The Liberal Party (LP), just three years ago the dominant political party in the country, on Tuesday found itself without a leader after its president, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, resigned over the wipeout of the Otso Diretso senatorial bets in the just concluded midterm elections.
Pangilinan tolled the LP death knell through a letter he submitted to party chairperson Vice President Leni Robredo yesterday, further emaciating the chances of the LP regrouping for the 2022 presidential elections which, for now, looks likely to become a clash among personalities supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Pangilinan took responsibility for the total defeat of eight LP candidates for the Senate, which now has a “super majority” of 20 administration senators against four from the opposition LP, all remnants of the 17th Congress.
Quezon City Rep. Kit Belmonte also resigned as LP secretary general.
Robredo, however, rejected their resignations after an emergency meeting among what is left of the LP membership.
“As campaign manager for the Otso Diretso slate, I was unable to ensure our victory in the elections and I, therefore, assume full responsibility for the outcome and hold myself primarily accountable for this defeat and have tendered my resignation as president of the LP effective 30 June 2019,” Pangilinan said in a statement.
Pangilinan’s resignation came before the proclamation of the 12 winning senatorial candidates — 10 of whom were endorsed by President Duterte and his daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.
Of the Otso Diretso bets, only reelectionist Sen. Bam Aquino showed a slim chance of making it to the magic circle of 12 winners, but ended up at No. 14.
But a fissure in the LP was long evident even before Pangilinan decided to quit.
At the height of the 90-day campaign period, former Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas noticeably detached himself from the rest of the Otso Diretso candidates.
Roxas campaigned on his own for most of the stretch.
Aquino also held campaign sorties alone on several occasions.
Other Otso Diretso bets, namely, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, lawyers Chel Diokno and Romulo Macalintal, former Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada and former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay formed a core of their own and were together most of the time.
Former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the former LP chairman, also did not actively campaign for Otso Diretso.
Senate Minority Leader and LP vice chairman Franklin Drilon lamented Pangilinan’s departure, saying: “We are deeply saddened by his resignation as our party president. We did not expect it, especially in times like this when we need a steady hand to lead the party alongside Vice President Robredo.”
“We are witness(es) to how Senator Pangilinan worked very hard and diligently to campaign for Otso Diretso candidates. Unfortunately, we lost,” he added.
Drilon said the LP leadership will try to convince Pangilinan to reconsider his decision.
“While his resignation is a class act, we hope that he will reconsider his decision. We will try to convince him to reconsider his decision and ask the party leadership to not accept his resignation,” Drilon said.
As the LP could not hide its weakened state, members of the Senate minority are still assured of getting committee chairmanships in the coming 18th Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said there are more than enough committees for all 24 senators.
“Everyone deserves to get a committee. No one will be left without committees. There are more than enough for all members,” Zubiri said.
Zubiri, however, is not sure whether the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments will remain under Pangilinan.
“There is still no decision on it,” he said.
Apart from Pangilinan, the Senate minority bloc is composed of Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Sen. Risa Hontiveros and detained Sen. Leila de Lima.
During the current 17th Congress, Aquino was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Science and Technology, while outgoing Sen. Trillanes was the head of the Committee on Civil Service, Government Reorganization and Professional Regulation. De Lima is the chairperson of the Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development.
Earlier, Zubiri said incoming senators from the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP) are assured of their preferred committees.
Former Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go will be given the Committee on Health and Demography, while former Bureau of Corrections chief Ronald de la Rosa will head the Public Order and Dangerous Drugs body.
The Health committee is currently headed by Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito, who is currently trailing the senatorial race at No. 13, while public order is under Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
Lacson confirmed that he offered to relinquish the post to De la Rosa, who is a fellow graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). Lacson belongs to PMA Class of 1971, while De la Rosa is a member of PMA Class of 1986.
“Knowing (De la Rosa), I am confident that he will learn the ropes of lawmaking easily, not to mention that I want him to immediately feel and experience how to balance the plight of those at the receiving end of the abuses and overzealousness of some police officers in the conduct of their operations with the side of law enforcement itself,” Lacson said.