Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III’s family name connotes leadership, public service, and love of country, based on the life that he and his father, former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. have led and their contributions to Philippine society.

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III

In this Q&A, we get to know Senator Koko up close, how he was raised and guided by his veteran statesman-father, his values and philosophies, and how he is leading the 17th Congress, promoting unity amidst diversity, to achieve its goals for the country.

I am a “consultative person.” I consult before making decisions. I am notthe kind of person who tells another senator, who is my equal, what to do or how to vote on a certain issue.

1. Under your term as Senate President, what efforts did the Senate make to reorganize itself? How did this affect the senators’ working relationship?

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We organized the Senate in the 17th Congress last July 25, 2016. At that time the “super majority” numbered 21 members, with only 3 in the minority.

But we needed to “re-organize” the Senate sometime after that since the feeling inside the “super majority” was that we were not a cohesive group.

After the re-organization, the majority now numbered 18, with 6 in the minority. We may now be a smaller majority, but the feeling within our majority group is that “we are one team.”

The re-organization has actually helped the senators’ working relationships since we now know who truly belongs to the majority and who truly belongs to the minority.

All senators have the good of the country in their hearts. However, it is still the best arrangement in a legislative body to have a real opposition, called the “minority,” in order to “check” the majority and to prevent abuses (the “tyranny of numbers”), as well as to bring out all points of view in the public discussion of important issues.

2. What is your leadership style as Senate President?

I am a “consultative person.” I consult before making decisions.

I am not the kind of person who tells another senator, who is my equal, what to do or how to vote on a certain issue. I will encourage the development of a consensus or an agreement, but if that is not possible, then I am also willing to face the issue head on and for us to publicly vote on the issue so the people will know our individual positions on the matter at hand.

I am aware that the Filipino People expect their senators to vote according to his or her principles.

One consensus I was able to achieve even before my election as Senate President, was the development of the Majority Agenda. In addition to our general expression of support for the Duterte Administration, the Senate majority agreed on an 11-point legislative agenda to guide us in our work, to wit:

  1. We dedicate ourselves to the all- out search for Peace in our land.
  2. We will move for the adoption of a Federal System of Government.
  3. We support the all-out war against crime, drugs, and corruption.
  4. We will reform our taxation system and make it more just and truly progressive.
  5. We will strengthen the Rule of Law and make our justice system work.
  6. We will reform the budget and declare a war on waste.
  7. We call for sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
  8. We will protect the environment.
  9. We will deliver quality education and quality health care.
  10. We will fight abuse and the abusive.

We will focus on the needs and the situation of the helpless and impoverished members of Philippine society, especially the sick, the elderly, and the children, because they need the help of government more than the others.

3. You and your father are the first father and son to be Senate President. How did your father inspire you to become a senator, and become Senate President? What are the life lessons that your father has taught you?

My father never told me to aspire to be a senator like him. He also never told me to be a lawyer like him. When my siblings and I were growing up, he showed us the work he was doing, his profession. He would bring us to court hearings. He would bring us to his office. When he entered politics, especially when he became Mayor of Cagayan de Oro City, we were exposed to the realities and pressures of political life.

My father’s works, struggles, and achievements are what actually inspired me first to become a lawyer like him and then to enter politics like he did.

Looking at my father’s life and experiences, these are some of the lessons that one can easily identify:

  1. Fighting for what is right is never easy.
  2. To not lose your way in life, you must have a set of principles to
    guide you.
  3. Follow your conscience.
  4. If you are fighting for what is right, then never give up because there is vindication in the end.
  5. Always have the Filipino People’s best interest in mind and you will never go wrong.
  6. Prioritize the interests of the poorest of the poor.
  7. You are not alone in your struggles because there is a God who is concerned about you.
  8. Believe in the goodness of your fellowman.
  9. Strengthen democracy and democratic values.

4. Aside from name, what other similarities do you share with your father? How do you differ from each other?

Similarities are:

  1. We are both born in Mindanao, both Ateneans (educated by Jesuits), both lawyers.
  2. We have both been Senate President and PDP LABAN Party President.
  3. We both believe in Theism, Humanism, Federalism, democratic values, enlightened nationalism (love for country), and equal opportunities for all, among others.
  4. I, too, believe in the principles or lessons I have enumerated above.

However, I must admit that I have a more “scientific approach” in life compared to my father. I am, after all, more of a mathematician than a lawyer or politician.

My father’s works, struggles, and achievements are what actually inspired me first to become a lawyer like him and then to enter politics like he did.

5. What is the rationale for your intent to run for another Senate term in 2019? How do you intend to fight for it despite the constitutional limitation?

In the case of Abundo, Sr. v. COMELEC, G. R. No. 201716, dated January 8, 2013, the Supreme Court held that for a local elective official to be disqualified due to term limits, he or she must have fully served three consecutive terms.

The same principle should apply to national officials. As I was unable to serve my first term in full, serving less than two-years1 of a six-year term that should have run from 2007 until 2013, my current term (2013-2019) is actually my first full term. Hence, I believe I can still run for another term in 2019.

We could also apply by analogy the rule found in Sec. 4, Art. VII of the 1987 Constitution which involves the Office of the President.2 This provision suggests that the critical period of time for national officials with six-year terms is four years.

