“The fundamental law does not require that those who aspire to become senators should have sterling reputations and unquestioned integrity”
The Senate is considered the training ground of the country’s top leaders, and a stepping stone to the highest elective post, the presidency.
In the 60s and 70s we were reading news reports on the speeches delivered in the halls of the Senate by the likes of Lorenzo Tañada, Jose W. Diokno and Jovito Salonga who captured the popular imagination with their consistent stand defending democratic rights and upholding freedom and justice.
In the 50s, we’re told, Claro M. Recto enthralled his fellow lawmakers as well as the public with his fervent assertion of national identity and stinging critiques of the colonial mentality of Filipinos.
Alas, those days when the Senate was a bastion of democracy and superior intellects are long gone.
Sad to say, the Senate restored since 1987 has been populated by politicians whose qualifications for the job are anchored only on what’s enumerated in the 1987 Constitution.
These are: natural-born citizen of the Philippines, at least 35 years of age; able to read and write; a registered voter; and a resident of the Philippines for not less than two years immediately preceding the day of the election.
Those basic qualifications, by the way, apply to almost all seeking election to public office: from president down to barangay officials, with minor differences, such as age.
The fundamental law does not require that those who aspire to become senators should have sterling reputations and unquestioned integrity.
In other words, even if they have been involved in the past in corruption scandal or civil case — charged before a court of law with any crime; or spent time in jail for a criminal offense — they can still run for senator.
The senatorial candidates do not even have to have competence and proven track records in their line of work or area of expertise, or experience in crafting laws of local and national importance.
Nor do they have to have excellent work ethic, such as attending all session days and taking part in committee and plenary deliberations on pending bills.
The Constitution only requires senatorial candidates to prove that they seek a seat in the august halls of the upper chamber of the legislature because they really want to serve the nation and genuinely contribute to nation-building, not lust after the P300 million in pork barrel funds that every senator is entitled to these days.
Finally, since the Constitution does not require senators to take a principled stand on key issues — such as national sovereignty and territorial integrity; human rights, due process and the rule of law — they can just coast along and agree to whatever the Chief Executive or the ruling party or coalition wants.
The minimum qualifications to become senator in this country listed in the Constitution have opened the floodgates to candidates with the right skills, work ethic and personal integrity to make it to the Senate.
But it has also attracted those who have capitalized mainly on their popularity or name recall and zero experience in public office, much less in crafting quality laws requiring intelligent debate on key national issues, to win the senatorial race.
The 2022 senatorial race for 12 Senate seats attracted around 200 candidates, if I’m not mistaken.
This number was winnowed down by the Commission on Elections to 97, the rest eliminated because clearly they were nuisance candidates who clearly had no capability and resources to launch a nationwide campaign, or could not adequately explain what laws they wanted to write, or amend, or simply wanted the media attention for at least 15 minutes of fame – or infamy.
Of the 12 winners in the 2022 senatorial elections, nine are either reelectionists or returning to their old post: Loren Legarda; Sherwin Gatchalian; Chiz Escudero; Alan Peter Cayetano; Juan Miguel Zubiri; Joel Villanueva; JV Estrada Ejercito; Risa Hontiveros; Jinggoy Estrada.
The only new senators are movie actor Robin Padilla, broadcaster Raffy Tulfo; and former DPWH Secretary Mark Villar They will all serve for six years, or until 2028.
The 12 incumbent senators who will serve for three more years are Nancy Binay; Pia Cayetano; Ronald de la Rosa; Bong Go; Lito Lapid; Francis Tolentino; Bong Revilla; Cynthia Villar; Imee Marcos; Grace Poe; Koko Pimentel; and Sonny Angara.
Those who failed the cut in the May 9 elections include former Vice President Jejomar Binay; detained former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima; human rights lawyer ‘Chel’ Diokno; and former congressman and human rights advocate Neri Colmenares.
That leaves only Sen. Risa Hontiveros by her lonesome to carry the opposition torch in the Senate at least until 2025.
At any rate, if the line-up of senators in the 19th Congress doesn’t exactly make you jump for joy but instead leaves you wondering how some of them have managed to go so far on so little, you’re not alone.
Be that as it may, maybe we ought to be charitable and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But we should really temper our expectations and recognize that only the most capable of them, if ever, can carve a successful path to the highest elective post because of uncanny ability to dissect issues, engage in intelligent discourse on national issues, including foreign policy, and forge alliances and coalitions for future political gain.
We may not have the likes of Claro M. Recto or Jose W. Diokno in the Senate these days, but we should not be made to suffer those who wear mediocrity and disdain for an independent stand on crucial issues like tattoos on their foreheads.