No goodbyes for 3 senators; 2 others cite long records
They started their 12-year sojourn in the Senate on the heels of the second Edsa People Power Revolution in 2001 that ousted President Joseph Estrada, who was subsequently convicted for plunder.
Three of them were elected because of the high expectations that followed Edsa II; the other two, despite their involvement with the discredited Estrada regime.
But as the administration installed by people power in 2001 steadily lost its sheen as the decade wore on, Senators Joker Arroyo, Edgardo Angara, Panfilo Lacson, Francis Pangilinan and Manuel Villar are bound to be remembered for their own actions in an independent Senate.
All five outgoing senators attended the Senate’s last two session days last week. Two delivered farewell speeches on Wednesday, touting their accomplishments in the previous dozen years. The three others found no need to say a formal goodbye until the uneventful sine die adjournment on Thursday.
‘Nothing to say’
“Because I have nothing to say,” said Arroyo, 86, when asked why he did not deliver a valedictory like Angara and Villar, two former Senate Presidents. “I really don’t like ceremonies,” he said when pressed.
Among the things he didn’t want to spell out was how he spent the last Congress subjecting the Aquino administration’s actions to close scrutiny in the Senate—something he was wont to do from when he was known as the maverick congressman from Makati in the 1990s.
Arroyo questioned the proposed amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act saying the changes could be used by the administration to go after political foes.
He questioned the approval of the more than P2-trillion national budget for 2013, saying it was a virtual photocopy of President Aquino’s national expenditure program, and voted against the conviction of President Aquino’s pet peeve, the impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.
On his last term as congressman of Makati, Arroyo led the House of Representatives team that prosecuted the impeached Estrada in late 2000, until the prosecution team walked out on Jan. 16, triggering Edsa II.
Following Estrada’s ouster, Arroyo was elected to his first term as a senator as part of the so-called People Power Coalition put together by the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration.
Because of his well-documented reticence about spending taxpayers’ money, Arroyo will probably be best remembered as the Scrooge of Congress in his 21 years there—nine as congressman and 12 as senator.
“I prefer to exit quietly,” Pangilinan said about leaving the Senate without a valedictory.
He said he would like to be remembered as a lawmaker who engaged people’s organizations and other stakeholders in helping improve communities across the country.
“I ran in 2001 with the slogan, ‘Kumilos kasama si Kiko (Move ahead with Kiko).’ I’d like to think that with our initiatives, we were able to mobilize stakeholders to engage with the government and reshape communities nationwide,” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan is an advocate of judicial reform, having chaired the Senate committee on justice and serving concurrently as congressional representative to the Judicial and Bar Council.
Even as he was about to bow out last Wednesday, Pangilinan sponsored and successfully sought the ratification of the bicameral committee conference report on the amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act, seeking mandatory confinement for rehabilitation purposes of youth offenders between 12 to 15 years old.
As head of the agriculture committee, Pangilinan looked into the smuggling of rice and discovered the use of dummy farmers’ cooperatives by a few moneyed individuals to corner rice import permits.
Look at the records
Asked if he was looking forward to a vacation after his term ends, Pangilinan said: “Yes. A long one, preferably, so I can devote time to Sharon and the children.”
Like Arroyo and Pangilinan, Lacson also skipped the traditional farewell and valedictory piece. Unlike the two, however, Lacson was one of the few candidates from the coalition backed by the disgraced Estrada to have been elected in 2001.
“I find it too ordinary and boring. Everything is on record in the Senate archives. I know exactly how many bills I sponsored and authored which were enacted into laws,” said the former police chief to explain why he disdained a valedictory.
“I know how many exposés I delivered on the floor that led to cases filed with the Ombudsman and the courts. I know how much lobby money I declined and rejected. I know how many billions of pesos I managed to save for the government out of my share of the pork barrel which I did not avail,” he said.
“Most of all, I know how I managed to keep my nose clean in all 12 years that I served as a senator,” he said.
