With the Supreme Court under pressure to grant the wishes of Malacañang and a House of Representatives acting as its virtual rubber stamping, the Senate is the lone body that mitigates and provides checks and balances on the executive branch. Hence, having a strong Senate composed of competent lawmakers is vital to setting the nation on the right course.
Selecting senators should not be based on their popularity, their political alliance or who their relatives are. Rather, it should be based on the candidate’s qualifications and body of work. Let us not forget the role that a senator plays: A senator authors, co-authors, sponsors and passes laws. He scrutinizes bills/acts and evaluate its long terms effects. He amends, provides addendums and revises proposed laws. A senator approves and/or ratifies international treaties. He approves or rejects presidential appointments. He adjudicates impeachment proceedings and conducts inquiries on the missteps of presidential appointees.
To put it into metaphor, the Senate acts like the brakes and its steering wheel of national policy while the executive branch acts as its accelerator.
The demands of the job requires senators to have qualifications that are both diverse and extensive. Qualified senators must have a legal background, an economic background and exposure in social development work. They must have a working knowledge of how government operates and a deep understanding of the Philippines’ position in global geopolitical affairs. Above all, a senator must be beyond reproach in integrity, neither doubted for committing graft, let alone convicted for it. A senator must be young enough, healthy enough and lucid enough to meet the physical demands of the job. Comedians, actors and athletes should not be supported but looked upon for what they are, opportunists.
Political alliances should not matter. In fact, the more diverse the political leanings of our senators, the more advantageous it is for us. A politically diverse Senate assures us that bills are vetted without political bias and that inquiries are conducted without regard for political favor. It assures us that checks and balance are firmly in place.
A handful of incumbent senators have proven their independence, competence, diligence and moral integrity. They are the senators who have served the public well and whom I reckon deserve another term. They are: Senators Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, Sonny Angara, Serge Osmeña and Bam Aquino. These five senators are real work horses whose loyalty to the Filipino people supersede party interest.
I also support certain candidates, who, while lesser known, possess the qualification of a good senator and whose presence in the Upper House will make it stronger. I intend to write about them one at a time in the hopes that it will give you, my readers, a chance to know them better. I already wrote about Chel Diokno (son of the late senator and nationalist Pepe Diokno) some weeks ago. I chose Chel because he has one of the sharpest legal minds in the country and because he is determined to fix our broken and corrupt justice system.
Another candidate I endorse is Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III.
Erin’s name may sound familiar to some as he was a member of the House of Representatives in the 13th, 14th and 15th Congress. He is the son of senior statesman and former senator Wigberto Tañada, another leading light in the nationalist movement of the Rectos, Tañadas and Dioknos, among others.
Erin is a product of the Ateneo and also a lawyer like his father and his illustrious grandfather, Lorenzo Tañada, the Grand Old Man of the political opposition to the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s.
Last week, Erin and I met for coffee, as I wanted to find out what he had been up to since ending his stint in Congress back in 2013. Erin has spent the last few years providing free legal consultation through his morning TV show at UNTV. He does pro bono legal work also for distressed listeners of DZMM. A dad of two children, Erin feeds the family by practicing corporate law.
People should be reminded about Erin’s impeccable body of work in Congress. He is best remembered as the champion of the Freedom of Information Bill, a bill that would have made all government transactions (except those that relate to national security, executive privilege, etc.) transparent to the public. But differences with the Aquino administration then, over that initiative, was a sensitive point in their alliance. FOI would have been a game changer in good governance. The bill made it past the bicameral hearing but fell short of being enacted into law due to lack of Palace support.
Other bills authored or co-authored by Erin were the Cheaper Medicines Law, Renewable Energy Law, CARP Extension Program, Anti-Torture Act and Amendment of the Amusement Tax, among others. Erin was one of the more prolific and hard-working congressmen of his time.
What will he bring to the Senate, if elected? Apart from his profound knowledge of the law, Erin’s purpose in the Senate will be to challenge the status quo. He intends to ask the hard and uncomfortable questions about the state of affairs today and come up with better alternatives. We talked about three issues, in particular, during our short time together.
One of them is why the country has not achieved food security despite more than 30 years of land reform and bestowing upon the Department of Agriculture one of the highest budget allotments year after year.
The time has come to change our agricultural policies as they are obviously not working, opined Erin. Not only have we been unable to achieve food security, our local agricultural products are among the most expensive in the region, unaffordable to the poorest among us. Our farmers are aging and there is no program to develop the next generation of agricultural workers. Productivity of the agricultural sector is so low that it is a drag to the economy.
There seems to be no relief in sight as Agricultural Secretary Emmanuel Piñol only offers excuses, not solutions, to the bleak realities of the agricultural sector.
We need to revolutionize the agricultural industry by investing in technology-based farming and post-harvest facilities, said Erin. We also need to incentivize the industry to attract investors engaged in large-scale industrial farming. What we need are more operations like that of Dole, Del Monte and Tadeco (banana plantations in Davao del Norte).
As for small-scale farmers, he says fertilizers should be subsidized by the state in order to make it more profitable for farmers.
Another question that Erin is keen to ask relates to foreign policy. While he agrees that the move of the President to adopt an independent foreign policy is correct, the reality is that the country has in fact tilted away from the US and leaned towards China. It is by no means an independent foreign policy — it is a pro-China policy.
The agreements entered into by Malacañang with China, particularly the Memorandum of Agreement to jointly explore the West Philippine Sea for oil and natural gas, should be carefully scrutinized. Neither the Senate nor the House has been furnished copies of the agreement and many fear that it may have sold the country to China for a song. Erin wants to make sure that Philippine sovereignty and Philippine interests are protected in all dealings with China.
China has expansionist ambitions and they have engaged in a creeping invasion of our territories. They cannot be trusted.
Contrary to Malacañang’s propaganda, it is not true that the Philippines has no options given China’s military strength and bullying tactics. Why should this government accede to everything China wants like a coward with its tail between its legs?
We have options. We still have the mutual defense treaty with the US. We can coalesce with other claimants of the West Philippine Sea — Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei and Taiwan. We can go the diplomatic route and enforce our victory at the United Nations Arbitration Court in the Hague. The motives behind Malacañang’s red-carpet treatment towards China are suspect and should be looked into.
The state of corruption in government is another issue that needs to revisited.
Why have the triad of senators — Revilla, Estrada and Enrile — in the Napoles pork-barrel scam be allowed to walk away as free men?
Amid all the corruption going on, not the least of which are large-scale smuggling of drugs by Chinese nationals, why has there only been a handful of cases filed by the Ombudsman? And for whose benefit is that performance, as such? These are the hard questions that need to be answered.
A man like Erin will add substance to the Senate. By asking the inconvenient and uncomfortable questions, policies and laws will be better thought out.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.