Senatorial candidate Hans Christian Señeres first felt the stirrings of a desire for public office in the 1990s as a schoolboy living in the United States and watching politics in action in Virginia, a state known as the “Mother of Presidents.”
“My ambition was to run for governor because I idolized the governor then, George Allen,” he recalled.
“I saw that, in the US, anyone can be elected. People vote for ideas. I thought, ‘I can make it here,’” he said.
It was a far cry from the teenager’s recollections of politics back home in the Philippines, where he had spent his grade school years.
“With the way things were in the Philippines, I thought, ‘I don’t stand a chance there.’ I would need to be a singer first, or an actor,” he said.
But he was wrong, he now says.
“I became a congressman,” said Señeres, who served as a party-list member of the House of Representatives as a youth sector representative of Buhay, an organization founded by evangelist Mike Velarde which advocates for, among other things, the rights of the unborn and the sacredness of life.
Do it in PH
It was his father, Roy Señeres, a former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and a former National Labor Relations Commission chair, who steered Señeres away from a political career in the US.
“My dad told me that the highest position I could aspire for in the United States was governor, like [former California Gov.] Arnold Schwarzenegger. I could not run for higher office because I was not born there,” he said.
“He told me that if I was going to be a politician, I should do it in the Philippines and that I should serve Filipinos. If I’m going to dedicate my life to public service, then I might as well serve Filipinos. That was the first time I felt the calling,” Señeres said.
It is with this state of mind that the younger Señeres is entering the political fray in 2013, as a senatorial candidate running under the newly accredited Democratic Party of the Philippines, which espouses a shift to a parliamentary and federal system, and a jury trial system.
If elected, he said he would file two very urgent bills proposing an education budget equivalent to six percent of the gross national product, as recommended by the Unesco, and a health budget amounting to 5 percent of the gross domestic product, as recommended by the World Health Organization.
He will pour funds into the upgrading of the facilities of state universities and colleges, such as school buildings and libraries.
“As a former lawmaker myself, I know that in the General Appropriations Act, there’s enough money for every Filipino who needs it. A lot of it is just lost to corruption,” he said.
According to Señeres, his was one of only a few parties, “along with the Kapatiran Party and the Communist Party of the Philippines,” with a true ideology.
“We have an ideology. We advocate self-reliance, minimal government interference, lower taxes, greater personal freedoms but retaining our traditional social values,” he said.
But the 36-year-old knows what he is going up against.
He trails in the candidate preference surveys behind celebrities and names from established political clans. And without a campaign war chest to speak of, Señeres said he has thought long and hard of the prospects for victory of a relatively unknown candidate like himself.
“We’re not going to spend P400 million for a job that pays P40,000 a month. We want to see if it’s already possible, if our society has reached that level of enlightenment when somebody who just wants to serve does not need to spend a fortune to do it,” he said.
A fighting chance
He believes that he and party mates Baldomero Falcone and Greco Belgica may actually have a fighting chance.
“There seems to be an awakening in the people, partly because of technology,” Señeres said. “People are starting to talk about dynasties. It’s not reflected in the surveys yet but that could change very rapidly,” he said.
“Right now I’m No. 29 in the surveys. That actually jumped from 32nd a month ago,” he said.
Señeres said it is not the people’s fault if those taking the top places in the surveys belong to the same breed of traditional politicians.
He believes it is the responsibility of the alternative candidates to make themselves known to the public.
What is encouraging is that as soon as the people know there are alternative candidates “on the spot, they are happy,” he said.
“They just need to know who the alternatives are. They’d think their only choices are the default, the children, spouses, or cousins of those in power. Now they know they have other choices,” he said.
“We have 82 days or so. The clock is ticking. We have only that time to convince Filipinos that they can unshackle themselves from slavery,” Señeres said.
Señeres was born on March 3, 1976, in Makati, one of six children of the ex-ambassador and his wife, Minerva.
As a diplomat’s son, he was exposed to multicultural environments, completing his elementary schooling in the Benedictine Abbey School (now San Beda College-Alabang), before the family moved to the UAE in 1985.
He moved to the US where he finished high school with honors at the South Lakes High School in Virginia.
He received, among other laurels, the President’s Award for Educational Excellence from then US President Bill Clinton.
In 1998, Señeres graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in financial management from Southeastern University and became a member of the International Institute of Certified Financial Planners.
He briefly returned to the Philippines and enrolled at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, where he took courses on Philippine history, as well as on the life and works of the national hero José Rizal.
He then organized the Nationalist Leadership Council, composed of student leaders from the University of the Philippines Diliman, Ateneo de Manila University and San Beda College Manila, which granted college scholarships to youths who demonstrated exceptional leadership and love of country.
Señeres went back to the US and pursued a law degree at the Northwestern School of Law, majoring in US constitutional law. But he is not a lawyer. He did not take the bar in Virginia, which would have required him to take up residency in a law firm.
“I didn’t have the time for that,” he said.
Youngest House member
Returning to the Philippines, he joined Buhay party-list, which made him a nominee representing the youth. For two terms from 2003 to 2007, Señeres was the youngest House member, which he considers one of his biggest achievements.
As a legislator, he prioritized development projects for the youth, such as the construction of community recreation centers, classrooms and public libraries.
Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal conferred on him the Blessed Pedro Calungsod Pro-Vita Medal for his “firm and clear stand for the fundamental truths upon which our Constitution is anchored.”
He said the award was most likely because of the forceful way he argued in Congress against the reproductive health (RH) bill.
He demurred when asked what he thought of the recent passage of the RH law, saying he was deferring comment until after the Supreme Court has resolved all petitions against the measure.
Señeres said the constitutional provision on the separation of Church and State was one of the “most misunderstood.”
“The Constitution does not limit what the Church can do. It limits what the government can do. The sentence is directed toward the State. The Church is not prohibited from doing what it wants, but the State is forbidden from funding certain religions,” he said.
He compared it to the freedom of the press. “It’s a warning against the state that it should let the people enjoy freedom of the press. It’s funny that the people are using the provision about the separation of Church and State against the Church,” he said.
Whether he succeeds or not in his senatorial run, Señeres said it should at least show Filipinos that they have other choices beyond the same names and faces now dominating the country’s politics.
He said he and his party mates decided to run because they refused to accept that there are no other choices.
“We’re expecting to win … We believe that the people will make the right choice,” he said.