Despite indebtedness to Duterte, Francis Tolentino won’t be a rubber stamp

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 16) — While admitting that he is indebted to President Rodrigo Duterte, former presidential political adviser Francis Tolentino vows that he would not be the chief executive's rubber stamp when he enters the Senate.

Opo [Yes.] Hundred percent. Susuportahan natin ‘yung legislative agenda ng Pangulo [We will support the President’s legislative agenda,]” Tolentino told CNN Philippines’ The Source when asked if he is indebted to Duterte, who backed his second attempt at a Senate seat.

However, Tolentino, who is ranking ninth in the senatorial race in partial and unofficial results, said it is just a coincidence that his legislative priorities are parallel with Duterte’s.

He pointed out that he was first to propose some laws which are now on Duterte’s legislative agenda, like the creation of the Department of Disaster Management and Department of Water.

“I espouse the creation of the Department of Disaster Management since 2016, the President is in favor of that. If I push for that, that doesn't mean I’m being a rubber stamp … even before the height of the El Niño crisis, I’ve been espousing the Department of Water. The President, after two weeks, supported that. So would that mean I’m a rubber stamp? Hindi [No,]” Tolentino said.

Tolentino also backs granting Duterte emergency powers to solve traffic congestion in Metro Manila — a measure that got stuck at the House of Representatives.

Tolentino is one of three Duterte’s men seen to enter the Senate, along with former Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go and former national police chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.

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In his first attempt to get a Senate seat in 2016, Tolentino was adopted by Duterte after he dropped out of the Liberal Party slate after he was criticized for inviting scantily-clad women to dance at a campaign sortie.

Duterte heavily campaigned for Tolentino, consistently mentioning him in speeches and appearing in his TV advertisements.

Other administration allies are dominating the elections, while no opposition bet is seen to win the race. This is the worst turnout for the opposition since 1947.

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The minority bloc in the Senate will be down to just four members from six, if Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV fails to be re-elected. Aquino and firebrand opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s terms would end next month.

With administration bets in the lead, analysts see that Duterte’s pet bills like the second package of his administration tax reform package and the switch to a federal form of government will see smoother sailing through the legislative mill.

Incumbent senators who have most likely secured reelection have allayed fears that the Senate would become a rubber stamp, assuring that the upper chamber will remain independent.