Big sister will be happy to watch over you.
Sen. Loren Legarda has offered herself as “ate,” or older sister, to neophyte senators who need to learn their way inside the august halls of the Senate.
There are two things the newbies need to realize early on, Legarda said.
First, there is an Old Boys’ Club in the chamber; and second, these old fogeys get first dibs at plum committee assignments.
Legarda confessed that she cried after failing to bag the chairmanship of the Senate environment panel when committee assignments were distributed before the 11th Congress opened in mid-1998.
She was then on her first term and had won as a member of the administration’s Lakas-NUCD.
Fresh from her broadcasting stint at a leading television network, Legarda apparently assumed that since she advocated environmental causes in her TV shows, she did not need to convince her colleagues to give her the committee related to her personal mission.
Sadly, then President Joseph Estrada’s Lapian ng Masang Pilipino was the dominant party in the Senate and the committee was given to a party member.
“I really wanted [the] environment [committee]. Eh, hindi ko nakuha, umiyak pa ako (I didn’t get it, I even cried). I realized bawal ang iyakin (crying in the Senate is unacceptable),” she recalled in a news conference at the Liberal Party headquarters in Makati City.
Legarda then added a third observation: “I realized, sometimes work in the Senate is not about your competence or advocacy or passion. It’s really about whether you voted for the sitting [Senate] President, what [committee] you asked for … I had to make do with committees that nobody else wanted.”
Then Senate President Marcelo Fernan assigned Legarda to serve as the Senate’s representative to the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council, the body that would coordinate business between the two branches of government.
She noted, however, that it was obviously the job that nobody among the seniors wanted as it entailed hours of sitting and talking with the President and Cabinet men.
Legarda said she spent nights during those early days as a senator missing her old job and crying herself to sleep.
“Learn to be humble, don’t be choosy,” she told herself.
Legarda, current chair of the Senate foreign relations and climate change panels, also wanted to tell the newbies that work in the Senate is not about getting the committee of one’s choice.
“We’re not here to get committees. We are here to serve,” she said.
“[As a newbie] I had much to prove. I worked three times as hard to be able to do that. I think I proved my worth,” added Legarda, who now ranks second in the official canvass of votes of the Commission on Elections.
Word to neophytes
At one point, the senator was asked what advice she would give the two most prominent neophytes—Grace Poe of Team PNoy and Nancy Binay of United Nationalist Alliance.
“Criticism would always be there in life, in media, even in business when you are a brand. There would be others who would want to dislodge you as the brand,” Legarda said.
“Remember dears, there are only 24 hours in a day. If you spend time focusing on negativity and answering all criticisms, you would not be able to do good or do your job well. Learn to deal with the punches and just focus on work you need to do,” said Legarda, now a veteran of two Senate terms.
“You cannot please all the people all the time. As long as your conscience is clear and your heart is good, you will do a good job. There’s no substitute for hard work. You cannot be all fluff inside,” she added.
To Binay, the constant recipient of brickbats for her lack of public service experience, Legarda has this to say: “Ang punong maraming bunga ang siyang binabato (People throw stones at the tree that bears much fruit). Just learn to be resilient and get up after every stumble … Study hard to prove your detractors wrong. Look at [their statements] not as criticism but as a friendly challenge to do a good job.”
Poe, on the other hand, has “large shoes to fill because of the intense love and high expectations of people who believed in her father, the late Fernando Poe Jr.,” Legarda said.
She added that Poe’s “humility and simplicity” would be her advantages.
Legarda said she was now “willing to be a mentor … to be the ‘ate’” to the neophytes if only to pay back the kindness she received from veterans who also went out of their way to teach her the ropes when she was new.
Legarda said her 20-year training as a journalist helped her become assertive and “bossy” in front of old-time senators but there were also moments when she was intimidated, even star-struck upon seeing the vets.
She described then outgoing Sen. Orlando Mercado, who was also a former broadcaster, as a “role model.”
Legarda also recalled being in awe of Sen. Gregorio Honasan.
She also has fond memories of former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., father of namesake Sen. Koko Pimentel.
“He would be the first to interpellate me when I sponsored bills,” she said.
Colleagues who intimidated Legarda in the past have passed on, including Fernan, Raul Roco and Blas Ople.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona Jr., who later became the Vice President, completes Legarda’s roster of “brilliant, wise old men of Philippine politics.”