“Few can pass the tests of unsullied integrity, proven competence and sterling track record.”
With the start of the official campaign period for national positions this month, the focus of much speculation is, understandably, who will emerge the next president and vice-president in the May polls.
After all, the president wields vast powers under the Constitution and charts the direction of the whole government, while the vice president is, well, just a heartbeat away from the presidency.
But the race for the Senate is just as important to monitor as the institution is a stepping stone to higher political office.
Of the seven presidents since the 1960s, five—Diosdado Macapagal, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino, served as senators.
Three others did not get to sit in the Senate prior to taking over Malacañang Palace. Cory Aquino, Ninoy’s widow, was a housewife who ascended to the presidency after the 1986 People Power revolt that ousted Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Her successor, Fidel V. Ramos, served as chief of the Philippine Constabulary and later as Secretary of National Defense. Rodrigo Duterte was Mayor of Davao City for more than 20 years in total before winning the presidency in 2016, although he served briefly as district congressman.
For this year’s senatorial race, there are 64 candidates vying for 12 seats. Among them are reelectionists; returning senators; and former national and local officials.
The reelectionists are Leila de Lima, Risa Hontiveros, Richard Gordon, Sherwin Gatchalian, Joel Villanueva, and Juan Miguel Zubiri.
Returning senators are Alan Peter Cayetano, Chiz Escudero, JV Ejercito, Jinggoy Estrada, Gringo Honasan, Loren Legarda, and Antonio Trillanes IV.
Former national and local government officials also gunning for a seat in the Senate include Jejomar Binay (Vice President), Gibo Teodoro (Defense Secretary), Mark Villar, (Public Works Secretary), Herbert Bautista (Quezon City Mayor), Teddy Baguilat (Ifugao Rep.); Neri Colmenares (Bayan Muna Party-List Rep.), and Gen. Guillermo Eleazar (Philippine National Police chief) .
Also joining this year’s senatorial race is De la Salle University College of Law Dean Chel Diokno, son of the late democracy icon Jose W. Diokno. His platform emphasizes reforms in the judicial system so that due process and the rule of law are upheld by the next administration. The lucky 12 who will win in May will join the holdover senators elected in 2019 whose six-year term will expire on June 30, 2025: Cynthia Villar (NP), Grace Poe (Ind.), Bong Go (PDP-Laban), Pia Cayetano (NP), Ronald dela Rosa (PDP-Laban), Sonny Angara (LDP), Lito Lapid (NPC), Imee Marcos (NP), Francis Tolentino (PDP-Laban), Koko Pimentel (PDP-Laban), Bong Revilla (Lakas-CMD) , and Nancy Binay (UNA). Who among these have proven competence in lawmaking? Hmm.
Recent survey results indicate that those with name recall are likely to prevail in the May polls. If the leading contenders are those with the highest awareness percentages among the electorate, this does not say much about the quality of voter education in this country.
What the surveys don’t tell us are these: the character of the candidates, their track record in public office, and their position on key issues affecting the nation’s future.
We expect senatorial candidates to be able to discuss issues intelligently, whether it’s politics, economics, foreign policy, or national security. We do not expect them to be experts in these fields, but at the minimum, they should be able to have a working knowledge of current issues so they can craft important legislation.
A cursory look at the list of 64 aspiring senators will tell us that few can pass the tests of unsullied integrity, proven competence and sterling track record. We should vote only for those candidates who can dissect complex issues with keen discernment.
The Senate is part of the system of checks and balances in a democratic system of government. Apart from crafting laws, it also conducts investigations in aid of legislation, particularly graft and corruption cases. It is supposed to be independent from the executive branch, but in practice senators are likely to follow the position of their respective parties on particular issues. And if the majority of senators are pro-administration, as seen from the current composition of the Upper Chamber, then we can well expect the Senate in the 19th Congress to hang by the coattails of the next president.
We should vote wisely in the coming election, as this is one political exercise that’s going to determine whether we preserve and strengthen our democratic system of governance, arrest the dangerous trend towards authoritarianism, and ensure economic growth that will reduce poverty levels among our people.
We cannot achieve the goals of political stability and economic growth if we continue to elect to the Senate those already tainted by corruption, the unqualified, the incompetent, and the utterly useless. You know who they are.