The best senator who never ran | Inquirer Opinion | Columnists
Sisyphus’ Lament

The best senator who never ran

/ 05:05 AM November 12, 2018

The iconic photo of the Philippine Senate remains four lawyers standing in front of a padlocked Senate door in 1973: Doy Laurel, Ramon Mitra, Gerry Roxas and Jovito Salonga (and Eva Estrada Kalaw). A generation ago, excellent public interest lawyering propelled one to national leadership.

I hoped former Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez might make a “suntok sa buwan” Senate run, following partymate Sen. Risa Hontiveros.


He was both University of the Philippines Student Council president and Philippine Collegian editor in chief.

My class vocally called him our best criminal law professor ever. We were his first students.


He won public attention as congressman, then spokesperson of “Daang Matuwid” coalition, then Leni Robredo’s.

Most of all, he argues intelligent Supreme Court cases.

He represented senators challenging the International Criminal Court (ICC) withdrawal. He argued the Constitution’s structure, not political rants.

In 2016, he invoked the Constitution’s core principles against former president Ferdinand Marcos’ state burial.

In 2017, he petitioned for a joint session of Congress on martial law, with former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, among others.

How can someone with this record not be running, yet lawyers who file baseless Supreme Court cases enjoy weeks of media limelight?

Visualize high court petitioners along two axes: actual substance of petitions and oral arguments, and media hype.


Hilbay is the best example in Quadrant I (both substance and hype), combining social media savvy with elegant arguments. His Senate run heartens me.

In Quadrant II (substance but no hype), Centerlaw’s “writ of amparo” cases drew a landmark protection order for “tokhang” survivor Efren Morillo in a week, and Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio’s order to release police operational records.

Centerlaw accidentally argued the entire ICC case with Gutierrez. Its Romel Bagares, Gilbert Andres and Gil Anthony Aquino individually guest starred for various groups.

Sadly, no law geek fanfare greeted this teamup like the formation of the Avengers.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers have the longest recent Quadrant IV (hype but no substance) track record.

In 2013, former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares sued to void the Cybercrime Act. He repeatedly told justices he is not familiar with the internet (then stated he is not familiar with the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, which he sued to void in 2014).

In 2014, Hilbay slammed Rachel Pastores for making political arguments in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Act hearings that would not pass law school recitation. She cited her opinions as legal basis to justices.

Beyond the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, William Jasarino repeatedly stated his 2015 Torre de Manila case had no legal, only strong moral, basis.

Jesus Falcis was intensely criticized by Hilbay and justices themselves after his same-sex marriage petition violated the high court’s most basic rules of jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court sanctioned Falcis for direct contempt. He “acted as though he was unprepared and without knowledge of the decorum typical to appearing in court,” such as standing when addressed by justices in a preliminary conference.

Then he was threatened with indirect contempt for not filing his memorandum after the 2018 hearings. He cited “incessant monsoon rains.”

There must be Gutierrezes in every political camp, public interest lawyers who inconspicuously do all the right things yet go unheralded.

Does “woke” culture superficially prize self-promotion above all? Do we share that hackneyed photo of a lawyer holding up his petition at the Supreme Court steps, without asking what it actually said?

Should civic leaders and talk show hosts ask if we constantly decry the same surnames in ballots, yet are far too uncritical in choosing new contenders?

A generation ago, great lawyer-senators were exemplified by Salonga, a Senate president with Harvard Law master’s degree and Yale Law doctorate. But would we elect a Salonga over an “influencer” today?

React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, This column does not represent the opinion of organizations with which the author is affiliated.

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TAGS: Barry Gutierrez, Florin Hilbay, Gil Anthony Aquino, Gilbert Andres, lawyer-senators, Romel Bagares, Senate, Sisyphus’ Lament
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