In Roman times the Senate was composed of the oldest, ablest, wisest people who were able to transcend the petty and partisan strife that beset ordinary legislative bodies and look more directly at the common good. But alas and alack our Senate today seems to be populated by politicians who seem to be bereft of the virtues that made the Roman Senate the paragon of virtues.
This has forced Miriam Santiago the feisty Ilongga senator to comment that Filipinos want to spit at senators. True or not, it must be said that never in the history of the upper chamber has it been mired in so much controversy as it has been today. Can you imagine the likes of Claro Recto, Jose Laurel, Jose Diokno, Raul Manglapus, Lorenzo Sumulong, Lorenzo Taòada, Gil Puyat and Benigno Aquino Jr. being involved with the likes of Janet Napoles?
We still recall in the time of my father and grandfather that the senators were considered the best and the brightest in the land whose debating skills and oratorical process would fill the senate gallery with law students and scholars who were simply awed by the bilingual exchanges and oratorical skills of the senators. Indeed the exchanges between the likes of Quezon and Claro Recto were classics! This is stark contrast to the debates in the upper chamber today which nobody cares to listen to.
Senator Santiago reportedly added in press reports that the situation so far is “beyond remedy” as the formerly august chamber has been mortally wounded by the Napoles scam. Really now! It is easy for the lady senator to say so, since she will be leaving for the International Court of Justice soon. Assuming she is right, the next logical step would be to have the upper chamber abolished by the Constitution!
As far as we are concerned it will be good riddance for a chamber whose creation under the Cory Constitution was marred by heated debate between unicameralists and bicameralists. Indeed the creation of the Senate was passed by a single vote majority. This was a big mistake on hindsight because today we have an upper chamber of people elected at large but seemingly representing only a few dynastic families whose main concern is to perpetuate themselves in power and hopefully land the job of head of government. They neither represent the country or any particular region. In fact quite a few of them only represent a few small constituencies in Metro Manila. Imagine a pair of siblings from Taguig and San Juan occupying seats in the Senate at the same time!
Indeed our Senate set up is the first of its kind. In the US senators represent states while in Europe the upper chambers do not legislate—they just “review” the work of the bigger chamber and recommend the veto of bills if warranted. The system also prevents the gridlock that we see quite often when both chambers engage in a tug-of-war over legislation, requiring a third chamber called the “conference committee,” composed of representatives of both chambers to reconcile the opposing views of the House and the Senate. In recent times this body has become even more powerful than the two legislative chambers. Obviously the process delays priority bills and encourages “logrolling,” an American term for quid pro quo or “cash-sunduan,” which adds to the imperative of scrapping this underperforming smaller institution which costs the citizens a lot of tax money, given its bloated budget.
An alternative would be to elect senators by regions which could assure the representation of more provinces especially in the Visayas and Mindanao which are badly underrepresented at the present time. It would also cost much less to campaign so that better qualified people who cannot afford to run under the present system can present themselves under this cheaper mode of elections. Actually this was the system in the past when senators were elected by districts.
Definitely looking at the composition of the upper chamber today, any change would certainly be for the better!