[Editorials of the Connection] The Senate that Filipinos voted, and will be voting for

 

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Filipinos voted for 12 senators in the May 2010 elections, the electoral exercise that catapulted Benigno Aquino III into power. For voters’ recollection, these are the scenes that marked the work of the Senate in the past three years.

Of course there’s the televised impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. Senators, dressed in dark maroon robes, grilled witnesses and even the former chief justice himself, then majority voted to impeach Corona last May 2012. It was a moment to remember for the Philippine Senate and its members.

A year before that (2011), the Senate took cue from President Aquino’s campaign against corruption and investigated former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and first gentleman Mike Arroyo. The Senate was also instrumental in unearthing alleged corruption inside the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that same year, as well as the allegedly anomalous purchase of helicopters by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The Senate was, not surprisingly, a divided institution given deliberations surrounding the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act. With both the Senate and Congress pushed by the executive branch to finally pass this long-standing measure, the public watched how the vote went. Of course, to the dismay of the Roman Catholic Church, this proposed RH law eventually had the numbers on third and final reading.

So given these “accomplishments” of the Senate, can public trust be easily handed out to them? Not so fast.

Who would ever forget the alleged plagiarism by Sen. Tito Sotto over a speech during deliberations of the RH bill? Even if the family of the American whose work Sotto allegedly plagiarized directly wrote the Philippine Senate about it, Sotto was adamant and said there was no plagiarism done.

During deliberations for the proposed sin tax law, Batangueño senator Ralph Recto drew flak for allegedly speaking on behalf of cigarette and liquor companies when he expressed doubts over a P60 billion revenue target by government from sin taxes. Recto’s revenue target was P20 million, and his colleagues at the Senate disagreed. The new law’s revenue target was finally pegged at P34 billion in the first year of its implementation.

Debates over some pressing laws, like the sin tax law, is normal for the Senate, an august chamber said to be assuming a public watchdog role given investigations done “in aid of legislation”. But what if this watchdog also has its own problems?

Before the year 2012 ended, the senators were quarrelling over “Christmas gifts,” worth P1.6 million coming from the Senate’s maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE), handed out by the office of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. Four senators lashed out at Enrile, even as the Commission on Audit (COA) ruled that the senate president has discretion over the use of the MOOE funds, and had committed no irregularity.

Then just last Jan. 29, the Senate bowed to the COA, saying that all expenses senators incurred must be audited by the state agency. There is a “long-standing” practice that senators and their offices issue mere certifications when liquidating their funds. “We will abide by the order of COA,” said Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada. But given that Senate is part of government, being audited by state auditors should be automatic, right? Then a senator, during a caucus, recommended that senators should be audited by private firms?

The nation again elects 12 senators to replace those elected in 2007. As usual, “senatoriables” seeking 12 slots in the 24-person chamber promise the stars that will benefit voters: jobs, education access, health programs, and even loans as capital for enterprises (something that accredited government financial institutions, not the Senate, should be doing). Whoever you vote and you put together to make up this new senate of the republic, they will all form part of a branch of government whose trust ratings, to base the quarterly surveys of Pulse Asia, have been inconsistent —going up and down.

Whoever Filipinos will be voting for in the Senate this May 13, having a watchful eye over how our senators are performing will give voters an assessment if they can be trusted, or if they have made the right choice.

 

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