I HAVE been pondering on the word “qualification” for a time now and what the term entails for certain elective positions.
For example, actor and TV host Willie Revillame recently disqualified himself from running in the upcoming senatorial elections saying in a statement, “hindi naman ako magaling mag-English, wala akong alam sa batas. Baka lang ho lait-laitin ako dun nung ating mga mahal na senador na magagaling. Hindi man lait-laitin, siguro baka wala naman akong maiaambag na batas.”
Kuya Will’s words tell of two factors that made him decide against aspiring for a senatorial seat: his lack of proficiency in the English language, and his being apparently uninitiated in the crafting of laws. Netizens were quick to praise Revillame for his “common sense” and magnanimity. It was decided that he deserved a pat on the back for placing public interest ahead of his popularity.
But his pronouncements do elicit some questions, particularly if these factors are put together and assume that jointly, they are valid and logical. And so we differ from Revillame in the sense that a person who is not versed in English is not necessarily incapacitated from the task of lawmaking. We note from recent history that there are senators who are prolific speakers in
English but with dismal records in authorship and the passage of laws.
We do not believe for a moment that the chamber will mock a colleague who will use Filipino – national language and lingua franca. After all – in privilege speeches, interpellations, and debates, to the extent where, written in Filipino, a law might actually embody the Filipino sense of batas.
It is ideal moments like this that we anticipate or expect from our senators, especially those who belong to the so-called “committee on silence.” Of the latter, are they anxious about being mocked by English-speaking colleagues whose measure of intellectual prowess is their sheer verbosity in the use of the English language?
But the days of fiery oratory in the senate chambers reminiscent of Claro M. Recto or even Raul Manglapus, doing their illocutions in English, is I believe long gone. Looking at the composition of the senate today convinces us that we actually have a group who are capable of speaking in the language of the people but nevertheless, ought not to be marginalized because they do not express themselves in English.
To this point, we recall the preference of the late President Benigno S. Aquino III, who was once a senator, to deliver his speeches in Filipino, which were no less eloquent than if the pieces were expressed in English. The difference is not in the language used but in the groundworks and brass tacks. This is the reason for the infamous trashing of Senator Bong Go by Senator Franklin Drilon in May when the former moved to end the debate on the issue of renationalizing hospitals.
Senator Drilon implied that Senator Go (who rested his argument that the bill should be passed solely on the urgency of the pandemic) was simply ill-prepared to answer questions and the reason why the latter moved to end the debate. Go, instead, suggested that the measure be voted upon sans deliberations.
Drilon’s tone was not mocking. His words were measured and polite. He did not have any intention to delay the measure, he said, so that if Go could answer questions as quickly as they were asked, then the measure will not suffer any more delays than it deserves. But Go, clearly agitated, was obviously reliant on notes being passed on to him by an aide giving off the impression that he came to the floor without the benefit of even a briefing.
To go back to Revillame, the issues he had raised about him not being qualified to become a senator of the Philippines are not prevalent in the interlocution between Drilon and Go. They were clearly deliberating on a proposed measure on the floor with Go as a sponsor, so clearly Go wants this to be a law to the extent that he probably knows what a law is. Second, during deliberations and interpellations, the Senate apparently has no “English only” policy.
Concerning qualifications then, imagine Revillame to be the one on the senate floor on this day in May grasping at ways to defend his proposed law. For clearly, he is qualified to be elected senator according to the Constitution where a person should only be a natural-born Filipino citizen, a registered voter, resident of the Philippines for the last two years before the day of the election, and at least 35 years old.
From this frame, Dolphy was correct when he said “madali ang tumakbo, paano kung manalo?” A matter that seems to slip from the mind of Senator Go gleaned from this episode in the Senate is that he has the mandate of the people. That mandate is sacred, and the least he can do is put in the work. After all, what’s the word again? “A public office is a public trust.”
Instead, he chooses to tug at the coattails of the President to play personal aide while he lets his aides do the work for which he was elected. Now he wants to be vice-president. What a shame if we are to be fooled twice.