My first job was as a researcher in the office of then Senator Ernesto “Boy” Herrera, when the Senate had its second life in the hallowed hall of the Executive Building in Manila.
Listening to the speeches of our senators during the Salonga era was like listening to a symphony where every note played was a tribute to freedom, with themes much bigger than one’s ego. I remember my boss, Senator Herrera, standing behind the podium while the “Benjamin of the Senate,” Sen. Joey Lina, asked probing questions on the death penalty bill.
I sensed the physical pain in my principal’s legs from hours of standing up, and witnessed his tight and determined grip on the podium. These men were fighting for what they believed in, and their passion knew no boundaries. That was then.
My father, the late senator and Senate President Blas F. Ople, measured his every word, mindful of the weight of that institution. He was so proud to have been part of an institution known for its independence and lofty ideals.
Fast forward to the current Senate, and I am at a loss for words.
I saw a Senate inquiry that drew evidentiary blanks from a self-confessed murderer’s testimony about people he allegedly killed when he was a member of a group he called the Davao Death Squad, when President Duterte was then mayor of the city.
In post-hearing interviews, members of the Senate had to quarrel over the need to extend protective custody to the lead witness, a cold-hearted man who spoke about feeding people to crocodiles as if it were just any kind of diet.
If they were so concerned about that person’s safety, then why at all give him the opportunity to speak in broad daylight with his face documented by every news channel, knowing that his testimony was against, well, just the President of the Philippines.
Oh, but wait. None of the other senators were told earlier who the resource person for that day was, not even the co-chair of the Senate investigation, Senator Panfilo Lacson. It seems that the two senators who knew who Edgar Matobato was, were Senators Leila de Lima and Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes.
It appears to me that someone or some people fed Matobato to the crocodile on that fateful day, and please know that I mean to say that in a purely rhetorical sense.
After all, he was under the Witness Protection Program for three years when the Department of Justice was led by then secretary-now-senator Leila de Lima. Certainly, three years would have been long enough to build a case, if any, against an incumbent mayor given the gravity of his allegations.
None of us even knew that a certain Matobato was with the DOJ’S Witness Protection Program until after the secretary has become a senator.
I’d like to ask the senators what they do intend to do with Mr. Matobato because clearly, he did implicate himself with murder. While the Senate considers giving him protective custody, how sure are we that he won’t turn to the life of crime once all these hearings are over?
How sure are we that he won’t go after detractors in the media, whether traditional or social media, for comments that were unfavorable to him or to his patrons, whoever they may be? This man kills for a living. We don’t.
I have great respect for our senators as individuals, but I do care about the institution. Next month, the Senate shall turn a hundred years old. That kind of history must not be taken lightly by the select few that were fortunate enough to have been elected to walk its powerful corridors.
Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd would have to rally the senators to a much bigger cause of keeping the integrity and dignity of the Senate as an institution intact.
The people are hard at work, making ends meet, and doing their best to contribute their own little efforts to help change the country. They don’t wake up in the morning praying to see a senator reach out to turn off his seatmate’s microphone. Or turning on the radio set to hear a senator take forever in interrupting a resource person’s testimony.
We deserve a Senate that is mature, responsible, and forward-looking.
We deserve a Senate that is independent and yet, collegial and cordial.
We deserve a Senate that makes us feel safe and secure knowing that its learned members are working just as hard to give us better laws.
Tomorrow, the House of Representatives shall begin its own probe about the alleged proliferation of illegal drugs inside the state penitentiary. We all know who will be the target of this inquiry. It saddens me to no end that instead of an illustrious start, we are confronted by such bloody and dark conversations.
I do hope that President Duterte would convene the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) soon because we can’t always be living in the past. If we keep going back, how can we ever find the time and energy to move forward?