Amending the 1987 Constitution and extending the terms of elected officials will not be the priority of the Senate in the 19th Congress.
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who is poised to be the next Senate President, said this Wednesday in reaction to a proposal in the House of Representatives that would amend the Constitution and cut the President and Vice President’s terms to five years but allow them one reelection each.
Zubiri also revealed that the influential Senate Blue Ribbon Committee would be chaired by Senator Francis Tolentino, which the former said was what the majority wanted despite returning Senator Alan Peter Cayetano’s expressed interest to lead the panel.
Senator Imee Marcos, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s older sister, is set to chair the Senate Committees on Foreign Relations, Electoral Reform, Social Justice, and Cooperatives.
“She is hardworking, and you know, I thank her because she is willing to hold these four committees,” Zubiri said.
Cayetano had said he would only join the Senate majority led by Zubiri if he gets the chairmanship of the Blue Ribbon, also known as the Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations.
Zubiri said the majority had already offered the position to Tolentino, from the very beginning and the former happily accepted it.
“Although with a little bit of a hesitation because it takes a lot of work. But we committed to him our support and he already accepted it. That’s already a done issue,” the presumptive Senate President told reporters.
“Let’s not talk about Charter change when the (Marcos) administration is so new… I would say, right now, that is not our priority,” Zubiri said in a chance interview.
The Senate leader said the people are “allergic to political talk” when it comes to constitutional amendments, as the 19th Congress should prioritize discussions on how the economy will recover and how the government can provide livelihood to the Filipinos.
“That’s the first thing we have to discuss because we’re coming from a pandemic. Many are still suffering because COVID-19 isn’t over yet. So we have to support the President (Ferdinand Marcos Jr.) and his health program in the coming months,” he said.
Zubiri said the only current Charter change-related issue senators have discussed was the federalism advocacy of Senator Robin Padilla.
The neophyte lawmaker is poised to chair the Senate constitutional amendments panel.
“I told him, go ahead, set your committee hearings. Of course, we will attend, and we will exchange our ideas with you.’ That’s as far as we are talking about any talk about Charter change,” Zubiri said.
He also said the Senate in the 19th Congress will not be a rubber stamp of the Marcos administration but will not be an obstructionist on the measures that seek to help various sectors in the country.
“In the 18th Congress, I was also the Senate majority leader. Never did the Senate become a rubber stamp,” he added, citing as an example the push of the death penalty bill during the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte.
“We will go through the measures with a fine-toothed comb. If we think it is good for the country, we will pass these bills without a doubt. If it’s good for the country, it’s good for a particular sector,” he said.
In their previous meetings, Zubiri said the Marcos administration did not ask for the passage of supposedly controversial bills.
He also disclosed that the current administration would like to push for the remaining tax reform bills that were not approved under the Duterte administration, such as the Passive Income Financial Intermediary Taxation Act (PIFITA), Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE) bill, and the Real Property Valuation Reform.
“I think those are non-controversial measures. These are not new taxes. It’s ‘no to new taxes.’ That is the theme of the Marcos administration in this first quarter,” he said.
The lawmaker said they will wait for the administration’s priority bills, which will be laid out on Marcos’ first State of the Nation Address on July 25.
On the Blue Ribbon committee, which is tasked to investigate alleged wrongdoings of the government, its officials, and its attached agencies, Zubiri emphasized the majority bloc wanted Tolentino to head it,
“That’s what it is. Let’s be practical about it. It should be early, the assignment of positions. It’s not about really what you want. It’s about what the body wants. All selected chairmen would be elected on the floor,” Zubiri added.
However, the Senate leader said he is still trying to appeal to Cayetano to join the majority.
“We will still talk about it. What I know is there are still four available [committees]. Ethics is one. It should be no problem giving it to Senator Cayetano. Why not?” he said.
Zubiri is hoping to meet with Cayetano and his sister, Senator Pia Cayetano, this week to finalize the discussions.
“I have a very few more committees reserved for them, like Government Corporations. We also have good chairmanships still in store for them.
Of course, Pia will definitely retain hers, whether she likes it or not, we will really give her the Sustainable Development Goals (panel) because that’s really for her,” he said.
“We will get her other committees that she will be happy to be a chairperson of. But yet I cannot confirm until we finalize the talks with the Cayetano siblings,” Zubiri added.