Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Gordon-Sabio Shoutfest Further Erodes Senate’s Image

Two days ago, I watched over primetime news telecast the verbal shoutfest of Senator Richard Gordon and PCGG Chariman Camilo Sabio. The TV report said that the two were arguing about the interpretation of Executive Order No. 1 - on whether or not a congressional committee can compel PCGG officials to appear before its investigative hearing. I would have wanted very much to hear the legal arguments of the two luminaries (both Gordon and Sabio are top-notch lawyers and were delegates to the 1971 Constitutional Convention). Instead, what I saw was two grown-up men acting like spoiled children.

It used to be that high-ranking government officials were in "awe" of Senators. Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable for an appointive official to even just raise his voice at a Senator. Visiting "resource persons" were respectful and deferred to the judgement of the Senators and individual Senators won policy debates based not on their political affiliations but on the superiority of their arguments. The Senate then had the likes of Ople, Salonga, Tañada, Romulo, Roco and many others who were well-respected intellectuals, accomplished professionals and eminent orators. Naturally, one feels "small" and intellectually intimidated amidst these great men. I remember when I was still working at the Senate, I looked forward to watching the Plenary debates and listening to the "verbal jousts" of Senators then. It was truly a marvel to hear them debate the issues of the day (and without notes too! strictly extemporaneous and with minimal CSW unlike today). I truly feel privileged to have witnessed them in action and I only wish that the country had C-Span so that more Filipinos could have followed their debates on cable TV.

Today, the Philippine Senate is fighting for its life. It is being attacked on all sides: by Malacañang with its E.O. 464 which disallows Executive officials from attending its investigative hearings; by the House of Representatives who want to have a unicameral legislature; by local government officials (thru ULAP) who claim that the Senate has become obstructive and irrelevant; and surprisingly even by the Supreme Court who recently granted Sabio's petition for habeas corpus. Moreover, the Filipino middle class which used to be the Senate's bastion of support now see the Upper Chamber as a repository of dim-wits and artistas and many are quite disappointed with its current composition. I am afraid that the latest verbal tussle involving Senator Gordon and PCGG Chair Sabio would just further erode the Senate's image and weaken it as an institution.

The Senate's current position reminds me of that scene in the movie "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" wherein King Theoden, surrounded and outnumbered by Saruman's forces, was preparing to make a last stand at the impregnable fortress Helm's Deep. While his loyal valet was putting on his golden armor, King Theoden recited this ominously haunting poem before going out to fight Saruman's legions;

Where now the horse and rider?
Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk,
and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the hairspring,
and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest
and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain,
like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West
behind the hills into shadow.

Those who saw the movie know what happened next: Gandalf, Prince Eomer and the Riders of Rohan (The Rohirrim) came to his rescue and swept Saruman's forces off the battlefield with their battle horses. Anyway, I cited King Theoden's poem here because I feel that it is the most appropriate verse that captures the "gloom and doom" situation which the Senate currently finds itself in.

Outnumbered, isolated and without allies, I wonder who will come to the Senate's rescue?

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