SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Back in the day when members of Congress were among the nation’s best and brightest, the Senate and the House of Representatives were seen as springboards for the presidency.

Former presidents Manuel L. Quezon, Manuel Roxas and Ferdinand Marcos served as Senate president. Roxas and Sergio Osmeña also served as speaker of the House.

 Among the Philippine presidents, only three did not have experience in Congress prior to assuming the nation’s highest post: Emilio Aguinaldo, Fidel Ramos and Corazon Aquino.

 Alas, the Marcos dictatorship seems to have soured Filipinos to brainy national leaders. There’s a perception, not entirely baseless, that intelligence is used mainly to screw the Filipino people, that intelligence and crookedness go hand in hand. The bar for qualifying for high office in this country has progressively plummeted, and it looks like it hasn’t hit rock bottom yet.

Compare the members of the pre-martial law Congresses with many of those in the current one, and weep.

Never mind the House; consider the Senate. Today, there are three convicts in the 24-member Senate (one still owes P124.5 million to the people), and one or two could face arrest for murder as a crime against humanity. Clans rule: there are brother-sister, half-brothers and mother-son tandems.

The senators think they don’t owe the people who pay their salaries an explanation on why they kicked out the Senate president. It supposedly wasn’t over Charter change or the “PDEA leaks” (Season 2 coming soon, with a reworked script), but about the sore foot of Bong Revilla. Sore foot, my foot. We’re told to “move on” – a favorite refrain of the historical revisionists in high office.

The worst part is that some of the senators look like they honestly don’t know why the coup happened, and simply went along with the majority.

Oh well, people voted for this bunch. Truly, we get the government we deserve.

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No Senate president since Ferdinand Marcos the elder has ever won a bid for president of the republic. Every House speaker who sought the presidency suffered from the traditional politician tag, and was trounced by rivals deemed to be the opposite of a “trapo” or “tradpol.”

Military chief Ramos beat both speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. and Senate chief Jovito Salonga in the 1992 race. Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. was trounced by action star Joseph Estrada in 1998. Manuel Villar, who had served as both speaker and Senate chief, was clobbered by Noynoy Aquino in 2010. Senate chief Tito Sotto, who vied for the vice presidency in 2022, was crushed by Sara Duterte.

This voting trend is being pointed out as speculation swirls about the prospects for higher office of newly installed Senate President Francis Escudero.

Apart from their personal ties, it probably counts for the sentimental BBM that Escudero’s father Salvador “Sonny” Escudero III was a loyalist member of Ferdinand Marcos Senior’s Cabinet. I covered FM’s swearing in as president at noon on Feb. 25, 1986, hours before people power forced the Marcoses into exile. I spotted the amiable Sonny Escudero, at the time the agriculture secretary, in tears at Malacañang.

The buzz in the peanut gallery is that if Speaker Martin Romualdez was part of the “external forces” that ousted Juan Miguel Zubiri as Senate chief, then the Speaker has just opened the door for the emergence of another potential rival for the 2028 race.

And unlike the strongest contender at this point, VP Sara, whose populist father is starting to be a liability for her, Chiz Escudero’s star is rising with no particularly heavy baggage dragging him down. He even has a mega popular wife behind him.

Escudero lacks the charisma of Migz Zubiri and the mass appeal of the other possible presidential contender (as per the surveys), Sen. Raffy Tulfo. But 2028 is still four years away – enough time for anyone occupying one of the nation’s most powerful posts to raise his national profile.

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No one wants to suffer the fate of presidential race early bird Jejomar Binay, and Escudero (like Tulfo) is sure to say 2028 is still too far away. But the Senate presidency always draws this type of speculation, even if no one since FM the dictator has succeeded in using the post as a springboard for the highest post in the land.

The speculations about 2028 are fed by those early surveys about possible “presidentiables.”

“Wala na bang iba?” Isn’t there anyone else? This question pops up each time the reputable pollsters release those surveys on 2028 presidentiables. People who aren’t happy with the current survey frontrunners are desperately hoping that someone else will emerge as a strong contender.

 With an estimated population of 118.9 million as of this month, surely there’s someone in the Philippines who can lead the nation with integrity and competence. Why is this combination of assets so rare in our national leadership?

People are actually glad that the UniTeam is no longer united and the Marcos-Romualdez clans are locked in a bitter feud with the Dutertes and their minions. These folks deserve each other.

With the warring camps throwing mud at each other, there’s an opportunity for others to shine. Perhaps voters will have mercy on the nation and themselves, dump the warring camps and go for someone new.

With the ruling clans at each other’s throats, people are hoping that an alternative not identified with either camp will emerge, in time for 2028.

For now, eyes are on the new Senate President, who’s being weighed against the possible rivals.

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