June 19, 2006 (STAR) The people are beginning to see the Senate as "irrelevant and useless" because of the senators’ alleged inaction and opposition to urgent bills, Malacañang said yesterday.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the administration has been seeking the Senate’s cooperation in the passage of many vital bills, among them this year’s proposed P1.053-trillion national budget, the Anti-Terrorism Bill, and the Biofuels Bill.

"In every situation but the fact that they (bills) are unacted upon shows they (senators) have practiced themselves to be stumbling blocks," he said.

"With these vital bills unacted upon, I think the people are now beginning to see the real roles they (senators) are playing now," Bunye said.

However, Bunye said the executive branch would do what it can do to implement its socio-economic programs despite the intransigence and the "destructive politics" of senators.

"The President would not be distracted from her focus on bringing economic upliftment to the poor and the countryside while upholding the rule of law," he said.

Bukidnon Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri on Saturday slammed the Senate for politicking in blocking government efforts to pass his Biofuels Bills aimed at pushing alternatives to expensive imported crude oil and save the country some P35 billion annually.

Zubiri said the country could have started its journey towards "energy independence" had the Senate approved the long-delayed bill that would allow the country to partially substitute local and renewable plant-derived fuels for gasoline and diesel, and bring down pump prices, generate employment, reduce pollution and save billions of pesos.

"With oil getting expensive, (the Senate) cannot afford to sit on a measure that promises relief to our motorists," he said. "Otherwise, it will leave the public very frustrated and fuel the clamor for (the Senate’s) abolition."

Malacañang earlier called for the abolition of the Senate.

Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio said as Congress adjourned last June 9, the House of Representatives was able to pass 71 bills of national importance. Among them are the rationalization of the fiscal incentives, the Billion Trees Act, and the Biofuels Bill.

Claudio warned that the Senate might find itself isolated and ignored by the people, who want less politicking.

"We hope the Senate realizes that with or without their cooperation, the rest of the nation is determined to get on with the urgent business of alleviating poverty, establishing political stability, and resolutely moving itself on the road to economic progress," he said.

Claudio said the administration has been trying to help improve the economy and bring about stability to the country, he added.

"But the nation’s welfare cannot be held hostage by the Senate’s inertia and inaction," he said.

"Now this is what the growing clamor and popular support for Charter change is all about, this is why it will succeed."

Apart from shifting the form of government, the administration is pushing for Charter change to lift restrictive economic provisions that hamper the entry of foreign capital. — Paolo Romero

Villar vows ‘independent’ Senate By Christina Mendez The Philippine Star 06/19/2006

Incoming Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. has assured his colleagues, especially members of the chamber’s minority, that the Senate will remain independent from Malacañang, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said yesterday.

Villar is taking over the Senate leadership from Sen. Franklin Drilon when Congress resumes session next month under a term-sharing agreement he and Drilon struck in 2004.

Pimentel also allayed fears that Villar, who is allied with President Arroyo, would succumb to Palace pressure on the moves to amend the Constitution and adopt a parliamentary form of government.

"As for Manny Villar, the change in his political fortunes will not, in his words, change his attitude towards Malacañang. He has promised those whose support he has courted that he will protect the Senate as an institution and uphold the rights of the people against any other body or person who would trample upon those rights," he said.

Pimentel said he has no reason to doubt Villar’s commitment to protect the Senate’s independence. "Villar has given his word to his colleagues that if elected Senate president, he will not allow himself to become a Palace lapdog. As he has told us, ‘I’m already old and I don’t want being dictated upon by the President on what to do’."

Pimentel echoed Sen. Rodolfo Biazon’s concern that the Senate under Villar might "take it easy" on the issue of amending the Constitution as well as Senate investigations on alleged administration wrongdoing.

But Pimentel remained confident that there would be no change in direction.

The administration and its allies are expecting smoother relations with the Senate with Villar at the helm.

Pimentel noted that Villar, as chairman of the Senate finance committee, did not yield to pressure from the Palace and the House to restore cuts made by the Senate in the P1-trillion national budget during the Senate-House deliberations on the measure.

Villar even incurred Malacañang’s ire for refusing to toe the administration line on several other issues, Pimentel said.

However, Villar still has to secure the vote of at least 13 senators to occupy the Senate presidency despite his term-sharing agreement with Drilon.

Biazon did not say if he would vote for Villar but hinted of a full and continuing support for Drilon and the Liberal Party. Biazon is with the Liberal Party while Villar heads the Nacionalista Party.

Last Thursday, opposition Sen. Sergio Osmeña III said he foresees a Senate having smooth relations with the Palace under Villar, whom he described as "diplomatic" in asserting his positions on issues.

Drilon had struck a term-sharing deal with Villar after the 2004 elections to avoid creating a split in the administration majority. Drilon was then allied with Mrs. Arroyo.

Under his agreement with Villar, Drilon will serve during the First and Second Regular Sessions of the 13th Congress. Villar will begin his term next month, when the Third Regular Session begins.

Drilon said he and Villar agreed on a sharing scheme to keep the peace in the Senate and avoid disrupting the passage of necessary legislation.

Drilon withdrew support from Mrs. Arroyo in July last year following opposition allegations that she cheated in the 2004 presidential election.

Mrs. Arroyo is fighting opposition efforts to force her from office over the vote-rigging allegations.

Mrs. Arroyo accuses the opposition of shifting the battle to the Senate after she successfully fought off an impeachment bid in the House in September last year.

She charged that Drilon and other senators critical of her were trying to weaken her with a series of investigations purportedly aimed at uncovering corruption.

The Senate investigations are meant to help legislators craft laws, but she said they were "in aid of destabilization."

Senators led by Drilon are also at odds with the Arroyo administration and the administration-dominated House on how to amend the Constitution. They prefer amendments drafted by a constitutional convention made up of elected delegates.

They argue that amendments proposed by a constituent assembly would appear self-serving because lawmakers would make up the body.

A people’s initiative being pushed by Arroyo allies could skirt the Senate-House impasse.

The two sides were supposed to resolve their differences through a series of talks. Their representatives have had two meetings but reached no agreement.

The Senate said it would only cooperate on amendments on economic reforms and not on political ones, including the move to change the country’s form of government.

The people’s initiative has also run into opposition from senators, who are questioning its legality.

Administration officials said the rocky relationship with the Senate demonstrated the argument for Mrs. Arroyo’s initiative to replace the current US-style presidential system with a parliamentary system.

They complained that a number of urgent bills have been delayed because the Senate paid too much attention on conducting investigations into alleged wrongdoing by Malacañang.

They said the time has come to abolish the Senate by adopting a single-legislature parliamentary system because the chamber has already become obstructive.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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