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Senate President Tito Sotto: Cue laughter

In 1992, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile said he was not seeking reelection to the Senate because he did not relish the thought of debating with the likes of Tito Sotto, who was then running for the Senate for the first time.

Well, look: The candidate Enrile belittled is now Senate president, just like Enrile was recently.

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The American humorist Will Rogers once said, “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” It’s the same in the Philippines. Our Senate just made one big joke by electing Sotto its president.

Sotto is described as a senator who can seamlessly switch from one career to another—actor, singer, comedian. He also seamlessly switches from comedian to senator to a big joke of a senator. No, he doesn’t tell jokes in the Senate, but when he speaks in Senate sessions, people laugh.

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He was elected to the Senate in 1992 and reelected in 1998. In all those years, he was hardly heard in that once august body. He broke his silence when he cross-examined a witness during the impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada. This is how the dialogue went:

Sotto: “Can you tell this court the telephone service provider that you use for your cell phone?”

Witness: “I used at that time Piltel.”

Sotto: “Digital, Analog, GSM?”

Witness: “I was using an old Motorola set.”

Sotto: “Okay, thank you.”

Having displayed his knowledge of phone technology, he went into a quiet spell again. But when Gov. Chavit Singson testified that he brought P130 million to Estrada as kickback from tobacco farmers, Sotto found the opportunity to get his five-second sound bite. He asked, “How much does P130 million weigh?” He must have had doubts about Singson being able to carry so much.

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The ancient Greek philosopher Plato said that wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.

In 2011, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, was impeached by the Lower House. In response to speculation that he would vote to acquit Gutierrez, Sotto declared that there are 23 republics in the Senate, implying that all senators are independent-minded. Yet, in the trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, he said, “The real judge in this trial is the citizenry. They heard the two sides. In my conscience, I have heard their decision. And for them I vote guilty.” I thought he was independent.

Too bad the Lower House didn’t proceed with the impeachment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno before the Senate. With Sotto presiding, the Sereno trial would have been the comedy of the century.

Accused of plagiarizing blogger Sarah Pope, Sotto said, “Why would I quote a blogger? She’s just a blogger.” Obviously, logic is not taught in Wanbol University.

Confronted with copying in Filipino Robert F. Kennedy’s “Day of Affirmation” speech, he remarked, “I didn’t know Kennedy spoke Tagalog.” Then he let out a guffaw, a scene reminiscent of “Iskul Bukol” episodes.

In 2013, Sotto filed a bill that would mandate a 14th-month bonus for all employees. He said the existing 13th-month pay is not really a bonus, because there are actually 13 months in a year. “There are 52 weeks in a year; divide that by four weeks in a month: 13 months!” Who taught him that each month only has 28 days?

In 2015, Sotto wore a thobe, the traditional Arabian clothing for men, for his noontime show for Halloween, when people wear costumes for fun. In reaction to criticisms from the local Arab community, he said there was nothing wrong with wearing a thobe, as long as it was worn with respect. To him, wearing it as a Halloween costume was being respectful of the Arabian national attire.

Now that Sotto is Senate president, children should show more respect to him by wearing a Tito Sotto mask for Halloween.

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Oscar P. Lagman Jr. has been a keen observer of Philippine politics since the 1950s.

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TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, Juan Ponce Enrile, Oscar P. Lagman Jr., Senate presidency, tito sotto, Vicente Sotto III
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