MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/20 April) – Nobody can say with finality if the Filipino voters in the pre-Martial Law years were any better than the voters today. However, since elections in this country then and now have had taken place under similar social conditions, there may be discernible patterns in how they would behave.
For example, a tenant would find it convenient to vote for a candidate who happens to be his landlord even if he thinks that the opponent is more qualified. These are constants imposed by economic and power relations, realities that make so-called voter education campaigns virtually useless among people enslaved by this situation.
But in the past the voters were at least discerning in choosing members to the Senate. Ask your grandparents, and they would say they have missed the likes of Senators Lorenzo Tanada, Jose Diokno, Claro M. Recto, Benigno Aquino Jr. and Jovito Salonga. Not only were they eloquent, they served as effective counterforce to the machinations of whoever sat in the Palace.
Those were the times that the chief executive would shudder at the mere thought of being put under the prying eyes and unrestrained yet brilliant criticisms of senators cum orators. The Senate did live up its name as a guardian of national interest, and was served by people who knew the nature of their task and possessed the intelligence, skills and integrity to do it.
Recto would have become a great president. But the Catholic church launched a smear campaign against him, reportedly going to the extent of distributing condoms that bore his name. Of course, the closest to Malacanang was Aquino Jr. but Martial Law cut short his march to the Palace.
During the first senatorial election after the 1986 Edsa uprising that toppled Marcos a few political luminaries managed to win. Names like Salonga as well as newcomer Wigberto Tanada, son of Lorenzo Tanada who was as erudite and independent-minded as his father as a lawmaker, gave some glimmer of hope to a Senate that was about to fall into ignominy.
Salonga and Tanada are assured of a place in history for leading the Senate into rejecting the renewal of the Military Bases Agreement. The defeat of the MBA proved to be the Senate’s finest moment, although that episode has been eclipsed by the Visiting Forces Agreement that allows US troops to return to the country in the guise of training and humanitarian intervention.
The Senate has since relapsed into decadence as an institution with the entry of members who presume that the chamber is an extension of the silver screen or the hard court. We did have a popular cager who simply warmed the political equivalent of a bench. We reelected actors who badly need a script whenever – and if ever – they take the floor.
Mediocrity borne by misplaced ambitions continues to plague the Senate like an ancient curse. And somebody thinks he can exorcise the malevolent spirits inside with Biblical verses quoted at random. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno writes mainly on the environment, human rights and politics. He can be reached at [email protected])