How Do We Rebuild The Senate?
Francisco S. Tatad
Over a hundred persons were killed, and they broke the rules every step of the way, and we say we had a relatively peaceful and honest election. A full 25 million out of 45 million registered voters did not vote for a single senator, and we hear the "winners" say they had all received a "resounding mandate." A "landslide," the topnotchers say, and they now expect us to treat them as the first licensed timber for the 2010 presidential race.
In how many other countries do we hear such Newspeak? We must stop kidding ourselves.
We did not have clean and honest elections. The political assassinations drenched the originally non-violent process in senseless blood, and the shameless buying and selling of votes turned the whole country into a veritable whorehouse. This barangay sign tells it all: "No money, no vote!"
In Muslim Mindanao, where one suspects the recurring electoral anomalies are really part of the lingering Moro rebellion, the vote-buying was wholesale as usual, and the most scandalous cases involved senatorial candidates on both sides, and not just the tailenders.
Former Commission on Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, who was at the center of the 2004 electoral storm, did not operate in this election. But there was no shortage of alter egos and clones. Corrupt election officers operated on their own for local clients, without need of direction from central headquarters. But a new election mafia, controlled by the country's most pervasive corruptors, had reportedly privatized the special operations for senators, in a sinister plot to control the next presidential elections and own the next President of the Philippines.
For all the victory parties then, there were no real winners. Those who had high hopes for democracy and decency were the biggest losers. The system no longer works, except that our national politicians and so many among our people do not at all seem to realize it.
In this election, we posed three simple questions:
1. Is it right or wrong for a political party to run candidates on both sides---two with Team Unity and four with Genuine Opposition, or a total of six candidates, on the part of NPC; and one with TU and two with GO, or a total of three each, on the part of LP and NP? Isn't this the most loathsome example of " pamamangka sa dalawang ilog?"
2. Is it right or wrong for a senatorial candidate to spend hundreds of millions of pesos, which he or she may not even have the legal capacity to earn, just to land a job that pays an annual salary of less than one million pesos?
3. Is it right or wrong for anyone to run for the Senate while his father, brother, sister, uncle or aunt is sitting there until 2010?
None of the candidates cared to answer. Most of the voters did not care about the morals, motives, or manners of the candidates either. The majority did not vote for any senator; the minority that did, voted mostly for GO candidates, believing they represented the people's cause. The voters will learn many things yet in six years.
Of GO's two dynasty candidates, Alan Cayetano had an unsurprisingly easy time, while Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III was, as we write, still sweating it out for the twelfth place.
To a great extent, Alan owes his election to his running battle with the First Gentleman, Mike Arroyo, which made him an opposition symbol in the eyes of many voters. Not every voter understood the dynasty issue, and many of those who did must have thought that if Alan had a sister sitting in the Senate, they should have heard about it. They had not.
In the case of "Koko" Pimentel, so many seemed to have the impression that "Koko" was but another name for his father, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr., and that he was just running for reelection.
Should Koko finally make it, we shall see the Senate exactly as we had said it would look like ----an absurd assembly of 24 members (minus Sen. Fred Lim, who has just been elected Mayor of Manila), with four members coming from two nuclear families.
Should Nene become Senate President, the Pimentel-Cayetano position on political dynasties would then rule. Forget the Constitution, forget basic morality, forget plain aesthetics. In another election, they might be able to convert the entire chamber into the private family estates of just a few families.
Keeping Manny Villar as Senate President or choosing a dark horse would be one way of preventing such anomaly. Villar is not entirely guiltless on the dynasty issue; his wife Cynthia sits in the House of Representatives. But at least he does not have a son or daughter sitting with him in the Senate. If the contest were strictly limited to Villar and Pimentel, it is Villar, rather than Pimentel, whose presidency could lend greater dignity to the Senate.
But it will take more than that for the Senate to regain its lost honor and dignity. Its members must have a clear understanding of that honor and dignity, and must have the will and the ability to do what is needed to regain it. That may not be easy.
The last time I sat at the Senate gallery was when Villar took over the Senate presidency. Senate President Franklin Drilon had called the session to order, announced his resignation, and relinquished the chair to a presiding officer, Senator Juan Flavier, the Senate President Pro Tempore.
The chair noted Drilon's letter of resignation, but neither he nor the Majority Floor Leader Francis Pangilinan asked the body to act on the same. So the resignation was never formally accepted by the Senate. The chair then called for the election of a new Senate President. Villar was nominated, several senators seconded, the nomination was closed, then Pangilinan moved that the new Senate President be elected by acclamation. No objections were heard.
The chair then intoned, "As many as those in favor of the nomination, will they please say aye. And as many as those against, will they please say nay." That was a call to divide the house by a voice vote, not a call to elect by acclamation the unopposed candidate.
Thus, in one short ceremonial session, with all the players reading from a prepared script, they still managed to commit two unnecessarily inept errors. That would have been unthinkable, and unacceptable, in the earlier years. But things have changed. Just the kind of unparliamentary language that often goes into the Senate record and the total absence of ideas being debated on the floor tell us to what depths the institution had sunk and what kind of work needs to be done to rebuild it.
The Senate has a duty, among other things, to teach the nation what it does not know. This includes, and is not limited to, correct parliamentary usage. In a society shot through with corruption, the Senate must concern itself not just with the corruption of others, but above all with the corruption within Congress, involving its own members. In a society crying for change, it must be prepared to lead the move for sweeping and fundamental change, first by provoking change within itself and among its members.