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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Getting To Know Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Speaker of the House Martin Romualdez

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The House speakership and the Senate presidency, leaders of both chambers of the legislative department, play an essential role in navigating any president’s agenda. It will benefit the chief executive to be allied with them.

The power to elect the Senate President and House Speaker is enshrined in Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, the former of which is second in line to the presidency while the latter is third.

For Outgoing Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, the role entrusted to him comes with the duty of maintaining the integrity and independence of the upper chamber. “Huwag ninyong payagan na mabahiran ng politika ang inyong serbisyo sa taumbayan. Ingatan ‘nyo ang respetong ibinibigay ng bawat Pilipino sa Senado at sa mga miyembro nito,” he said.

Sotto will step down as the nation’s 23rd Senate President. He will join the likes of Manuel L. Quezon, Manuel Roxas, Jovito Salonga and Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who steered the chamber in history’s pivotal moments.

Quezon, the longest-serving Senate President in history, shepherded the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934 that paved the way for the 10-year transition of the Philippines from an American colony to an independent nation, only to be halted by the Japanese occupation during World War II.

Gil Puyat, the last Senate President before Martial Law, whose business acumen led him to lead the passage of the Budget Act, which mandated the government to include in the budget a schedule of projects and auditing achievements, a seismic shift in the way public funds are distributed and administered.

Salonga, the first Senate President in the post-Edsa era, was known as the “Nation’s Fiscalizer.” He helped create legislation establishing the Presidential Commission on Good Governance (PCGG), tasked with retrieving the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth.

Pimentel Jr. resigned from the Senate Presidency after a year because the impeachment court voted against the opening of an envelope that would have implicated then-President Joseph Estrada of corruption.

And Drilon, in his three terms, had to unite a fractious Senate, weather an election marred by rampant cheating and investigate a widespread corruption case that involved even his co-senators.

Meanwhile, for Outgoing Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, who was caught in a tug-of-war for the speakership in 2020, the House was a “key and steady partner” of the administration, “ready to scrutinize the national budget, to pass laws, to conduct hearings, to provide oversight on the implementation of laws.”

Like Senate presidents, House speakers have also made history of their own, more than just being a pet of the president.

Manuel Roxas helped advocate for the independence of the Philippines after the Great Depression began taking a toll on the country’s economy and other industries.

Ramon Mitra Jr. helped bring back Congress in its glorious shape after years of a deep subservience to the executive department. He was the first speaker of the post-Edsa era whose leadership was described as “sterling.”

And Manuel Villar was House Speaker when the lower chamber impeached then-President Joseph Estrada for corruption charges stemming from jueteng, as divulged by his close friend, Chavit Singson. At a notable moment, he ignored pleas from the president’s supporters while reading the resolution: “The secretary-general is immediately directed to transmit to the Senate the impeachment complaint, constituting the articles of impeachment together with the verified resolution of endorsement. Session is suspended.”

As the administration of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. kicks off at noon on June 30, two names have emerged as his partners in Congress: Martin Romualdez in the House and Juan Miguel Zubiri in the Senate.

The incoming House speaker: Martin Romualdez

Incoming House Speaker Martin Romualdez (Photograph from Romualdez’s Facebook page)

Romualdez, the representative from Leyte’s first district, is the cousin of Marcos Jr, whose mother, Imelda Romualdez Marcos, is his aunt. Born to a wealthy family, he earned his undergraduate degree at Cornell University in 1985 and finished law at the University of the Philippines in 1992.

He spent a chunk of his adult life in the banking industry, serving as chairman of the board at the Equitable PCI Bank.

He expressed interest in entering politics as early as 2014. He gunned for the Senate in 2016 but ended up in 15th place, winning 12,066,998 votes.

In 2019, he entered the lower chamber, elected by his constituents in an overwhelming landslide. His wife, Yedda, was the first nominee of Tingog Sinirangan Party list.

As House Majority Leader, Romualdez authored and co-authored a total of 388 bills, 64 of which were enacted into law, including the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act and the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act that flushed out economic stimulus for millions of Filipinos gravely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the incoming 19th Congress, Romualdez secured the support of the major parties, including Lakas-CMD, where he is the president, PDP-Laban, Nacionalista and Nationalist People’s Coalition, among others.

His first order of business would be the deferment of the barangay elections and a stimulus bill named after Marcos Jr.

The incoming Senate President: Juan Miguel Zubiri

Incoming Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri (Photograph from Zubiri’s Facebook page)

The Senate avoided a clash in the race for the Senate presidency as the “supermajority” appeared headed to elect Zubiri as the chamber’s 24th Senate President.

His political career began in 1998 when he was elected representative of Bukidnon’s third district, a bailiwick of the Zubiris. He was one of the “Spice Boys” that were relentlessly critical of then-President Joseph Estrada at the height of his impeachment.

After three consecutive terms, he tried his luck in the Senate. Though then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was already unpopular at the time, Zubiri joined the Team UNITY ticket.

Zubiri ended up in a battle for the 12th place against Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, the son of Pimentel Jr. Pimentel alleged that voter fraud occurred in Maguindanao that separated both men by just 20,000 votes. The Senate Electoral Tribunal then revised the tally after an investigation putting Pimentel leading Zubiri by 96,000 votes.

Zaldy Ampatuan, suspended governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Lintang Bedol, Maguindanao election supervisor, admitted in 2011 that there was indeed fraud in ARMM in favor of the administration slate.

Zubiri resigned, exhausted by the trial of publicity waged against him by his rivals. “I am resigning because of these unfounded accusations against me and these issues has systematically divided our nation and has casted doubts in our electoral system which has affected not only myself, this Institution but the public as well,” he said.

He sought a comeback in 2013 but ended up in 14th place.

Luckily for him, his persistence paid off in 2016 as he waged a successful Senate comeback, elected Senate Majority Leader anew (the first was in 2007, being the youngest in history). He became a trusted ally of President Duterte, defending him even when he’s already a lame duck, as evident by his non-committal to sign a report that would recommend charges against him for the government’s shady dealings with Pharmally Pharmaceuticals.

After holding the second-highest position in the Senate, Zubiri is on track to be the next Senate President, allying with a candidate whom he indirectly supported, a result of being part of multiple slates.

After Sen. Cynthia Villar opted to back out of the race, Zubiri said: “A united Senate is a productive one, so from the very beginning, I’ve always wanted to form a super majority in the Senate. So, I would like to thank Ma’am Cynthia Villar from the bottom of my heart for her support, graciousness, and magnanimity in helping me form a super majority.”

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