PICKING the best performers among lawmakers was one of the most trying and most satisfying activities I had undertaken in my 30 years of covering the legislature.
Extreme care and vetting must be exercised for a questionable choice could damage not only my professional integrity but also the reputation of my newspaper. Thankfully, all of my choices got popular acceptance—except perhaps from the lawmakers who didn’t make my list.
I started becoming a one-man “selection committee” in 1988 when I was a senior reporter of the Philippine Star. The late Mrs. Betty Belmonte showed her complete trust in my judgment and in-tegrity when she asked me at the end of the First Regular Session of the Eighth Congress to choose the two most innovative thinkers in the House of Representatives.
My choices? Rep. Oscar Orbos of Pangasinan and the late Rep. Raul Roco of Camarines Sur. Oca Orbos’s innovative thinking and work ethic were recognized by the late President Cory who plucked him out of Congress and named him Secretary of Transportation and Communications and then Executive Secretary. The Malacañang snake pit was more than he could handle and he was later replaced as Little President.
Oca Orbos returned to the House for one term before becoming governor of Pangasinan for three successive terms. He hasn’t been active in politics but his thirst for new ideas remains unquencha-ble. In our last meeting, he talked of giving people real political power and of ways to provide uni-versal health care and social security.
Raul Roco’s potential was quite evident even after just one regular session. He became senator in 1992, then placed second to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in his reelection bid. He ran for president in 1998 and 2004. Nobody questioned his qualifications for the presidency but he unfortunately lost. He died of prostate cancer shortly after the 2004 elections.
Mrs. Belmonte asked me in 1992 to pick the Ten Most Outstanding Congressmen of the Eighth Congress. This was very difficult because the Eighth Congress had many worthy members. (I con-sider the Eighth and Ninth as the best after martial law.). To tighten my field of choice, I disqualified the Speaker, the Speaker Pro-tem, the majority leader and the minority leader. Their positions gave them built-in advantages over the rest.
Among my choices then were Felicito Payumo of Bataan, Mike Romero and Gary Teves both of Negros Oriental, the late Boni Gillego of Sorsogon, Oscar Santos of Quezon and the late Rolando R. Andaya of Camarines Sur.
Payumo was principal author of the Build-Operate-Transfer Law and its many derivatives although many other congressmen had claimed authorship. He was also the principal author and sponsor of the House version of the law creating the Bases Conversion Development Authority and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.
Mike Romero was a low-profile politician but set high standards of performance. In 1998, the late Senator Ernesto Maceda said that if he were to pick the five most outstanding congressmen from the Eighth to the Tenth Congress, Mike Romero would be one of the five. Romero stayed with the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino through thick and thin, one of the few politicians who never changed party affiliation.
In the Tenth Congress, in conjunction with the 10th (or was it the 11?) anniversary of the Philippine STAR, Mrs. Belmonte asked me to choose a commensurate number of most promising young members of the House. Among those in my list were Mar Roxas of Capiz, Mike Defensor of Que-zon City, Renato Diaz of Nueva Ecija, Ranjit Shahani and Hernani Braganza both of Pangasinan, and Ralph Recto of Batangas.
I need not detail the accomplishments of Roxas, Defensor, Braganza and Recto for these are well-known. The name “Renato Diaz” is not known nationwide but I considered him the most promising politician from Nueva Ecija since the time of Senator Juan R. Liwag. He’s also a progressive thinker. His political future dimmed under the strong political machinery of a rival from the Joson family.
I must stress that there was no awarding ceremony for all of these outstanding congressmen. However, individual writeups were printed on the front page of the Star. Those on the most prom-ising ones came out in the supplement.
The only time I made no individual write up was at the end of The Tenth Congress. It also raised a ruckus. As president of the Congressional Press Club, I asked House reporters to pick 20 most out-standing neophyte congressmen and the “Never Heard” congressmen. The tally was aired over the radio and printed in many papers. Many in the “Never Heard” list failed to win reelection.
At the Senate, I decided to pay tribute to senators who participated in most committee hearings and to committee chairmen who had churned out the most number of committee reports. This was in the 15th Congress and I was already with the venerable Manila Times. I made no personal judgment. My Special Report was the result of backbreaking research on attendance records and committee reports. Former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Chiz Escudero stood out in my research.