Duterte allies win majority of contested seats in Philippine Senate

Camille Elemia
Duterte allies win majority of contested seats in Philippine Senate Former Philippine action film star Robinhood Ferdinand Padilla (without mask), the top vote-getter among senatorial contenders in the May 9 national polls, attends a Commission on Elections proclamation ceremony in Manila for the 12 winning candidates, May 18, 2022.

The Philippine Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday introduced the dozen top vote-getters for Senate, a majority of whom are allies of outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte.

The soon-to-be lawmakers, all senatorial contenders in the May 9 general election, were presented at a Comelec proclamation ceremony in Manila.

They include a former action film star whom Duterte pardoned following his conviction on charges of possessing illegal firearms, and a former foreign secretary who shielded the president from calls of prosecution over his administration’s deadly war on drugs.

Only one member of the opposition was among the 12 and Sen. Leila de Lima, a jailed leader of the opposition, lost a re-election bid from her prison cell.

Robinhood Ferdinand Padilla, who received the most votes of all senate candidates, wasted no time in announcing his plans. 

“The 26 million-plus who voted for me, they believe in my platform, and that is to reform the Constitution,” said Padilla, 53, who had never run for political office. “Let us give reform a chance.” 

In the Philippines, senators are elected nationally to serve in the 24-seat Senate.

Padilla, who once styled himself as the Filipino James Dean, saw his bad-boy persona cross over into real life, leading to his 1994 conviction and eight-year sentence on the firearms charges.

He spent three years in prison where he converted to Islam before being released on a conditional pardon. Shortly after taking office in 2016, Duterte granted Padilla an absolute pardon, allowing him to regain his political and civil rights.

Padilla will be the only Muslim senator when the 19th Congress starts on June 30. 

“Our victory is a symbol of unity of Muslims and Christians. For the longest time, for almost 30 years, there was no Muslim senator,” Padilla said. 

Another new senator, Alan Peter Cayetano, served for a time as Duterte’s foreign secretary and staunchly shielded the president from international criticism related to his drug war. In 2017, Cayetano said that the drug war was necessary to protect human rights as he called on other nations to respect the Philippines’ sovereignty.

Cayetano joins his sister, Pia Cayetano, whose senate term ends in 2025. 

Another political neophyte to win is broadcaster Raffy Tulfo, who with his brothers ran public service programs on radio, television and YouTube, where he has more than 23 million subscribers.

“I’m a bit nervous and excited at the same time. I can’t believe I won,” Tulfo said. 

The Tulfo shows allow audience members to publicly air complaints against government and private entities alike. 

His wife, Jocelyn Pua Tulfo, was elected as a member of the House of Representatives in 2019. Sister Wanda Tulfo-Teo, who served as Duterte’s tourism secretary before being forced to resign over allegations of graft was later cleared of the allegation. 

Political dynasties 

Other new lawmakers are members of political families.

Duterte’s former Public Works and Highways chief, Mark Villar, who is the son of the country’s richest man, Manny Villar, was elected to the Senate where he will serve with his mother, Cynthia, whose term ends in 2025. 

Half-brothers J.V. Ejercito and Jinggoy Estrada, the sons of former President Joseph Estrada, who was ousted from office in 2001, both won senate seats.

Jinggoy Estrada was elected even as he faces charges that he allegedly plundered $3.5 million and has been out on bail since September 2017. 

Others senators with political families include Sherwin Gatchalian, whose brothers are politicians serving in Valenzuela City, a northern Manila suburb; Joel Villanueva, whose relatives serve as members of Congress and officials in Bocaue, Bulacan; Francis Escudero, whose mother served in the House and has been replaced by his sister; and Juan Miguel Zubiri, whose father and brother served as governor and congressman in the south, respectively.

While the 1987 Constitution explicitly prohibits political dynasties, there is no law to enact it. 

Opposition candidate

Sen. Risa Hontiveros is the only opposition candidate returning to the Senate. She ran on the slate of Vice President Leni Robredo who lost overwhelmingly to presumptive President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. 

Hontiveros said she will “not stop speaking” and expressed hope that she would be able to find colleagues who would join her in the minority bloc.

“I will not stop speaking, and I will not be alone, and I am not alone. For one, I will never forget the people’s campaign we had and I believe that the energy it ignited would not end on the day of the election,” Hontiveros said.

Sen. de Lima, who has been jailed on what she has called trumped up drug charges, lost in the May 9 polls.

“I will now have to focus on the dismissal of the fabricated drug cases against me so I can finally be released. It may have taken years of injustice and persecution, but truth and justice will always prevail. It has no timeline,” Philippine news outlets quoted de Lima as saying in a statement.


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