Efren Danao
Efren Danao

Senate President Pro Tem Ralph Recto is a serious lawmaker more concerned with committee and floor deliberations than televised coverage of Senate inquiries of sensational issues. I know for a fact, however, that he’s one of the wittiest members of the chamber and could even give Sen. Tito Sotto a run for his money.

Of the recent calamities (two powerful typhoons, a temblor and the failed takeover of Zamboanga City by the Moro National Liberation Front, Senator Ralph moaned: “The damage from the quadruple hits is so great that it is as if disasters had chosen the Philippines as their convention site this year.”

His wit isn’t as acerbic as that of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago but it could sting.

Consider his retort at the political opponent of his wife, Gov. Vilma Santos, who whacked at her for allegedly putting on too much make-up to look beautiful: “Vilma is naturally beautiful. She can be without make-up and still look beautiful. He (Vilma’s opponent) is naturally ugly. He could put on make-up for hours and still look ugly.” Ugh!

I consider his speech voting for the confirmation of Budget Secretary-designate Butch Abad by the Commission on Appointments one of his wittiest. Here are excerpts of his speech:

“Some say that it is easy to pull a molar out of Butch than to ask him for a SARO. Perhaps that is what is required of the times.” (Abad recently abolished the SARO or Special Allotment Release Order as requirement before funds are released for projects.)

“This is a guy whose idea of saving money in his younger days was to take haircut once a year.”

“The task of handling the Conditional Cash Transfer to lawmakers – otherwise known as PDAF – for example, can already be tiring, given the tendency among many in our branch to try to pound plowshares into pork barrels. No wonder that under this environment, we shouldn’t blame him if he had his more than his usual share of bad hair days.”

“And if he wants to shake off the stress by driving around town – in a borrowed Porsche maybe – for some hair-raising diversion to clear his mind, and relieve the tension, then we should all let him be.”

“And, of course, most of you know that he’s been a ranking member of the Bigger House and that other powerful house called Balay.”

“For all these qualifications, he can never be A-bad secretary, only a good one.”

Senator Ralph also pokes fun at his colleagues while sponsoring a measure, like he did on increasing the “sin tax.”

“The average annual consumption of beer is 17.4 liters per person, which I think most of us here surpass as some can drink a vineyard’s worth of wine and a microbrewery of beer in a month,” he said to the laughter of his audience.

Government addiction to sin taxes

He explained the government’s addiction to sin taxes: “A government in need of money would always prefer a taxable vice, like drinking, to a tax-exempt virtue like staying sober.”

He then acknowledged the health hazards posed by cigarette smoking but stressed that it’s impossible to crush it in the real world.

“So the next best thing is to use tax policy as a nicotine patch to discourage smoking and to keep drunks from marinating their livers in alcohol,” he added.

His advocacy on higher excise tax on tobacco products didn’t receive the same response as that on wine and fermented spirits, especially from his colleagues from tobacco-producing regions like then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Bongbong Marcos. To them, that was no laughing matter.

When there were rumors that he had succumbed to lobbyists, he tendered his irrevocable resignation as chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. That was a time when “irrevocable” really means just that.

Oh yes, recently, he lauded the newly signed 2014 national budget for its novel “performance guarantees.” Among them is the pledge of the Metro Manila Development Authority to respond within 15 minutes to 90 percent of traffic obstruction. Some may say that this is an example of MMDA humor at the expense of the public, but I believe this pledge can be realized if MMDA can be as “efficient” as its accredited tow car companies.

A relative with a small business near Philcoa in Quezon City was returning to his old vehicle about five minutes after unloading his goods when he saw a man starting to tow his vehicle. Imagine, a five-minute response time to “traffic obstruction.” Sadly, he wasn’t ticketed for traffic obstruction – the man insisted on towing his vehicle. Towed to where? Why, to faraway Pasig even if MMDA has an impounding area in Quezon City!

Personal note: I’m praying for the speedy recovery of former Rep. Oca Santos who had just undergone an operation on his prostate.

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