Filipinos have had to make allowances for lawmakers who landed on their posts through sheer popularity, despite not having enough credentials to do their jobs reasonably well. Personality politics has made us lower our standards, and we have learned to laugh, shrug, or just shake our heads when we hear their antics. We are, indeed, a tolerant people.
It shocks us, however, when those who should know better—for example, a lawyer with an advanced degree, and who has had some working experience in the Executive branch—do not perform their tasks as they should.
Senator Francis Tolentino was one of the three candidates for whom President Rodrigo Duterte went out of his way to campaign in the elections last May. Given the President’s still-high approval ratings, by extension, all three made it to the Magic 12.
It seems logical to expect that Tolentino would, in a gesture of payback, use his position to extol and defend his political patron’s words and decisions before his colleagues at the Senate.
He did just that recently, when he defended the President’s verbal—“salivatic,” he called it—agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping where the former supposedly allowed Chinese fishermen to fish in the West Philippine Sea.
“As the chief architect of foreign policy, the President can enter into agreements with other countries. These executive agreements, with due respect, do not require Senate concurrence,” he said.
Asked, however, by a colleague about what the contents of the verbal agreement was between the two presidents, Tolentino started stammering, eventually admitting that he based his proposition on “anecdotal reports” that there was, indeed, an agreement.
He said he did not know the parameters or the contents of the agreement, relying only on the “political judgment and good faith of the President to fulfill his duty on what is good for the country.”
His colleague pointed out that for the body to adjudge whether the agreement was in accordance or contrary to the Constitution, it was logical and basic to know what the agreement is all about. Tolentino seemed to share his interpellator’s opinion.
“You said this is binding, but what are we being bound to?” Tolentino was asked.
“I do not have in my possession the contents of the alleged verbal agreement,” he managed to get out.
Senator Francis Tolentino holds a master’s degree in international law, and attended the Hague Academy of International Law. He could have argued the merits of such executive agreements, if there were indeed any, and he would have come across as credible even if some might not agree with him.
Instead, Tolentino took to the floor with nothing but an imagined conversation between the two presidents, with nary a quote from Mr. Duterte himself of what words exactly were said. Where he could have succeeded in lending credibility to a shaky claim, the senator simply affirmed what many critics of the President are accusing him of: A defender, not of the law, but of a political patron, right or wrong.
Administration senators who comprise the majority in the Upper House need to work harder at convincing the people that they still recognize that the Senate is a supposedly independent institution, and that being apologists or minions of anybody only demeans their office.