The Senate Race – Manila Standard

“Few people can pass the tests of unblemished integrity, proven competence and excellent track records.”

With the start of the official campaign period for national office this month, much speculation is, understandably, centered on who the next president and vice president will emerge in the May polls.

After all, the president wields vast powers under the Constitution and sets the direction for the entire government, while the vice president is, well, just a heartbeat away from the presidency.

But the Senate race is just as important to watch 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, have served as senators.

Three others were unable to sit in the Senate before taking control of Malacañang Palace. Cory Aquino, Ninoy’s widow, was a homemaker who rose to the presidency after the 1986 People Power Revolt that ousted Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Her successor, Fidel V. Ramos, served as Philippine police chief and later Secretary of National Defense. Rodrigo Duterte served as mayor of Davao City for more than 20 years in total before winning the presidency in 2016, although he was briefly a congressman from the district.

For this year’s senatorial race, there are 64 candidates vying for 12 seats. Among them are re-elected; returning senators; and former national and local officials.

The re-elected are Leila de Lima, Risa Hontiveros, Richard Gordon, Sherwin Gatchalian, Joel Villanueva and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

The returning senators are Alan Peter Cayetano, Chiz Escudero, JV Ejercito, Jinggoy Estrada, Gringo Honasan, Loren Legarda and Antonio Trillanes IV.

Jejomar Binay (Vice President), Gibo Teodoro (Secretary of Defense), Mark Villar (Secretary of Public Works), Herbert Bautista (Mayor of Quezon City), Teddy Baguilat (Ifugao Rep.); Neri Colmenares (representative of the Bayan Muna party list) and General Guillermo Eleazar (Chief of the National Police of the Philippines).

Chel Diokno, son of the late democracy icon Jose W. Diokno, is also joining this year’s senatorial race. His platform emphasizes reforms to the justice system so that due process and the rule of law are upheld by the next administration. The 12 lucky winners in May will join the surviving 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). Which of these have proven competence in legislative matters? Hmm.

The results of a recent poll indicate that those who remember their name are likely to win in the May polls. If the leading contenders are those with the highest awareness percentages among the electorate, that says little about the quality of voter education in this country.

What the polls don’t tell us are: the character of the candidates, their backgrounds in public service, and their stance on key issues affecting the nation’s future.

We expect Senate candidates to be able to intelligently discuss issues, whether they be politics, economics, foreign policy or national security. We do not expect them to be experts in these areas, but at a minimum they should be able to have a working knowledge of current issues so that they can craft important legislation.

A cursory glance at the list of 64 aspiring senators will tell us that few can pass the tests of unblemished integrity, proven competence and excellent track records. We should only vote for candidates who can dissect complex issues with keen discernment.

The Senate is part of the checks and balances of a democratic system of government. Apart from drafting laws, it also conducts investigations in support of legislation, especially corruption and bribery cases. It is supposed to be independent of the executive branch, but in practice senators are likely to follow their respective parties’ positions on particular issues. And if the majority of senators favor the administration, as the current composition of the upper house shows, then the Senate of the 19th Congress can well be expected to follow in the footsteps of the next president.

We should vote wisely in the next election, as this is a political exercise that will determine whether we preserve and strengthen our system of democratic governance, halt the dangerous trend towards authoritarianism and secure economic growth that will reduce levels of poverty of our people.

We cannot achieve the goals of political stability and economic growth if we continue to elect to the Senate those who are already tainted by corruption, the unqualified, the incompetent and the utterly useless. You know who they are.

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