By Bernardo Villegas
According to the latest polls, like those of the Social Weather Stations survey, there are candidates for senator in the May 9 elections that are guaranteed to be among the top 12 choices. Except for those at the borderline, names like Vicente Sotto II, Panfilo M. Lacson Sr., Franklin Drilon, Ralph Recto and Francis Pangilinan are almost sure to be in the magic 12. Whether or not I vote for them, they will be elected as senators because of name recall and their accomplishments as legislators in the past.
For example, I would have easily voted for Frank Drilon not only for his enlightened participation in the passing of many important laws but also his leadership in the development of the most promising city in the South, Iloilo. I would have easily chosen Vicente Sotto III for his strong advocacy to protect the unborn and for other pro-life causes. Serge Osmeña III and Richard Gordon deserve their being among the top choices because of their great familiarity with the enlightened solutions to many of our socio-economic problems. They, however, do not need my vote because they already have mass support.
There are two candidates that I will include in my very limited list because I want to catapult them to the top 12. At the moment, they are trailing behind in the surveys. These are Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez and Maria Susana V. Ople. I can speak with authority about their strengths and accomplishments because I have worked closely with them in development-oriented causes for a number of years. I do not have the same intimate knowledge about the others who are not in the top 12 in the voting preferences that have been published.
First, let me write about Congressman Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez. I want him to be in the next Senate because of his track record in authoring bills that target the welfare of the poor and the needy. He just made news by being the author of House Bill 1039, which together with its counterpart Senate Bill 2890, was recently signed into law as Republic Act No. 10754 which has been acclaimed by people with disabilities (PWDs). The new law entitles PWDs to discounts available to senior citizens as well as exemption from the payment of Value Added Tax (VAT). This bill is one of the products of the “compassionate governance” for which Congressman Romualdez is famous, through which he is constantly searching for ways to create more jobs, provide universal health care, free education for the poor and disaster resilience. Similar to the roles that Frank Drilon has played in Iloilo and the Angaras in Aurora, Congressman Romualdez has made and can make a big contribution to poverty eradication in Eastern Visayas, his favorite region.
It is precisely because of his focus on Eastern Visayas that he has also manifested his strong bias in favor of investing in technology and encouraging IT solutions to improve the quality of life of the masses. In an interview, he talked about lessons learned from Typhoon “Yolanda” that devastated Leyte and Samar. If he is elected as senator, he can do much to pass laws that can lead to the use of the new technology of better forecasting and warning systems to achieve greater preparedness for natural hazards and to guide government officials in land use and regulations. He is advocating the incorporation of technology-driven solutions to education, livelihood, and healthcare services.
Another major contribution that Congressman Romualdez can make to future legislation has to do with the banking sector. He spent many years in the private sector as a top banking official. More than ever, we need legislators who are very familiar with the workings of banks so that in the next administration, we can fine-tune all the favorable features of the Philippine financial system which, I must say, is being managed by one of the best central banks in Southeast Asia despite the recent scandal about money laundering involving a local commercial bank and the casino industry. We will need someone like Congressman Romualdez, working with equally knowledgeable people like Senators Serge Osmeña and Sonny Angara to legislate on how to plug the loopholes in our bank secrecy laws.
As regards Susan Ople, I have worked closely with her in constantly looking for ways and means to promote the welfare of Filipino workers, whether here or abroad. I know for a fact that she is very sincere when she says that every Filipino worker around the world is an extension of her own family. As president of the Blas Ople Policy Center, she has been at the forefront of efforts to assist distressed overseas Filipino workers in various parts of the world. She has spared no effort to come to the rescue of OFWs in trouble. She recounts one particularly emotional story, when her Center facilitated the return of Gerard Gonzalez, the Filipino who was part of the group captured by pirates in Somalia in 2010. As Ms. Ople reported: “He was held captive for three years—the longest ever for a Filipino hostage in Somalia. And he did not even receive his pay. There was an injustice in both his labor conditions and in the crime of holding him captive.”
Ms. Ople has been extremely valuable as a resource person in the work of our Center for Research and Communication in doing intensive research on the conditions of the OFWs. She never stops learning more about these 10 million or more Filipinos who are the number one engine of growth of the Philippine economy today. According to her, “I think I owe it to my sector to keep learning. I really feel a strong sense of obligation to understand what’s going on in the world because my constituents are spread all over the world.” What she is doing is the perfect formula for being an outstanding legislator committed to the welfare of a very important sector of Philippine society—the 10 percent of our population who are working abroad and are exposed to all the vicissitudes and risks of the global economy. We need a person like Susan Ople to be in the Senate to be literally the “guardian angel” of OFWs. If I were an OFW who intends to vote in the next election, I would put her name as my one and only senatorial choice so I multiply significantly her chances of being in the magic 12.
In my case, I will just put two names in the list: Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez and Maria Susana V. Ople.
(Villegas is a professor of the University of Asia and the Pacific. He has served as special economic adviser to five Philippine presidents and numerous legislators and local officials, and was a member of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Charter.)