July 24, 2022

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Congressional leaders’ stature seen smoothing Marcos agenda

By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

THE administration’s legislative agenda is expected to benefit from the stature enjoyed by the congressional leadership, with the projected speaker also a cousin of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., analysts said.

Mr. Marcos, who won the May 9 election by a landslide, will deliver his first address to Congress on July 25. The State of the Nation Address also marks the opening of Congress with the newly elected members taking their seats.

Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri will likely lead the Senate in the 19th Congress, while Leyte Representative Martin G. Romualdez is expected to lead the House. The leaders of both chambers will be selected following the opening ceremony of Congress on Monday.

Both legislators enjoy a “gravitas (that) will be useful in pushing President Marcos’ legislative agenda,” according to Robin Michael U. Garcia, a political economy professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P).

Of the two, Mr. Garcia said in a Viber message to BusinessWorld, Mr. Romualdez, the President’s cousin, can be expected to enjoy the Palace’s trust, while Mr. Zubiri could help with outreach to his allies, Sen. Mary Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares and Sen. Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva.

“We may see more interesting dynamics in the Senate in the next few years,” Mr. Garcia said, noting that the Senate has several neutral and non-aligned members whose votes will not be a given.

“The opposition will have to find alliances among these non-aligned senators,” he added, noting that the opposition has lost three recent elections. “It may lose a fourth in 2025 if it does not reinvent its approach.”

Senators Ana Theresia N. Hontiveros-Baraquel and Aquilino Martin L. Pimentel III are the only two senators who have confirmed their intention to join the minority bloc. However, Sen. Pia S. Cayetano and Sen. Alan Peter S. Cayetano, who are siblings, are also considering siding with the minority.

Mr. Zubiri, who organized a “supermajority” coalition allied with Mr. Marcos, has said he hopes the Cayetanos will join them as well.

“Let’s hope that they are with us in the majority, especially Sen. Pia. Their input is important. Although the committee chairmanships that remain are limited,” he told reporters at the weekend.

Institute for Political and Electoral Reform Executive Director Ramon C. Casiple told BusinessWorld in a text message that actual numbers gathered by the blocs do not matter. “Even one opposition (senator) is enough,” he said. “The real opposition comes from the people. The opposition (senator) is an articulator. As long as the people support him or her, he will be effective.”

Ms. Hontiveros has said that in a diverse society, there will always be a need for people in government to represent a wide range of opinions.

Mr. Casiple said he expects Congress to focus on measures like tax bills, adjustments to worker incomes, and an easing of business regulations.

Any measure that is “designed to provide more income, or provide more opportunities for income” should be welcomed and deliberated, he added.

Mr. Garcia of the UA&P said the legislative agenda he expects to be prominent are “thematic areas such as transportation, industrialization and incentives for local business to enable export-oriented growth.”

He also backed more attractive incentives for foreign direct investment, initiatives that will improve the education system and job skills, and digitalization and tech investment, which is “crucial because the global rules of catch-up development have shifted to technology and innovation,” he said.

He said that despite current problems like the rising cost of living and the national debt, it is still possible to improve digitalization.