Dateline Manila: Defending the Senate as an institution PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 15 August 2014 13:07

BY Sammy Santos


The screaming headline of the Philippine Daily Inquirer “Senate gets worst rating” last Tuesday (Aug. 12, 2014) was another major concern for my office, the Senate’s Public Relations and Information Bureau (PRIB) under which I serve as print media director.

With me at the helm of this office are two other Zamboanguenos namely Raymond Corro, who is bureau chief; and Jenny Macrohon, who heads the editorial desk.

The PDI story confirms the fact that the image of the Senate continues to suffer a public beating it has been receiving since last year. It reports that the net satisfaction ratings of the Senate suffered huge drops in the latest survey conducted by the Makati Business Club following the public uproar over the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

We, in the PRIB, were not surprised by the findings of the MBC survey. The image of the Senate as an institution has been severely battered in media since the Philippine Daily Inquirer exposé on the so-called “Janet Napoles Pork Barrel Scam” sometime last year.

Almost everywhere—from newspapers to TV screens and radio programs—in the consciousness of the public, the term “Senate” has become that of controversy, outrage, and distrust. This institution has seen a lot of challenges before but never has it seen a scandal that eroded so much the people’s trust as shown by the declining results of approval surveys on the chamber.

But perhaps nothing much more defines the Senate’s struggle to restore public trust than its portrayal in the world of social media. For the free and unregulated sphere of Facebook and Twitter, the Senate has become the butt of jokes, anger, and utter disrespect.  A quick visit to news online about the Senate would lead you to countless hateful comments and memes that have been shared, liked, or retweeted.

I believe there is a sharp dichotomy between the Senate’s virtual image and its actions in real life. In the real world, the senators and Senate employees work hard to perform the institution’s democratic mandate of policy formulation.

Online, the Senate is pilloried as an ineffective and disgraced institution. I have even seen disturbing online groups or media personalities suggesting the abolition of the Senate, whether permanent or temporary, and end its existence as a vital institution and representation of our democracy.

The Philippines is the social media capital of the world, and we cannot deny that comments about the Senate in social media significantly help shape public opinion. While there are some positive comments posted about the Senate and the senators, there appears to be a concerted effort by critics to flood social media with half- truths, blatant misinformation, and outright black propaganda at the cost of the Senate’s institutional reputation.

For this negative image being painted of the Senate to change, the Filipino people need to be told of the truth.

In the forthcoming issue of the Senate newsletter, I pointed out to Senate officials and employees the need for the public to be told of the facts about the Senate. Offhand, I can think of at least two major falsehoods being peddled in social media about the upper chamber:

1)    That all senators were in cahoots with Janet Napoles in pocketing the millions of pesos in the PDAF. (Not true, in fact there are a lot of laudable PDAF funded projects that are much appreciated in the countryside).

2)    That the DAP is a fund used to bribe senators to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona and that the monies were delivered in cash and went straight to the senators’ pockets. (Again not true. DAP is not a fund and senators were only asked to name projects that could be implemented immediately at the time when the economy needed some pump-priming).

With these in mind, I then challenged Senate personnel to take these issues to their social media accounts, and take part in the transformative dialogue that will bring back the people’s trust in the Senate.

Perhaps, I should extend that appeal to Filipinos who value our democracy and its institutions and do not easily fall prey to the antics of mob-rule advocates, spin masters in media, and outright political propagandists and blackmailers.

A simple act of discussing Senate-related issues with your Facebook friends, or Tweeting the latest developments on bills being deliberated on the Senate floor, would go a long way.

In defending the Senate, we do not have to argue in behalf of positions or the actions taken by individual senators. More often than not, they themselves argue or contradict one another. That is the way of democracy.

What we must defend and protect is the image of the Senate as an institution. We must help educate the Filipino people that as mature democrats, we should be able to discern the difference between the actions of individuals and the institution.

A case in point is this: The alleged misuse of pork barrel funds was committed by individual politicians and not by the Senate as a collective body. Therefore, if proven guilty in court, the individual, and not the institution, should be punished.

As the saying goes, politicians come and go, but the Senate as an institution is here to stay.