election season. That scent can be the only trigger to the fight that has bitterly separated erstwhile partners in the Senate.
We doubt if the Senate could ever get into the bottom of the insertion controversy.
Its best probers are busy, embroiled in the conflict.
Welcome to the political season.