MANILA, January 9, 2003 (STAR) By Efren Danao and Sammy Santos  - Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III said yesterday that the opposition would try to wrest the leadership in the Senate "whenever the opportunity presents itself."

Sotto said that the Senate has been greatly divided and if a change in leadership would ease this division, then it should be pursued.

"But at the moment, I have no knowledge of any move to unseat Senate President Franklin Drilon. Maybe tonight, I will know something," he quipped.

Sotto also stressed that Malacañang would never have a hand in any change in Senate leadership.

"There have been five changes of leadership in the Senate and in all instances, the change was initiated by the senators themselves. Malacañang has never had any role in these changes," Sotto explained.

He said that the senators pride themselves in their independence from Malacañang and many senators would surely resent any perceived meddling by the Palace in the internal affairs of the Senate.

One senator said that rumors of Malacañang’s initiative to install opposition Sen. Edgardo Angara as Senate president were probably meant to drive away the votes of independent-minded senators.

Sen. Joker Arroyo said that there is no need to change Drilon if the idea is merely to foster a government of national unity.

"We already have a de facto coalition in the Senate. The minority has been lording it over the majority with the acquiescence of Senate President Drilon," Arroyo said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ramon Magsaysay yesterday brushed aside speculations that a coup was in the offing in the Senate.

"The Senate is peaceful," said Magsaysay, saying he saw no reason to justify a change of leadership in the Senate under Drilon.

"We are talking here of a transparent, simple and open leadership," he added.

Magsaysay was reacting to rumors now sweeping the Senate halls that Angara was gearing to contest the Senate leadership with Drilon when Congress resumes session on Monday, Jan. 13.

Drilon himself dismissed the reports of an Angara coup which was published in a broadsheet Tuesday.

The newspaper, quoting unnamed sources, reported that President Arroyo allegedly offered the position of Senate president to Angara under the proposed "government of national unity."

While declining to comment on the report, Drilon said Presidential Legislative Liaison Office head Gabriel Claudio called him up Tuesday morning to deny that the President made such offer to Angara.

Political observers revealed that those agitating for a change in the Senate leadership were actually the same persons advocating for Cha-cha (Charter change) by convening the two chambers of Congress into a constituent assembly.

They noted that Drilon has strongly opposed the move principally sponsored by House Speaker Jose de Venecia.

Angara, the observers noted, was the principal proponent of Cha-cha in the Senate although he is staunchly against any postponement of the scheduled 2004 presidential elections.

Angara could not be reached for comment by Senate reporters yesterday. His media relations officer Marcial Reyes said Angara was still to arrive from Spain as of yesterday afternoon.

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