THE Philippine Senate is the only one in the world with members who are elected at large. This makes running for the Senate a very costly affair and the proclamation of winners a protracted endeavor.
Ironically, the senators who are elected at large are still considered local politicians. Invariably, they are continuously linked to their province or city of origin. Whenever Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile stands up on the floor, he’s usually addressed as “the gentleman from Cagayan.” Sen. Chiz Escudero is addressed as “the gentleman from Sorsogon,” Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano as “the gentleman from Taguig,” etc.
Woe to the senator who doesn’t pay most of his attention, including allocating the largest “pork,” to his place of origin for he would be branded as without a sense of gratitude or of belonging. Senator Chiz, for instance, is getting faulted for failing, true or not, to give full attention to Sorsogon and the Bicol region. Manila Mayor Erap Estrada cited this as the main reason why he’s supporting Sen. Bongbong Marcos for vice president instead of Senator Chiz.
When a senator gets elected at large, his main focus should be on the nation and not on his province or region. But since we can never separate the senators from their region, why not elect them by region? A regional election of senators will assure the representation of every region in the Senate and cure the flaw of the current system, where some regions are over-represented while a number haven’t had a senator for long stretches of time.
Eastern Visayas has suffered the longest from the injustice bred by the election of senators at large. Do you know that the last time a senator from the region got elected was 61 years ago? Sen. Decoroso Rosales won in 1955 but failed in his reelection bid in 1961. There have been notable/popular sons from the region who ran for the Senate and lost. Among them were Charlie Avila, Raul Daza and actor Cesar Montano.
Now, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and former Leyte Governor/former Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla are running for senator. Petilla is running under the administration ticket. He withdrew from an earlier stab under the aegis of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and endorsed instead the candidacy of Cesar Montano. If the electorate could only commiserate with the Eastern Visayans, they would vote for either of the two.
Hopefully, it will be Romualdez, whose family showed strength of character during the Yolanda tragedy.
Muslim Mindanao hasn’t been represented for quite a while although not as long as Eastern Visayas. The last Muslim senator was Santanina Rasul. She won a five-year stint in 1987 and got reelected to a three-year term in 1992. (Only the first 12 of 24 senators got six years in the 1992 election). Her brother, former Sulu OIC Gov. Almarin Tillah and daughter Aminah Rasul both ran for the Senate in separate elections and lost.
The self-acknowledged “world’s poorest sultan,” Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram 2nd, lost his bid in 2007. In 2010, noted lawyer Adel Tamano was thought to have an excellent chance of breaking the Muslim jinx but fell short.
This coming May elections, DILG Assistant Secretary for Muslim Affairs and Special Concerns Nariman Ambolodto is included in the senatorial slate of the administration.
The candidates from Eastern Visayas and Muslim Mindanao stand a better chance if senatorial elections are divided into regions. Add to this the possibility that more achievers from the region would be encouraged to run. For instance, Gov. Rodolfo del Rosario of Davao del Norte may have no chance of winning as senator in a national election but he’s a cinch to win in a regional election. The same can be said of former Sen. Juan Zubiri who’s seeking to regain his seat, or his father, Bukidnon Gov. Jose Rubin Zubiri Jr.
Toots Ople of Bulacan will be unbeatable in Central Luzon, what with her championing the cause of Overseas Filipino Workers and labor. She’s waging a valiant quest for one of the 12 seats up for grabs this May. Then, there’s former DILG and former Tourism Secretary Rafael Alunan of Bacolod who could ably help others in representing the newly created Negros region in the Senate.
Conversely, some well-known entertainers would find it hard to win in a regional election for senator. I remember the case of comedian Bert “Tawa” Marcelo, who lost to Obet Pagdanganan for governor of Bulacan. Had he run in a nationwide election, Marcelo would have been a sure winner.