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Have a heart

I almost fell out of my chair when Miriam Defensor-Santiago came out with her advice to the newbies in the Senate. Would you take advice from Erap on how to live an abstemious life?

The newbies, she said, would do well to “go back to school, huwag magpasiklab kaagad.” She herself learned the ropes in her time by seeking the learned counsel of Arturo Tolentino. Above all, she said, a senator should show honesty, competence, and professional excellence.

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“Honesty means one should not steal. Competence [means a senator] has to have academic excellence and not be simply a graduate. [He/she] should have graduated with honors from a revered (‘tinitingalang’) university. That would mean the UP, Ateneo, or La Salle. Sana, nag-graduate sa anuman sa tatlong ito. Professional excellence is practicing what one has studied. Otherwise, anong kuwenta ng degree?”

I leave UE, UST, FEU, Mapua, Lyceum, and San Sebastian, quite apart from St. Theresa’s, St. Scholastica’s, Assumption, Miriam, and Philippine Women’s University, to say their piece about this view of which institutions of learning offer the best preparation for senators. And that’s only for Metro Manila.

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No wonder Miriam is what she is, she had Arturo Tolentino for mentor. Tolentino, for the benefit of the post-martial law babies, was Ferdinand Marcos’ running mate when they ran against Cory and Doy Laurel in the 1986 snap election. They won the battle but lost the war. Tolentino stayed around after Marcos fled and mounted a coup attempt in July, proclaiming himself president in Marcos’ absence. Expecting massive support, he found only a handful of Marcos loyalists with him at the Manila Hotel where he holed up. An iconic photograph of him after he surrendered showed a man looking wild-eyed, lost, and, well, tililing.

Miriam is right to urge the new senators to be honest, competent, and professionally excellent, she’s just wrong to imagine herself the model for it. In fact, all the newbies need do is not do things her way and they can’t go wrong. “Huwag tularan,” as the racy movies of the 1970s and 1980s said in their titles.

Her only contribution to the Senate has been to expose Juan Ponce Enrile for what he is, calling him a liar and a cheat to his face. But which has also provoked Ping Lacson to at least suggest that she is a hypocrite, if not call her that to her face. A “crusading crook,” he specifically called her, which she hasn’t answered to this day. That is not a glowing sign of honesty.

I don’t know that UP teaches its students that competence may be found in shifting one’s loyalties with the ease of changing clothes. Or vowing undying loyalty to a president one moment and embracing his tormentor the next. Which she and Enrile did to Erap, protesting his ouster in fiery terms and goading a mob to storm Malacañang in fierier terms, only to end up joining Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and vowing undying loyalty to her. Until P-Noy came along, and then vowing undying loyalty to him. In the University of the Streets, that is not called competence, that is called opportunism.

And I don’t know that UP teaches its law students that professional excellence is best shown by sticking to the letter of the law and trashing its spirit. A thing she showed in two very high-profile forums, which were the impeachment of Erap and of Renato Corona. It took a law student of San Beda named Raul Roco to show her otherwise. That was during Erap’s impeachment when she tried to assail the credibility of a witness, a young lawyer, who had left an Erap-allied law firm to join a smaller one; she said that was strange behavior, leaving a high-paying job for a lower-paying one. Roco asked the girl what the motto of UP Law was and she said: “The business of a law school is to teach law in a grand manner.”

That is true of any other profession. The business of engineering, public administration and entertainment is to engineer, administer and entertain in the grand manner. That is what professional excellence means.

In fact, Miriam was right the first time when she exhorted the voters to vote young, even if she was wrong about what young meant. It’s pretty good advice for the newbies too: Keep young.

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Keep young by keeping your idealism, fanning your spark of activism if you had it to begin with, channeling your spirit of rebellion to making enlightened laws, brilliant laws. Young doesn’t have to mean being as close to the entry point for senators as possible, which is 35, though happily some of the new senators are just in their 40s. It can always mean being true to the spirit of aspiring, of striving, of reaching for things beyond your grasp.

Keep young by keeping some sense of humility, not out of PR because it is good form to be modest, but out of a sense of proportion, the world is vast, there is so much you do not know, there is no end to learning. Only people who are really ignorant or lack imagination can be arrogant or self-absorbed. They have no idea how small and insignificant they are. Wise men have always been known to say they know that they do not know. Which is why they ask people wiser than they are—in the case of solons, named after Solon the Wise, such as their constituents.

Keep young by keeping a heart along with a head. It’s not true at all that having a head, or studying in UP, Ateneo, or La Salle guarantees you’ll be a good governor. Marcos was the lousiest governor of all, and he came from UP. Right now the youngest leader in the world is Pope Francis. He has a magnificent heart, which is what allows him to have a tremendous compassion for the poor. Hell, which is what enables him to see the poor, to hear the cries of the poor. The heart is the keenest organ of all.

Be good legislators, have a heart. And I don’t mean Chiz.

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