Quo vadis, Senate?
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - April 4, 2019 - 12:00am

A long-time Senate secretary, Dr. Hezel Gacutan, DPM, secretary general of the Philippine Constitution Association (PHILCONSA), shares his views on the qualities of Senate candidates.  

As Secretary of the Senate under three Senate presidents –  Neptali A. Gonzales, Marcelo B. Fernan, and Blas F. Ople –  Dr. Gacutan has  seen legislative history in the making. The Senate then was “an institution of historic beginning and its members representing a legislative body with a glorious past. Serious and compelling lawmakers all, they grappled with great issues of political and economic development.”

The laws they enacted provided the foundation of the 1987 Constitution: The Local Government Code, the creation of the Philippine National Police Commission, the Bases Conversion Development Authority, the Armed Forces Modernization, the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, Education for All, Senior Citizens Act, and even the controversial Visiting Forces Agreement.  “These laws have fostered a sense of enduring legislative greatness in the Upper House,”  says Gacutan. 

Gacutan  considers as the most historic and inspiring resolution which brought out the best among the senators was the Rejection in 1991 of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement, a most dramatic moment in lawmaking. “The rejection was the proclamation of our independence.”

That was the Senate of three decades ago, says Gacutan.  “Today, the question we hear from our people is: Quo Vadis, Senatus? Where dost thou goeth, Senate? Can just anybody be a senator?

“One may honestly ask, what is it about the Philippine Senate that it has to be considered a revered institution of representative democracy? 

“Senates all over the world trace their roots from the Latin word senex, meaning wise and notable men of the realm which emerged from the Greek and Roman times.  Senatus Populasque Romanus (SPQR), the Senate and the People of Rome.  Rooted in antiquity, the senate became a ‘sacred chamber’of wisdom, pitted against a ‘house of commons.’ Ours is a Senate that was patterned after the US Senate, whose political philosophy was based on The Federalist Papers, which called for a bicameral form of government.

“Filipino senators are not only unique; they are also a special breed. Only the President and the Vice President have the same constituency as the 24 senators.

“The Senate, as an institution, is discharged to carry out certain mandates: To legislate; to investigate; to ratify treaties; to concur as Commission on Appointment – the nomination of presidential appointees; to educate; and, to ‘try and decide all cases of impeachment’ against the president and other constitutional officers. Most importantly, to my mind, is for the senate to be both a counterweight to excessive executive powers and a source of restraint on popular but perhaps unwise policy initiatives.

‘’Interestingly enough, the US Senate, like its Philippine counterpart, is not free of serious criticisms. Here are the words of Prof. Lewis L. Gould (The Most Exclusive Club) who wrote: “A profound sense of crisis now surrounds the Senate and its members. Critics allege that it is an undemocratic place where the national interest receives only few attention. There are allegations that members of both parties spend more time on getting reelected and dispensing pork barrel subsidies to well-heeled constituents than they do on debating and discussing the major issues before the nation.”

 “And he ends with the query: ‘Can the Senate’s continued existence as part of American government be satisfied?’ This question sounds familiar about the Philippine Senate.

“In a month’s time, the Filipino people will once again troop to the polls to elect senators and congressmen. This political exercise is the essence of representative democracy, where voters regardless of station in life or economic class, elect into office a candidate who they believe should make laws that would give them better opportunities in life.

“But candidates, especially senators whose constituency is national, have to come up with specific national issues, specific legislative proposals rather than unrealistic motherhood statements. It is time that they do away with 15 second soundbites on television.

“By the very nature of our legislative system of government, administration candidates are expected to advance and support administration policies; the opposition is called upon at the very least to check and balance the policies of the administration. The administration prepares the national agenda which the opposition will either oppose or accept. If, unlikely, the opposition senatorial candidates win the majority in the Senate this coming election, a legislative gridlock is expected, but a political gridlock can be untangled if there remains a communication link between the executive and the legislative. Statesmanship is expected to prevail if there is to be fruitful legislation, in the name of national interest. In the mighty words of Isaiah: ‘Come now and let us reason together.’

“But our national interest must be one that is based on values; values that unite rather than one that divide. Without values we can never find ourselves through the complexities of nationhood. A nation that is divided within itself can never stand alone.

“As we come closer to the elections, let us ponder upon the words of the late Senate President Neptali A. Gonzales, in his speech entitled, Politician, Heal Thyself: ‘Our interest must be towards alleviating our political contests into one of substance and issues. We must upgrade our politics into one that we can all be proud of. We must make this election a first step towards national renewal, where we can choose leaders who can lead us to change because they themselves have the courage to change.’”

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Gemma Cruz Araneta and Nona Ricafort have been elected chair and president, respectively, of the Community Chest Foundation (ComChest) for 2019-2020.

Gemma, president of the Heritage Conservation Society, was the first Filipina to bring home an international beauty title when she became the Philippines’ first Miss International.

Dr. Nona Ricafort is  chair of the Inner Wheel Club of the Philippines District 380 and is a former commissioner of the Commission on Higher Education.

Others elected were Orlando Pena, executive vice president; Raymund Yupangco, first vice president;  Susan Locsin, second vice president; Dr. Nelia Gonzalez, treasurer; Remedios Bicomong, assistant treasurer;  Dr. Cindy Dollente Ang, corporate secretary; and Lourdes Pimentel, public relations officer.

The ComChest, whose concept of a united fund campaign was introduced by Irene Ellis Murphy of the USA, was founded in 1949 by a group of businessmen and professionals headed by Sen. Gil J. Puyat as first president. It conducts continuous annual fund-raising campaigns to support the social services programs of its member agencies that care for abandoned children, out-of-school youth, abused women, indigenous communities, the elderly and the handicapped. Presently it supports 17 Red Feather agencies spread in Metro Manila  and named after the Red Feather, a symbol of achievement and service in the orient.

Preparing for its 70th anniversary in December this year, ComChest’s Institute for Social Development has tied up with  Wesleyan College of Manila for a Social Development Program to answer the country’s need for social development executives and professionals. The new board will also strengthen agency programs on education, health, livelihood, solid waste management, the elderly, the handicapped and child/youth welfare.

The ComChest offices are located at 815 Remedios St., Malate Manila with email address communitychestfoundation@yahoo.com

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