Propelled into the Senate by his tough-policeman image as Estrada’s chief crime-buster, Lacson acquired the reputation of an anticorruption fighter, launching one exposé after another against Jose Miguel Arroyo, the husband of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
He was active in successive Senate inquiries into alleged corruption in the Arroyo administration involving jueteng, or the illegal numbers game, the aborted NBN-ZTE deal and the alleged fertilizer fund scam, and in alleged electoral fraud, particularly the infamous “Hello Garci” scandal.
Lacson blamed the Arroyos for the supposed political persecution that ended in the filing of murder charges against him in 2010 in connection with the Dacer-Corbito murders.
Claiming to be “a fugitive from injustice,” the senator fled the country shortly before an arrest warrant could be served against him. He returned more than a year later in 2011, after the case against him was dismissed.
Lacson and Pangilinan, known allies of President Aquino, are expected to be appointed to Cabinet positions.
The last 12 years
The two graduating senators who served as Senate Presidents chose to make a formal goodbye with a report of what they did in the past 12 years.
Villar, the Speaker of the House of Representatives that transmitted the impeachment complaint against Estrada to the Senate in 2000, became Senate President in July 2006.
Villar lost the Senate presidency in 2008 amid questions about the construction of the C-5 Road extension in southern Metro Manila that allegedly benefited his real-estate businesses. He denied any wrongdoing.
Villar was a strong contender for the presidency in 2010 until the then Sen. Benigno Aquino III threw his hat into the ring following the death of his mother, former President Corazon Aquino, in August 2009.
“I stand here today both proud and humbled. Proud, because in my more than two decades of public service I can confidently proclaim that I have exerted all efforts toward this ideal: That the life path I took from poverty to progress may be experienced by our countrymen too,” he said in his valedictory on Wednesday.
Villar ran his presidential campaign in 2010 on a platform of providing livelihood for the country’s poor people, the same program that his wife, Cynthia, successfully employed when she made her Senate run in the May 13 elections.
He said that while he witnessed senators locked in bitter disagreements during his two-term stint as Senate President, “this democratic institution has survived because (we have) the interest of the nation at heart.”
“We have battled against each other, we debated issues, and we stood united amidst challenges but I am most grateful for the friendship,” he said.
“We may have had face-to-face battles but, at the end of the day, we all walk shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm to perform the people’s work,” Villar added.
He told the batch of incoming senators that their job is to ensure that the President’s legislative agenda for economic growth is sustained.
“The stunning performance of our stock market would only be meaningful if people have food on their table. The increased confidence on the Philippine economy would only be significant if people have decent jobs that would allow them to build a bright future for their family,” he reminded them.
‘Focus on good politics’
The longest-serving senator after the first Edsa People Power Revolution in 1986, Angara was first elected to the chamber in 1987, serving two terms until 1998, when he ran for vice president with Estrada.
After four terms in the Senate broken only by two stints in the Estrada Cabinet, Angara is now set to focus on his jobs as president of Southeast Asia Parliamentarians Against Corruption and vice chair of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption.
It being a valedictory speech, Angara enumerated his achievements such as those that led to the creation of the Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skill Development Authority, the Philippine Rice Research Institute and the Congressional Commission on Science, Technology and Engineering.
Angara also said he was instrumental in the passage of such vital laws such as the Kindergarten Act, Magna Carta for Small Farmers, Senior Citizens Act and the Breastfeeding Law.
He warned incoming senators that “pockets of corruption” remain in the bureaucracy despite the efforts of the Aquino administration to instill an atmosphere of good governance.
Angara offered a bit of unsolicited advice to the colleagues he is leaving behind. He said senators should focus on “good politics … marked by close collaboration” with Malacañang instead of engaging in “political intramurals” that he said have no place in government.
He said that it was during his leadership of the Senate during the Fidel Ramos administration that the Legislative and Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) was formed, fostering an unprecedented cooperation between the legislative and executive branches.
According to Angara, while Congress’ role as fiscalizer remains necessary for check and balance, the “golden age” also proved that “obstructionism for the sole sake of opposition is self-serving.”