Sun.Star Davao - - OPIN­ION -

WHAT is the rel­e­vance of the Se­nate to the lives of the Filipino peo­ple?

The right time for this might be dur­ing de­lib­er­a­tions on the shift to fed­er­al­ism. But I re­cently got going on strong in­sti­tu­tions and the Se­nate is one in­sti­tu­tion that needs strength­en­ing in a very spe­cific way. Hence, this is as good a time as any to start con­vers­ing (not ar­gu­ing) on this is­sue.

What­ever rel­e­vance the Se­nate might have had in the past is no longer there. Be­sides, what­ever rel­e­vance it had did not come from some­thing in­her­ent in the in­sti­tu­tion’s weak social struc­ture but from states­men-mem­bers like Recto, Tanada, Dio­kno, Mangla­pus, Sa­longa, etc. In case you haven’t no­ticed, it’s been a while since we’ve had leg­is­la­tors of their cal­iber and stature.

A ma­jor source of the Se­nate’s ir­rel­e­vance is the pro­vi­sion that sen­a­tors are elected by Filipinos at large. Sen­a­tors do not rep­re­sent, and are not voted into of­fice by, a spe­cific po­lit­i­cal con­stituency. Hence, they are an­swer­able to no­body. And it shows in how they spend peo­ple’s time and money grand- stand­ing at fruit­less in­ves­ti­ga­tions and weak leg­is­la­tion that can only be for the pur­pose of ex­pand­ing and con­sol­i­dat­ing their po­lit­i­cal fief­doms.

Be­cause they are elected at large, their elec­tion cam­paign is ex­tremely ex­pen­sive. Some can­di­dates have been re­ported to spend 100 mil­lion on TV ads alone. How much, do you think, for barangay cap­tains’ sup­port? So how can they be mean­ing to serve when they in­vest a dis­pro­por­tion­ately gross amount of money to se­cure a seat in the Se­nate? The pre­sump­tion has to be that they do what­ever it takes to re­cover their in­vest­ment.

In 2013 sen­a­tors re­ceived a P90,000 monthly salary plus hon­o­raria for com­mit­tee chair­man­ships plus travel ex­penses and the salaries, cap­i­tal out­lays and other ex­penses of their staff. But that is nothing com­pared to their share of the 51% of the Se­nate’s bud­get that the Se­nate Pres­i­dent con­trols and dis­trib­utes to sen­a­tors yearly.

In 2013, the low­est share was P34 mil­lion while the high­est, the Se­nate Pres­i­dent’s, was a stag­ger­ing P98 mil­lion.

It is ob­vi­ous that even from le­git­i­mate com­pen­sa­tion alone and with­out going into the dark side of the moon (and that they do), sen­a­tors are get­ting good re­turns on their in­vest­ment. The ques­tion is what Filipinos get in return for the coun­try’s in­vest­ment on the Se­nate.

In the event of a shift to a fed­eral form of gov­ern­ment, to be con­sis­tent with fed­er­al­ism the coun­try should only have a uni­cam­eral leg­isla­tive body com­posed of dis­trict rep­re­sen­ta­tives of au­ton­o­mous re­gions. If there must be a Se­nate, it would be more use­ful and rel­e­vant if sen­a­tors come from, are elected by, hence an­swer­able to, a spe­cific au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

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