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Friday, July 19, 2024

12 men and women for the Senate

“Sensible voters will shade their names on their ballots.”

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In normal times, the election of 12 members of the upper chamber of Congress gets nearly as much attention as the election of the president and vice president. That is because the 14 officials involved are elected nationally.

But things have been different in the current electoral season: the electorate’s attention is focused on the contests for the presidency and vice presidency and much less attention has been paid by the electorate to the senatorial races.

Why the attention of this year’s electorate has been focused on the contest for the presidency is entirely explainable by one name—Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Election 2022 has been dominated by the continued presence on the ballot—despite the filing, and dismissals by a compliant Commission on Election of numerous disqualification cases of the namesake and son of the president overthrown by the people and bundled off into exile by the US government in 1986.

The candidacy of Marcos Jr – his campaign strategy has included referring to himself as BBM to avoid recollection of his namesake – has been by far the most controversial presidential candidacy in the post-World War II era. Apart from his being the son of the most reviled chief executive in the country’s history, Marcos Jr.’s own legal and other transgressions – his brazen lying about his academic qualifications, his final-and-executory conviction for failure to file income tax returns, his failure to perform his administrative duty of paying the humongous tax on his father’s estate and his generally lackluster professional record – have caused the electorate’s attention to be focused on his candidacy for the position that his father was forcibly removed from.

In the face of the consistently substandard record of the lower House—many critics prefer to say Low House—of Congress, the Senate has had to step up to the plate and perform the legislature’s constitutionally mandated role of checker and balancer. Indeed, with its performance through most of its life, the Senate may well be said to be the fourth branch of the Philippine government. This is why the election of the 12 men and women who will complete the incoming Congress’ upper chamber is important. The importance is heightened by the departure of leading senators like Franklin Drilon and Francis Pangilinan.

My list of the 12 men and women who, by virtue of their character, academic qualifications and career record, deserve election as senators, is made up of the following names: Teodoro Baguilat, Lutgardo Barbo, Jejomar Binay, Neri Colmenares, leila de Lima, Chel Diokno, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Loren Legarda, Minguita Padilla, Antonio Trillanes IV and Raffy Tulfo.

The Senate needs someone who will steadfastly fight for the rights and interests of the nation’s indigenous peoples. Baguilat, a representative from the Cordilleras, will be that advocate.

Barbo is one of the best politicians to come out of the island of Samar. His last government position was that of president of Philippine Normal University.

Binay’s record hardly needs discussion. One of the heroes of the EDSA Revolution, where he earned the sobriquet Rambotito, he went on to become mayor of Makati City, administrator of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, and President Benigno Aquino III’s vice president.

Colmenares has been a steadfast and articulate advocate for human rights and good governance within and outside the House of Representatives.

Chel (Jose Manuel) Diokno is one of the founders of, and one of the leading figures behind, the Free Legal Assistance Group. He is on leave from the De La Salle University Law School, of which he is the dean.

With the recantation of the testimonies by two of the government’s principal witnesses against her, former secretary of justice Leila de Lima should now be freed. De Lima incurred the fierce ire of President Duterte when as chairman of the COmmission on Human Rights, she investigated the then-Davao City mayor’s human rights record.

If there is anyone who deserves re-election to the Senate, it is Hontiveros. She is everything that a first-rate senator sho;d be – honest, smart, empathetic and industrious. Her legislative work has focused on advancing the welfare of women and children.

With his successful radio-TV program, Tulfo has done much to help ordinary citizens with their problems vis-a-vis the government. He will be useful to Senate committees like the committee on public accountability.

Returning senator Loren Legarda is on this list of deserving candidates because of her sustained interest in the protection of the environment. The Senate needs someone passionate about environmental issues. She has co-authored many laws on this.

The Senate also needs a member who is well-versed in health and healthcare matters. That person is Dr. Padilla. An eye specialist by training, she is smart, articulate and industrious. The Senate investigations into the PhilHealth and Pharmally scandals would have been more effective if she had been a member of the investigating committee.

Finally, Trillanes. The former Philippine Navy officer has earned his place in the history of the Senate –nay, of the nation – by his extremely courageous challenge to then-candidate Rodrigo Duterte to bare the content of his bank accounts. Trillanes is principled courage personified. Every Senate should have someone like him.

Baguilat. Barbo. Binay. Colmenares. De Lima. Diokno. Gordon. Hontiveros. Legarda. Padilla. Trillanes. Tulfo. These names belong in the incoming Senate. Sensible voters will shade their names on their ballots.

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