Villar's ouster linked to 2010 polls

By Carmela Fonbuena
Monday, 17 November 2008
Newsbreak magazine
www.nrewsbreak.com.ph

The ouster of Senator Manuel Villar as Senate president has everything to do with the 2010 elections given that his potential rivals all voted against him, analysts said. The change in leadership also shows that the opposition is divided, unable to rally behind a leader.

“The battle lines were clear when the whole [C-5] road issue began,” political analyst Manolo Quezon told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak. By ousting Villar from the Senate presidency, his status as front runner in the 2010 presidential polls is weakened, he said.

“That levels the playing field for the presidential aspirants," said Joel Rocamora, former executive director and now research fellow of the Institute for Popular Democracy (IPD). "The position [of Senate president] gave Villar a big advantage."

Just weels before his ouster on Monday, Villar's popularity was on the rise and had climbed to second place behind Vice President Noli de Castro.

A Pulse Asia survey conducted last October 14-27 showed that 17 percent would vote for Villar. This is five percentage points higher than his standing in July and puts him on the same rank as former President Joseph Estrada.

While Noli De Castro remains the front runner in the surveys, the vice-president's ratings dropped to 18 percent or four percentage points lower than his ratings in July.

Speculations are rife that Senators Panfilo Lacson, Manuel “Mar” Roxas, Loren Legarda, and Richard Gordon—all with presidential ambitions—were behind Villar’s ouster.

Lacson nominated Enrile as Villar’s replacement and Gordon seconded him. Fourteen, including Lacson, Roxas, Legarda, and Gordon, voted in favor of the motion nominating Enrile. Six abstained.

“This was about proving who has clout. Roxas’s status is enhanced. The Lacson and Jamby Madrigal tandem showed their mettle, and Enrile crowns his career,” added Quezon.

Villar was recently embroiled in the double funding controversy of the C-5 road project. Lacson earlier told ABS-CBN News that this controversy sparked the leadership change.

Divided opposition
The votes for Enrile further blurred the lines in the Senate, with opposition senators siding with an Arroyo ally.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada, who voted for Enrile, may be sending a signal that his father, former President Joseph Estrada, may not be on Villar’s side. Earlier reports said that Villar had been cozying up to Estrada in preparation for 2010.

The new Senate majority has thus put the Senate in a peculiar situation. An opposition-dominated upper chamber is now headed by an administration senator.

“Since Villar is leading the polls, other senator-candidates would rather see him down even if it means going administration,” said political and public relations analyst Greg Garcia.

Asked how this will affect the Senate position on issues involving the President, Quezon said, “ The president’s status is less relevant here than showing who will be strong going into start of the campaign this Christmas."

But whether or not the Senate stays on its current track on high-profile issues involving President Arroyo could be determined by how Enrile will distribute the committee chairmanships. Some sectors are worried.

Charter change?
As it is, President Arroyo’s allies are in control of the House and the Senate. Does this mean that the Senate will be friendlier to the administration?

Analysts said a lot depends on the committee chairmanships.

Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros warned on Monday that Malacañang stands to be the main beneficiary of this Senate leadership change.

“Malacañang now holds the leadership in the Senate and the House of Representatives. This will have major effects not only on legislative priorities but also on major inquiries being tackled by both chambers and on moves to amend the Constitution,” she said.

Rocamora shared Hontiveros’s fear on the moves to advance charter change. Enrile is the main proponent of the Senate resolution calling for a Constituent Assembly.

“We hope that his election as Senate President would not lead to a unilateral change in the Constitution at the expense of a democratic and broad process to pursue constitutional reform,” Hontiveros added.

With Villar at the helm of an opposition-dominated Senate, the chamber blocked efforts by the pro-chacha House of Representatives. The lower chamber continues to advance charter change with no less than Speaker Prospero Nograles behind one of several proposals.

Nograles’s bill seeks to scrap the 40 percent limit on foreign ownership of enterprises. While Nograles’s proposal is limited to the economic provisions of the Constitution, it is feared that any tinkering with the Constitution will eventually lead to an amendment that would extend the President’s term.

However, former Senator Franklin Drilon allayed these fears. “I don’t think Enrile’s election will affect the position of the Senate on Charter change,” he told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak. Many in the Senate are still opposed to charter change, including allies of the administration.

Several members of the lower house are pushing for a joint voting of Congress to approve Charter change. This would mean that the 238-member lower chamber will make the 23-member Senate irrelevant.

“The senators will not agree that Congress should vote jointly. Not even Enrile will agree to that,” he said. Drilon said the only way charter change will succeed is if the Supreme Court decides that Congress should adopt joint voting.

Impact on judiciary, Senate probes
Enrile’s appointments in the committee chairmanships could also affect the judiciary and the ongoing Senate probes. As a matter of courtesy, Senators Francis Pangilinan and Alan Peter Cayetano have relinquished their posts as majority floor leader and blue ribbon committee chair, respectively.

It remains unclear if Pangilinan will retain his position in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). Supreme Court watchers are worried that an administration senator may replace Pangilinan.

The position is crucial with seven vacancies in the High Court next year. The JBC is the body that screens candidates to the Supreme Court.

The leadership change will also affect the ongoing probes by Congress, said Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño . “It benefits Malacanang. It has the effect of undermining the Senate’s independence and sabotaging ongoing investigations on the fertilizer fund scam and the ‘Euro’ generals,” he said. (abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak)

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