At Large

Newbies and what they will bring

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Recently, retired Bishop Teodoro Bacani remarked that he was “happy” that senatorial candidate Risa Hontiveros was lagging in the Senate race, remaining outside the “winning circle” even if she is part of “Team PNoy” that is dominating the rankings.

The reason for the good bishop’s “happiness”? Because Risa was and is one of the more prominent personalities supporting the Reproductive Health Law. She has been pushing for it even while she was a party-list representative, and even after she left the House after her third term. In the 2010 elections, Risa placed a surprising 13th among the “senatoriables”—not good enough to put her among the winners, but a good showing especially for someone whose background lies more in the NGO world than in partisan politics. But these days, Risa seems to be lagging in the surveys, and Bishop Bacani, for one, takes her poor showing as proof of the public dislike for the RH Law, never mind the consistent findings in favor of it in public opinion surveys.

“Nalulungkot  ako (I am saddened),” Risa said when I brought up Bishop Bacani’s statement during the second installment in the University of Baguio gym of the Inquirer Senate Forum. “I must also say it’s rather uncharitable.” But, she added: “I am slowly inching forward and I hope voters will look at my track record, especially my work for pro-women measures and on health issues.” Later, asked what she would bring to the Senate as a relative newcomer, Risa said she would “honor the communities I have served in my life as an activist—the peace movement, the women’s movement, poor communities, and human rights victims.”

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But on the issue of “RH,” Risa received no love from other members of the panel, also relative neophytes like herself. Mitos Magsaysay, an outgoing third-term representative running under the UNA banner, declared that “population is not the reason people are poor.” Instead, Filipinos can be made more productive “through education,” she said, and declared that if and when she makes it to the Senate, she would be a “hands-on legislator” who will carry out to the full a legislator’s duty to “fiscalize” or check the spending power of the other branches of government.

JC delos Reyes, who lost in his 2010 presidential run and is now seeking a Senate seat under the Kapatiran Party, acknowledged that the party stance has always been “anti-RH,” an issue that has “rightly” divided the nation. But the population issue, he declared, “should not be used in politics.”

For his part, former Councilor Greco Belgica said he felt the entire RH debate is based on the “wrong premises.” He added: “Don’t blame children for the poverty we face. Rather, blame the government for its failings.”

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When the candidates were asked by my co-moderator, INQUIRER.net editor-in- chief Abel Ulanday, what they could bring to the Senate and perhaps change it, Bam Aquino said he has been called “anak  ng  (child of) People Power.” This is because Bam received his political education even at an early age, starting with the assassination of his uncle Ninoy that led to the People Power revolution.

Running as a representative of the youth, Bam cited the unique qualities that young leaders possess: a global orientation, a willingness to start innovations, tolerance in a world of diversity, and “passion and willingness to serve,” all of which, I might say, Bam possesses in full measure. Indeed, his youth-orientation was obvious during the Forum, saying he would concentrate his legislative work on easing the burden of young, promising but poor students, mainly for scholarships as well as job placement assistance upon graduation.

The others seemed to me to be singing “one-note sambas,” harping on their favorite themes and issues: anticorruption and “God-given governance” (Delos Reyes), a flat tax (Belgica), “securitization” (Bal Falcone) and antidynasty laws (Christian Señeres). Because the majority of the audience was made up of students (of UB and other schools from as far away as Pangasinan), most of the candidates batted for scholarships for poor students, with Kristel Tejada looming large in the background.

* * *

One candidate, though, in my estimation, can be an “emerging star” on the political firmament, if only he hadn’t set his sights on a national position so early in the game.

Marwil Llasos of Kapatiran, a lawyer and educator and a “consecrated lay Dominican,” waxed nostalgic for what he called “the Golden Age of Philippine politics,” when “decisions were based on principles” and such revered names as Diokno, Salonga, Recto and even Aquino dominated the chamber.

When the candidates were asked what made them so “special” to deserve a Senate seat, Llasos said he thought he was quite “ordinary,” being the son of an OFW mother, and confessing that he is “not an actor, not a star, I don’t even have a car!”

Toward the end, Llasos even thanked the event’s organizers for giving him “one moment in time,” a chance to command national attention through the Inquirer Senate Forum.

What I found most refreshing about him, though, was his awareness of his poor chances of making it to the Senate but carrying with him no bitterness or regret for his choice. It seemed he had decided to make the best of the situation, even if a national campaign demanded amazing sacrifices. For instance, from Baguio, Llasos was joining his team for a sortie in Isabela.

At the prep room, the other candidates mentioned Llasos’ unique talent of mimicry. When we asked him to give us a sample, he demurred, speaking remarkably like ex-President GMA. It would have been a real highlight at the Forum if he had chosen to “perform,” but maybe such pleasures need to wait until after the polls.

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