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By Macon Araneta | FilAm Star Correspondent
PDP-Laban President Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III is the next Senate President in the 17th Congress, incumbent outgoing Senate President Franklin Drilon announced June 7.
Speaking in an interview at Kapihan sa Manila Bay, Drilon said he will sit as Senate President Pro Tempore and Acting Minority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III will sit as Majority Leader.
“Last night we met and had the agreement. The President of the incoming Senate will be Sen. Aquilino Pimentel. I will be Senate Pro-Tempore and Sen. Vicente Sotto will be majority leader,” said Drilon, also vice-chairman of the once powerful Liberal Party (LP) led.
Drilon branded “unusual” the choice of Pimentel as Senate President despite bring the only PDP-Laban senator.
“Certainly in the recent memory, I do not recall of a similar setup,” said Drilon, noting that choosing Pimentel as the next Senate President is an indication that they are willing to support, in general, the legislative agenda of the administration of incoming President Rodrigo Duterte.
Drilon said the support for Pimentel was already “cast in stone.”
“We have enough. We have more than the required majority,” he added.
Asked if they bowed to a one-man party, Drilon said, “No, no. We did not bow. Those are provocative adjectives. We decided on Koko. He is very qualified. We want to show support, in general, in the legislative agenda of the Duterte administration, as we recognized that they have the mandate of the people,” said Drilon.
Pimentel’s father and namesake, Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., was also Senate President in 2000 to 2001 during the time of former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
The outgoing Senate leader also divulged that the major political parties, principally the LP and its allied parties agreed to forge an alliance to come up with the “supermajority.”
The other members of the supermajority are re-electionist Ralph Recto, Bam Aquino, Joel Villanueva, Leila de Lima, Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros (Akbayan partylist), Joel Villanueva (CIBAC partylist), Panfilo Lacson, Sonny Angara, Grace Poe, Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Gringo Honasan, Manny Pacquiao, Sherwin Gatchalian and Nancy Binay.
“We have six Liberal Party (LP) members, the others from Akbayan, the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) plus the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and other allied political groups,” said Drilon who was Senate president for four terms.
A majority vote of 13 of the 24-man Senate is needed to elect the successor of Drilon.
Asked why he did not fight for his current position when the LP had the most number of members, Drilon said it’s for the sake of unity and stability. He said they wanted to provide stability in the leadership of the Senate.
“Yes, we’re big. It was a question of looking for five. But instead of wrangling, we said-- alright, we just assume the post of Pro Tempore, we support the lone PDP-Laban senator and we have an alliance with Senator Sotto and NPC, and we came up with that,” he said.
He dismissed claims that the alliance was bound by the Belmonte-PDP coalition in the House of Representatives. He insisted that their actions were based on their own volition that they got together.
“There are 24 republics in the Senate. Each one of us has his/her own mandate. Each one of us makes his/her own decision. We did not take into account what was happening in the House. We took into account what we believed the Senate, as an institution, should stand for,” explained Drilon.
In not supporting Cayetano, Drilon said they picked up the next Senate President by consensus, and “that was the consensus., He said it was a party decision.
“Koko is the choice of 16 or 17 senators. We were eight. Tito had eight or nine,” stressed Drilon.
When confronted why they did not select Sotto, Drilon said: “I cannot speak for Sotto, but it came from him that he has come to an agreement with Koko Pimentel.”
Pimentel confirmed the agreement reached among the major groups in the Upper Chamber and said he would personally go to Davao to personally inform Duterte about the new development.
But Pimentel said he is not feeling well to travel due to cough and colds.
When questioned on the distribution of committees in the Senate, Pimentel said it is already ok among the 17 senators.
Drilon said that when the 17th Congress opens on July 25, he will still sit as SP until a motion to elect a new leader is made on the floor.
“There will be a motion to reorganize the Senate, and because of the continuity unlike in the House, I will open the session of the 17th Congress after which there will be nominations for the leadership and as the week goes on, the committee chairmanships will be announced on the floor,” explained Drilon.
Duterte’s defeated running mate, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano had repeatedly said he had the support of 15 senators while Sotto said 18 senators committed to support him.
Pimentel said he will extend his “hand of friendship and cooperation” to Cayetano and invite him and his group to join the majority.
Cayetano belongs to the Nacionalista Party with three other members-- Senators Cynthia Villar, Antonio Trillanes IV and Bongbong Marcos whose terms of office expire on June 30.
Among those who aired their support to Cayetano were Villar, Senators-elect Manny Pacquiao and Migz Zubiri.