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ZUBIRI OUSTED IN SENATE REVOLT, ESCUDERO IS IN; Marcos blamed for surprise shakeup, denies participation

By ALFRED GABOT and CLAIRE MORALES TRUE

Editor in chief and Managing Editor

PASAY CITY – Surprising the nation only days before Congress adjourns sine die, some 15 senators ousted Senate President Juan Miguel Migz Zubiri as the Upper Chamber of Congress leader and replaced him with Sen. Francis Joseph Chiz Escudero of Sorsogon.

Critics of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. immediately hinted that he had a hand in the unexpected shakeup and the allegation was bolstered by immediately hosting Escudero and his senator allies with First Lady Liza Marcos in a dinner in Malacanang only six hours after the Senate revamp.

With Escudero in the dinner wereSenate President Pro Tempore Jose Jinggoy Estrada,  Senate Majority Leader Francis Tolentino, Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Juliana Pilar Pia Cayetano, Robinhood Padilla, Rafael Raffy Tulfo, Mark Villar, Mary Grace Poe, Cynthia Villar, Loren Legarda, and Sherwin Gatchalian and Maria Imelda Imee Marcos who came in late.

The Chief Executive denied the allegation and was quoted by media as saying he knew only the change of leadership in the Senate only after it was already done. Escudero later admitted he masterminded the ouster of Zubiri with some senators.

Marcos nonetheless Marcos expressed his support to Senator Escudero citing his track record and experience in the legislative.

With Escudero at the helm, the President said he was confident that the Senate would continue prioritizing measures supporting the administration’s trust for positive transformation.

“I extend my support to the new Senate President, Chiz Escudero. His legislative record and commitment to public service have distinguished him as a dedicated leader,” Marcos said.

“Senator Chiz steps into this role following the commendable tenure of Senator Migz Zubiri, and I am confident that under his leadership, the Senate will continue to prioritize transformative laws to achieve our shared vision for a Bagong Pilipinas,” he added.

Escudero, 54, is the son of the late Sorsogon Congressman Salvador Escudero III who served in various capacities, including as Agriculture Secretary, during the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. His mother, Dr. Evelina Guevarra Escudero served as congresswoman. Before returning to the Senate via the 2022 election, he was governor of Sorsogon.

Hinting an ouster plot for weeks, erstwhile Senate President Zuburi resigned as Senate leader and delivered a fully charged speech admitting he was heartbroken as some senators who had earlier vowed loyalty to his leadership had betrayed him despite of the many accomplishments under him.

This allowed the changeover and Escudero’s nomination by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and election as Senate President without any objection.

As his wife, actress and fashion icon Heart Evangelista looked on, Escudero took his oath before Senator Mark Villar.

In his assumption speech, Escudero committed that there will be no division in the upper chamber following the sudden change of leadership.

He thanked Zubiri for his patience, diligence and love for the country.

In his valedictory speech, Zubiri reiterated that under his leadership, the autonomy of the Senate was maintained despite the current political noise in the country.

“We have been a staunchly independent Senate. Let me say that again, we have been a staunchly independent Senate holding strong against all threats against our institution, and against threats to the very foundation of democracy on which our nation is built,” he said.

“I have put myself on the line to shield the Senate from all attacks, particularly from efforts to diminish the powers of this institution as the country’s last bastion of democracy…God knows what I had to do to defend the Senate,” he added.

Zubiri’s allies, Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, Majority Leader Senator Joel Villanueva, Senate Committee on Tourism, Accounts and Ethics chairperson Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay, Committee on Finance and Sub-committee on Constitutional Amendment chairman Senator Juan Edgardo Sonny Angara, and Senate deputy majority leader Joseph Victor JV Ejercito also resigned from their post as a courtesy to Escudero’s leadership.

Senator Jose Jinggoy Estrada was named as the new Senate President Pro Tempore, while Senator Francis Tolentino will replace Villanueva and will also serve as the concurrent chairman of the upper chamber’s committee on rules.

Cayetano will take the helm of the Senate Committee on Accounts, replacing Binay.

Observers attributed the resignation of Zubiri to his alleged failure to call off the ongoing investigation of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs on the alleged leak of confidential documents from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) that links President Marcos and veteran actress Maricel Soriano, among others, to illegal drug use back in 2012.

In the Senate inquiry presided by Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, a former Philippine National Police chief, former PDEA agent Jonathan Morales said that the leaked documents that name Marcos and Soriano as targets for a supposed to be planned anti-drug operation were legitimate.

Morales’ claims, however, were denied by the PDEA, saying that such documents do not exist in their database.

Interviewed later, Escudero said he expects the new Senate leadership to finish reorganizing the committees this week.

The 19th Congress adjourns its Second Regular Session on Tuesday.

Gatchalian will retain chairmanship of the basic education and ways and means panels. 

Sen. Grace Poe will get the Senate Finance Committee, which will craft the annual national budget, Escudero said. 

He said Senators Ronald dela Rosa and Christopher Lawrence Go will retain their existing committees. Senate Majority Leader Francis Tolentino will have to give up the Justice Committee because of his new job.

Escudero said the bloc of former Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri will be offered chairmanships.

In his privilege speech, Zubiri hinted that his failure to “follow instructions” from the “powers that be” was the reason he was replaced. 

“I have never dictated my positions to any of you and I always supported your independence — which is probably why I face my demise today. I failed to follow instructions from the powers that be,” he said.

“I fought the good fight. If I had ruffled some feathers in doing so, if I had upset the powers that be, then so be it,” he added.

In an interview, Zubiri said the investigation by Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa into the so-called “PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency) leaks” was one of the reasons he was replaced.

“I am only presuming. Many people told me to halt the hearings. They did not stop,” he said, surmising the change in leadership started when the Senate took a solid stance against the People’s Initiative to amend the Constitution.

“When we did not agree with the timeline for Cha-cha (Charter change), that’s when I felt there was discontent. My intention was to maintain the institution’s independence,” he said.

De la Rosa, who was chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Order, spearheaded the investigation into the alleged involvement of President Marcos Jr. in illegal drugs.

When asked if he thought Malacañang had a hand in the turn of events at the Senate, Zubiri declined to comment.

“I don’t want anymore to rain on the parade of Senator Escudero. I did my job. I did it well. We have no scandals. I am so happy that I had been able to render my service,” he said.

Zubiri admitted that he was heartbroken by the actions of his colleagues, who had supposedly assured him of their support amid the rumors of his impending ouster.

“It’s sad. I did everything to protect the independence of the Senate, but that’s just how politics is, there’s nothing we can do,” he said.

During his speech, Zubiri, who belongs to the “seatmates” bloc, expressed his gratitude to Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, Senate Deputy Majority Leader Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, and Senators Nancy Binay and Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara for “supporting him until the end.”

He also thanked Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, whom he said he stayed “loyal” to him, a position he described as a “true test of character.”

He also extended his gratitude to Senator De la Rosa and Senator Sherwin Win Gatchalian.

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