Dateline Manila: Philippine Senate now 98 years old PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 24 October 2014 12:37

BY Sammy Santos


Senate President Frank Drilon culminated the institution’s 98th anniversary activities with a speech before the employees’ regular flag ceremony on Monday where he recalled the challenges faced by the chamber and its efforts to regain public trust and credibility in the aftermath of the controversial pork barrel scandal.

Drilon’s speech was part of the month-long celebration of the Senate of its 98th year of existence. The first iteration of the Philippine Senate was convened under the Philippine Legislature in 1916, during the American occupation.

In his address, Drilon recognized that the current senators of the 16th Congress were hit by “one of the fiercest political storms in recent history” apparently referring to the Pork Barrel Scam where legislators were alleged to have pocketed millions of pesos in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

He recalled that the First Regular Session of the 16th Congress was the most difficult period of his public career. “We were badly bruised from the constant public beatings because of the PDAF scandal,” Drilon said.

“Our institution did not break or implode as some cynics predicted. It emerged from the crisis with a stronger resolve to give the best service possible to the nation and the Filipino people. We seized and turned it into an opportunity for introspection and reforms that would lead us to a higher level of public service,” he proudly told Senate employees during the flag ceremony.

But the Senate President also assured the Senate workers that the public was beginning to acknowledge the Senate’s efforts, noting the most recent Social Weather Station (SWS) survey where the upper chamber has the greatest overall performance rating improvement – 18 points – higher than all of the other government institutions covered by the survey.

“We need to grab this opportunity and show to our people that indeed, the Senate is worthy of their trust,” Drilon noted.  He underscored the Senate’s vow to guard and perform its constitutional mandate and powers with renewed zeal in its 98th anniversary: “The Senate has shown and will continue to show to our people that their Senate listens and responds to their pressing concerns and constantly feels their pulse.”

For the employees of the Senate, Drilon said that the institution “expects nothing from you but hard work, unwavering dedication and relentless pursuit of excellence.”

Harkening back to the Senate’s illustrious history, Drilon underscored that now was a good time for everyone to “reflect on the importance of this institution of democracy, as well as the legacy of former legislators and national leaders who taught us priceless lessons in public policy making and nation building.”

From its roots in the American period to its current iteration established under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the Senate has been composed of some of the most celebrated figures in Philippine history, including ten of the nation’s fifteen presidents, along with other noted statesmen and leaders of Philippine political thought, such as Benigno S. Aquino Jr., Claro M. Recto, and Jose W. Diokno.

“I encourage you to honor the sterling qualities, monumental work, courage and integrity of the men and women who have once walked through the Senate’s august halls. They have always inspired us to put forth effective, coherent, relevant and timely laws,” Drilon told the Senate employees.

Drilon also took the time to thank Senate workers who were noted for their outstanding performance, and for their long years of service in the legislative branch. Quoting the late South African democracy icon Nelson Mandela, Drilon told the Senate employees, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference that we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the live that we lead.”

“I encourage you all to remain tireless in rendering excellent service, the kind of service the Senate is known for throughout the years,” he concluded.

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Indeed, if the latest poll taken by the SWS detailing the resurgent public satisfaction to the Senate as an institution is any indication, it is clear that the Senate’s performance of its mandate in uplifting the lives of our people and instituting genuine reforms is the true key to the restoration of public approval and trust to the upper chamber.

This is a lesson that is intimately known to the senators themselves. Drilon himself, during the end of the First Regular Session of the 16th Congress, declared that the only way to restore the Senate’s good public standing is by “working hard and instituting reforms with public accountability as the primary goal and transparency,” after admitting that the Senate’s good image was gravely shaken by a maelstrom of major political scandals.

The rise of the Senate’s public satisfaction rating from +12 to +28 in the third quarter this year could be explained by the senators’ push for legislation and policies that directly affect the lives of our countrymen.

In September alone, the Senate approved four bills, including the Iskolar ng Bayan Act, which is seen to give at least 80,000 high school students access to free and full college education as early as next year. It has approved the coverage of all Filipino senior citizens under the Philhealth insurance program.

It is also working for the revision of the nation’s taxation system, in order to alleviate Filipinos burdened by incommensurate taxation, among other policy moves that are appreciated and sought for by our people.

The Senate has also proven to the public that it is an institution that is at the forefront of the fight against corruption. The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings on the PDAF scam actively brought to the attention of every household what has become one of the biggest political controversies in Philippine history, even as senators themselves were tagged with the scandal. It has abolished the pork barrel system, long before the Supreme Court ruled on its unconstitutionality.

Senate hearings on the nation’s biggest and most pressing issues, such as illegal smuggling of basic commodities, or allegations of overpricing in government –built structures, remain the most accessible avenue where Juan Dela Cruz could be informed and enlightened upon of the major events and happenings that determine the flow of everyday Filipino life.

The path to the Senate’s redemption as an institution is by making laws that matter, and by pushing for policies that will change our people’s lives for the better.

The entire nation can therefore be assured that the senators are working for new, lasting solutions to the oldest challenges we as a nation face –poverty, inequality and corruption - knowing fully well that as a democracy, the people will only trust leaders who have proven that they are up to the task.