Alan Peter Cayetano better off in minority

ALAN Peter Cayetano is returning to the Senate and is angling to be chairman of the coveted blue ribbon committee, formally known as the Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations. In a press interview, he said chairmanship was his condition for accepting an invitation to join the majority bloc. He added that the Senate needed a “fiscalizer” or watchdog. But his request is problematic on at least two points.

One, Mr. Cayetano is bargaining from a weak position. Whether he accepts the invitation, his colleagues have enough to form a supermajority that will be presumably led by Sen. Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri as Senate president. The supermajority will include the president-elect's sister, incumbent Sen. Imee Marcos.

Alan Peter Cayetano

Alan Peter Cayetano

The harsh reality is that Mr. Cayetano needs to be in the majority to get a choice committee assignment. But that bloc has little to gain by accommodating him, since they have more than enough votes to dominate the Senate.

As such, Mr. Cayetano might be better appreciated in the minority, which, for now, only has two members out of the 24-seat chamber. If he joins them, he and his older sister, incumbent Sen. Pia Cayetano, will double the minority in size. Obviously, the Senate will remain lopsided no matter what, but at least the minority can have more people to work with.

Not a catch

Then again, the minority bloc does not seem to be aggressively courting Mr. Cayetano to join them, which brings this editorial to its second point. The presumptive minority leader, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd, sounded lukewarm about having him, telling the Philippine Daily Inquirer recently that the two-member minority will do its best against the 22 senators in the majority. In other words, the minority bloc seems ready to work with or without the Cayetanos.

The minority's role is vital to a functioning democracy. It not merely aims to frustrate the majority, but also refines the Senate's legislative output through debates and compromise.

Sen. Pia Cayetano is known for being one of the hardest-working senators and would be an asset to either bloc. But Alan Peter Cayetano's record does not stand out, not even when one looks at his earlier terms in Congress that date back to 1998.

He had opportunities to shine, though. In 2016, he was the running mate of President Rodrigo Duterte, who will be leaving office with remarkably high satisfaction and approval ratings. Mr. Cayetano lost the race for vice president, of course, but he was later appointed secretary of Foreign Affairs, a premier Cabinet portfolio. But it is hard to see any positive mark that he left on that office. To be fair, the chief architect of foreign policy is the President himself, and the outgoing Foreign Affairs secretary has been so much better than the returning senator.

In 2019, Mr. Cayetano was elected to a new term at the House of Representatives and became speaker. But his tenure as leader is remembered more for the non-renewal of ABS-CBN's congressional franchise and for his attempt to renege on a term-sharing agreement with Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.

The feud for speakership weakened the independence of the House, dragging President Duterte to intervene. Congress, of course, is supposed to be a branch of government co-equal to the executive and judiciary. Again in fairness to Mr. Cayetano, the House seldom asserts its independence from the Philippine President.

In any case, his bid to head the Senate blue ribbon committee may just be wishful thinking, given his weak bargaining power and mediocre record. In the same interview where he expressed interest in the blue ribbon panel, Mr. Cayetano also said he would be happy to be with the minority if he did not get a committee assignment that requires “fiscalizing.” His fellow lawmakers should take note of that.

The role that Mr. Cayetano aspires to play seems better suited for the minority. Besides, he has a large platform as a senator, and he is a big talker. As they say, it is better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a mighty ocean.

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