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Vote wisely

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I was going to continue with my column of last week, but I will have to defer it.

Several of my friends implored me to write on the elections because they were worried. In a conversation we had as to who they’d vote for for the Senate, they had great difficulty naming 12. Once they got to six they had to start compromising to get to nine, and 12 was a hard sell. What a sad reflection on the Senate—33 nominees and less than 12 are considered worthy.

The concept of a Senate was founded in Rome. It was a grouping of some of the finest, most respected men. Although it was established merely as an advisory council in matters of legislation, and its advice to elected officials did not have the force of law, its decrees were nonetheless obeyed in practice because of the high regard in which it was held. The Roman senators were initially only appointed to office by virtue of being patriarchs, but the Senate body soon evolved as an institution known for its members’ “high caliber and prestige.”

The Senate is supposed to be a premier organization in a democracy, the site of some of the country’s finest, most experienced and respected minds. I don’t think anyone will disagree that that’s not the case today. I am appalled (and, yes, it is the right word) at the type of people that are running for the Senate. It’s becoming a movie set, with candidates elected because they, or their relative, are popular, or carry a well-known name. Experience, expertise, knowledge, wisdom, proven ability to get things done are now irrelevant in the voter’s decision. This is very sad, and it needs to be changed.

An estimated 27 million Filipinos suffer in abject poverty, according to government figures. The reality is probably far, far worse. They are poor because they don’t have jobs, they don’t have the support they need. Congress has a major role to play in giving them jobs by the passage of a number of important laws.

Yet in the last Congress only less than 10 laws that could be considered helpful to the poor were passed. What I consider helpful to the poor is not just the 10-year extension of the law that subsidizes the power consumption of households consuming 100 kilowatt-hours or less a month, but the ones that by their nature will lead to poverty alleviation. One is the Reproductive Health Law, which will ensure that the country’s population grows at sustainable levels: Fewer children mean fewer poor. Certainly another is the lifting of the night work prohibition on women, and yet another is the lifting of the international carriers’ tax that will boost exports and international tourist arrivals. More tourists and exports mean more jobs for Filipinos. There’s also the bill institutionalizing the K-to-12 program, which will improve the quality of education. Thus, graduates have better abilities to get a job.

The next Congress needs senators who can aggressively push for the rapid passage of poverty alleviation measures, who are thoughtful, and who have a proven track record, not neophytes who have to learn what to do or, worse, not to do anything.

I’d like to suggest three that are outside the winners’ circle from the surveys but fit the mold of what a Senate should be. I have three others, but they are already comfortably assured of winning, so no need to promote them. And, anyway, wisdom says I should keep all 30 guessing that they could be the ones (sometimes even opinion writers have to play politics). The three are friends I’ve known for years, so my opinion is based on personal knowledge. They are Jun Magsaysay, Dick Gordon, and Dick Penson.

Jun Magsaysay has proved himself in previous Senates, introducing a number of bills to improve the investment climate (Electronic Commerce Act, New Foreign Investments Act, Anti-Money Laundering Act) and the lot of the workers (bigger retirement pay from the Social Security System was just one). These bills were successfully enacted into law. He also initiated measures to create off-base housing for soldiers, bring their pay at par with the rest of the bureaucracy, and mandate priority promotion for those on the field. He led the inquiry into the Bolante fertilizer fund scam. His father was the most revered president this country has ever known; he’s not going to sully that reputation.

Dick Gordon is a doer. He talks like a machine gun, but he gets things done. I was one of his volunteers when he took over Subic; he brought it under control and made it work. His leadership of the Red Cross has turned it into a highly effective operation. He’s always at the forefront of its various rescue and relief operations. He was among the 13th and 14th Congresses’ most prolific lawmakers. Some of the laws he authored/sponsored concerned the new automated elections systems, tourism, Filipino World War ll veterans’ compensation, and Philippine disaster risk reduction and management.

Dick Penson I’ve not known as long (Jun and Dick go back over a quarter century), but I’ve been impressed by his business acumen. He’s a successful entrepreneur. Encouraging and assisting Filipinos to get started in their own businesses is a proven way to achieve that inclusive growth everyone talks about. His expertise in this is needed in the Senate.

We need action in the Senate. We need Jun Magsaysay, Dick Gordon, and Dick Penson.

Incidentally, I’m incensed at the scurrilous attacks on Loren Legarda. I’ve been getting hourly texts “exposing” her. When that happens, you know it’s political, not a genuine exposé. They convince me of the opposite of what’s intended; they go straight into my trash box.

Don’t just go out and vote. Go out and convince everyone you possibly can to vote for a Senate we can be proud of. To vote wisely.


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