Two said No
Reelectionist senators Grace Poe and Nancy Binay stole the thunder from their fellow winning senators during their proclamation on May 22 with one simple, unexpected gesture. When the group was asked to do the patented Duterte fist bump for the cameras, the two refused.
Let that image linger: In the midst of new senators who won largely on the President’s endorsement, seeing at least two of them with the gift of discernment on what honorable senators of the realm are expected to be or how to behave was quite reassuring.
Poe and Binay’s body language was a class act worth celebrating in this time of divisive, patronage politics, unbridled ambition and the unabashed
use of public resources and political capital to catapult former aides, police chiefs, traffic managers, grafters, revisionists and unreconstructed “trapos” (traditional politicians) to the lofty office of senators of the Republic. The two’s gesture spoke volumes for the independence of the institution they represent, and it did not go unnoticed. It was, in fact, quickly turned into a meme, a testament to citizens expecting their senators to honor their office and not abase themselves as mere peons in the game of politics.
That message was a stark contrast to the speech of the election topnotcher, Cynthia Villar, who profusely thanked President Duterte and his daughter Sara, mayor of Davao City, for the administration slate’s victory at the polls. Those oblivious remarks seemed to forget that the fealty of these leaders is to each and every Filipino voter who elected them to office in the first place.
While it is not the senators’ job to block the President’s policies, neither is it their task to blindly support and follow him, as former longtime aide Bong Go and former police chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa have so proclaimed during their campaign.
The Constitution has mandated a system of checks and balances to ensure accountability and to safeguard the public interest. Many times, it has been the Senate, more than the House, that has exercised its coequal power through its oversight function, carving for the chamber a reputation as a bastion of, at the very least, independent thought and principled dissent.
It was the Senate in 1991, or to be precise the “Magnificent 12” of 23 senators, who voted to end the presence of US military bases in the country, winning the nation sovereignty and freedom from a century of US subjugation. It was the bravery and independence of the 12 senators—led by then Senate president Jovito Salonga, who went against the pressure and wishes of the Cory Aquino administration to retain the US bases—that led the country on an irreversible new course.
More recently, the Senate was the chamber where the impeachment proceedings against a president and a chief justice were undertaken, with senators asked to fulfill their task as judges to remove the highest officials of the land who were shown to have betrayed the public trust. This is yet another task that requires the highest degree of independence and moral strength.
The Senate has undertaken investigations of corruption in the highest ranks of government, such as the alleged “jueteng” payoffs to members of a president’s family, or the misuse of hundreds of millions worth of fertilizer funds, and many more. Virtually all of the Senate’s functions—from lawmaking to scrutinizing the budget, passing judgment on the president’s appointments, declaring the existence of war or acting on a declaration of martial law—require of its members the very best qualities of statesmanship, such as patriotism, independence of spirit, strength of character, unshakeable loyalty to the Constitution and the people.
This early, even as the incoming Senate had to publicly disavow being the rubber stamp of Malacañang, its new members had no qualms adopting the Duterte fist symbol as their very first public gesture in office. Irony may not be the only thing lost with this new confederacy, as those fists could soon end up leaning heavily on the scale in favor of the Palace’s pet measures with their far-reaching implications, such as the shift to federalism and the restoration of the death penalty.
One can only hope their high mission will still dawn on the new senators and goad them to go beyond personal ambition, political expediency and uncritical loyalty to work for a Senate beholden to no one. Two of their colleagues, Poe and Binay, seemed to indicate their intent to do so by pointedly refusing to join the collective salute of allegiance. Thumbs up to them.
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