WHAT is it about the Senate presidency that makes a temporary possessor of the office insolent and boastful?
In January 1949, then Senate President Jose Avelino uttered arguably the most infamous words in Philippine political history: “What are we in power for?”
He uttered the words at a party caucus and dinner in Malacañan Palace, which was attended by the President of the Philippines and other political leaders.
“What are we in power for?” he is said to have told the gathering.
According to journalist Alan Robles, the evening was one of Philippine politics’ most illuminating moments of honesty. Avelino harangued a stupefied Elpidio Quirino on “the morality of immorality.”
Avelino said more:
“Why should we pretend to be saints when in reality we are not? We are not angels. When we die we will all go to hell. It is better to be in hell because in that place there are no investigations, no secretary of Justice, no secretary of the Interior to go after us.”
Senator Avelino is long gone, but the doctrine he preached lives on and flourishes in the current Congress. Our current crop of lawmakers are just not as honest as Avelino.
The other day, in reaction to executive criticism of the ongoing and wayward Senate inquiry into the “ninja cops” issue, Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd uttered words that rival in impudence Avelino’s classic question.
Senator Sotto declared that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee has the authority to conduct any hearing concerning any public official and “anything at all under the sun.”
He declared: “Definitely, you are completely wrong when you say that because the events that have been unearthed transpired in 2013, it does not have anything to do with the drug war of the present administration…”
“The Blue Ribbon Committee can convene and call for an inquiry even without a resolution, a bill or a privilege speech or anything to that effect. The blue ribbon can even convene for an inquiry just to find out how much you bought your ball pen if you’re a public official. That’s how it is. So, for those who are not familiar with the Senate rules, my message is to zip it,” he added.
In plain English, Senator Sotto told everyone who is critical of the Senate inquiry to “shut up.”
Since the Times itself has taken issue on some points with the Senate’s in quiry and the need for prudence, we also feel alluded to by Mr. Sotto‘s insolent statement. We are obligated to reply.
We think Senator Sotto has been carried away by a misguided view of the Senate and its power to investigate.
Mr. Sotto is wrong, first, on the grounds that he is proscribing freedom of speech and expression of the citizen and the media in regard to the Senate inquiry. He heedlessly tramples on a constitutional right of every citizen and sector in our society and government.
Secondly, Mr. Sotto here is unbelievably ignorant of who he is talking to. He is talking here to the people who are the true sovereign in our country. Even inside its citadel, the Senate is not sovereign; it is the people’s Senate.
The entire Senate, the Senate president and the blue ribbon committee hold office in sufferance of the people’s consent and toleration.
To conclude, the public can well reply to Mr. Sotto: “No, Sir, it is you who should zip it.’’
‘’You should study lawmaking and policymaking, starting with the Constitution.”
This newspaper will not zip it on Mr. Sotto’s orders. We will watch and say our piece.