Our country has many problems which we should fix. Since I believe that my science, legal, political, and family backgrounds, as well as my other attributes and love for problem- solving, can help us identify possible solutions to our long-standing, age-old, inter-generational problems, I have decided that I should submit myself to the electorate for possible consideration as Senator in the coming 2019 elections, so that the people will have more candidates to choose from.

6. With all the issues hounding the Senate nowadays, would you say that the Senate is still productive in terms of its main role of legislation?

We definitely have a very productive Senate. By the close of the First Regular Session of the 17th Congress, we have approved or acted on 231 out of a total of 1,469 bills filed. This number does not include 387 resolutions filed in the same period, of which 48 were adopted.

These resolutions included the accession of the Senate to treaties such as the Articles of Agreement of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the RP-Japan Agreement on Social Security, and the landmark Paris Agreement.

I also have a very good working relationship with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who, by the way, happens to be my party mate in PDP LABAN. Hence we can foresee a very productive Congress, not just the Senate.

Through close coordination, cooperation, and team work, we (the House of Representatives and the Senate) were able to pass on third reading almost all of the bills that we identified as important and urgent in the First Regular Session of the 17th Congress.

Don’t worry too much about “issues.” The Senate is a political institution. Hence there will always be “issues” thrown against the institution and even against its individual members. That is part of the terrain. That is part of political life here in the Philippines.

7. What are the current priorities of the Senate now and why?

Our priority is to solve the long-standing, age-old, inter-generational problems of our country, which have prevented the attainment of an improved or decent and comfortable standard of living for all our people.

Our woes may be caused by structures, institutions, policies, programs, or by the people themselves. We should be open to reviewing all of these and change them if necessary, especially when identified to be the culprit causing us our problems.

We are ready to review the current unitary system/structure of government and to adopt the Federal System of Government to replace it. This will achieve Peace in Mindanao.

We are ready to give tax relief to our compensation income earners who are currently paying an unrealistically too high and unfair rate because of the phenomenon called the “bracket creep.”

We will support the Duterte Administration’s program to build “strategic infrastructure projects” which boost trade and productivity and which will improve the people’s standard of living in the long run like railways, airports, seaports, bridges, highways, hospitals, school buildings, tourism areas, transport terminals, ICT infrastructure, etc.

We know the importance of our Justice System and will work to find ways to make its workings faster, fairer, transparent, and in the end, believable and acceptable to the people and worthy of their respect and obedience.

All measures which would make Philippine Society fairer based on the concept of the Rule of Law will be supported like putting an end to “endo” or the illegal practice of labor- contracting and fighting smuggling especially of agricultural products.

Other priorities are the 1) free education at the tertiary level in our State Universities and Colleges; 2) free irrigation services for our farmers; 3) free health insurance coverage for all; 4) protection of the environment like the review of our mining policy and rules; and 5) all measures which will help the poorest of the poor like the unemployed, our marginal farmers and fisher folk, and the most in need of help like the children, the elderly, and the sick.

8. How will the Senate be more relevant in the 21st century?

The Senate has to adapt to the times.

In this age of connectivity, the Senate has to stay connected with its constituents, the Filipino People. Hence, we will make information about the Senate and its works readily available to the people, digitally and in the traditional way.

The Senate also has to transfer to its own home because our present location can no longer conveniently service all those who are dealing with the Senate.

My party, the PDP Laban, has more plans to make the Senate more relevant in the future. Under the proposed new governmental setup under Federalism, we also intend to specify the work, tasks, and responsibilities of the Senate.

The Senate will still be part of the national legislation process but only for the most important of laws, like laws which affect the powers and structure of the states/regions.

The Senate’s main functions would be in determining our country’s foreign policy and international trade policy, concurrence in treaties and international agreements, confirming important appointments, and acting as the impeachment court.

The members of the Senate will be elected from the states/regions. Hence, all regions of the Philippines will now be represented by their own Senators.

All senators have the good of the country in their hearts. However, it is still the best arrangement in a legislative body to have a real opposition, called the “minority,” in order to “check” the majority and to prevent abuses (the “tyranny of numbers”), as well as to bring out all points of view in the public discussion of important issues.

I hope to achieve a Philippine society which is JUST and FAIR, which SAVES and SHARES, which is SCIENTIFIC and OBJECTIVE, which is PEACEFUL and DEMOCRATIC, which is EDUCATED and HEALTHY, and which is, most of all, HAPPY and FREE, with overflowing LOVE OF GOD and COUNTRY.

9. What legacy do you wish to leave as Senate President?

As the Senate President who worked to fix some of our country’s problems. I hope to achieve a Philippine society which is JUST and FAIR, which SAVES and SHARES, which is SCIENTIFIC and OBJECTIVE, which is PEACEFUL and DEMOCRATIC, which is EDUCATED and HEALTHY, and which is, most of all, HAPPY and FREE, with overflowing LOVE OF GOD and COUNTRY.

10. What are the philosophies or values that you hold dear in life?

  1. Belief in a Supreme Being who is our Creator
  2. Respect for human rights and the dignity of man
  3. Love of country
  4. Equal opportunities for all
  5. Consultative and participatory democracy
  6. Be fair and just
  7. Be responsible for one’s decisions and actions, hence, think and look before you leap.
  8. `Pag nasa tama ka, never give up.
  9. Prioritize the interests of the poorest of the poor.
  10. Do not abuse and take advantage of your fellow man.
  11. The people deserve the government they elect, hence, they must be educated about the issues and the electoral system must be honest. – LAKAMBINI BAUTISTA

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