Tolentino: Up to senators who will lead Blue Ribbon panel

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 16) — Despite a supposed offer to head the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee in the 19th Congress, Sen. Francis Tolentino has not publicly expressed an active interest in the chairmanship of the panel, pending an official nomination by his colleagues in the upper chamber.

"The committee chairmanship is supposed to be elected by majority. I will abide by the decision of the majority once the 19th Congress convenes," he told CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday. "It's up to the majority, it's up to the members of Senate."

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who is so far running unopposed as the next Senate President, earlier announced that he wanted Tolentino to head the panel and that the senator had already accepted the offer,

However, returning senator Alan Peter Cayetano said last week that he would only likely join the majority bloc if he gets the Blue Ribbon committee.

"If I'm elected, I would not probably turn my back as to the decision of the Senate. I've been a worker ever since," said Tolentino, who currently chairs the Senate Committee on Local Government. "I will not dilly-dally on whatever is given to me by the majority."

The senator said, however, that when the position was offered to him, he had to think things through since to him, the panel is not just any ordinary committee.

He also described Cayetano as someone who is "well-qualified" for the post, having headed the Blue Ribbon panel in the upper chamber before.

Tolentino added that he can work in any panel like the Committee on National Defense, and even simply being a panel member would suffice. He said, however, that as a lawyer, he can also handle the Blue Ribbon panel and be productive in whatever way he can.

"There have been talks as what you've gathered, but again, all are qualified to chair the Blue Ribbon. It should not be given on a silver platter just to anyone," he said. "It has to be on the basis of your conviction, track record and how you can steer the committee for the greater good."

Tolentino also said that if he gets the post, he will seek to conduct preliminary determination on reports about alleged fraud in the Social Security System.

He will also get the sentiments of his colleagues about the possibility of reopening the investigation on issues surrounding the Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, if new evidence or any supervening event would merit a further probe on the issue.

Outgoing Sen. Richard Gordon, who currently heads the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, is leaving the issue to the next Congress. His panel's draft report on the allegedly anomalous multibillion-peso deal between the government and Pharmally for the purchase of medical supplies for COVID-19 response failed to hurdle the committee level before the 18th Congress adjourned sine die. Pharmally officials Mohit Dargani and Linconn Ong, who were involved in the controversy, were also released from jail.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, now the lone opposition senator in the 19th Congress, previously said she is "very willing" to file a resolution to reopen the investigation.