INTERESTINGLY, Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri reacted to a report that his colleagues were maneuvering to oust him from his post because of the chamber's lack of productivity. It seems too early for a leadership shakeup in Congress, but neither Mr. Zubiri nor his allies should be dismissive about the situation. Whether or not the report is factual, Congress does seem to be moving too slowly.
Mr. Zubiri said the report was false and was the product of some bored writer. In a more telling comment, he told reporters that the rumblings may be related to his opposition to new attempts at amending the 1987 Constitution.
“It is not the priority of the President,” he said, referring to Ferdinand Marcos Jr. “It is also not our priority.”
Indeed, Charter change is not a priority, but he should also pick up the pace of work. People were expecting lawmakers, including those in the House of Representatives, to move quickly on the legislation needed to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic and propel the country forward.
President Marcos listed nearly 20 priority bills at his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July. Sadly, neither the Senate nor the House has made significant headway in passing them, despite the fact that the allies of President Marcos have a supermajority in both chambers.
Instead of working on the priority bills, Congress members spent time deliberating on the bill proposing to postpone the youth and village elections, and in creating a sovereign wealth fund for the country. And now, legislators are pushing Charter change, which Mr. Zubiri correctly said was not urgent.
He told reporters, “Let us focus on the job at hand — post-pandemic recovery, a Senate of national reconstruction. We will continue that agenda. We will continue to be focused on that.” He added that he wanted to help President Marcos attract more foreign investors to the country and lift Filipinos up from poverty.
That sounds good, but Mr. Zubiri should spell out what he thinks should be done. The same goes for House Speaker Martin Romualdez, who also happens to be the President's cousin. But unlike the Senate president, he may be untouchable.
Both leaders should go beyond just declaring support for President Marcos, presumably on his priority bills. As Senate president and House speaker, they manage a government branch that is co-equal to the executive. They should have their own ideas about what the country needs. They do not necessarily need to follow the Palace's plans, especially if they have better suggestions. But they should let people know what those are.
In other words, the top leaders in Congress should each have their priority bills. Their list can be reconciled with that of President Marcos. Perhaps the similar ones can be tackled first, or at least ahead of the others. Congressional leaders should also challenge those of the President's priority bills that they believe are less pressing and campaign for alternative measures.
Neither Mr. Zubiri nor his counterpart in the House should simply sit and watch what bills the senators and congressmen may choose to file. That is not what leadership is about. Leaders are proactive.
In fairness to Mr. Zubiri, he said that he would intervene whenever necessary. That was the case in the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP. But by the time the Senate ratified it, all the other signatory countries had already done so. The Philippines lost first-mover advantage to its neighbors that are also looking to attract foreign investors and boost their exports.
Sounding unfazed by the supposed rumblings, Mr. Zubiri said: “At the end of the day, I serve at the pleasure of my colleagues, and if there are 13 votes to elect a new Senate president, then I will gladly step down.” Some political pundits might think otherwise, believing instead that the Palace will probably weigh in on who leads the Senate.
Hopefully, Mr. Zubiri is right about the threat he faces. He is a good man who wants to serve the country well. But he does need to grow into the big shoes, so to speak, that he now wears as Senate president.
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