Press Release
October 17, 2016

Speech delivered by Senate Minority Leader Ralph G. Recto
Centennial Session
Senate of the Philippines
17 October 2016

The burden of being a senator is that we are not only answerable to the present and to the future, but also to the past.

And we are reminded of our being trustees of a proud heritage when we walk past the names of our predecessors etched on the plaques that hang on the corridor near the session hall.

For some of us, the link is personal because in the roster is an ancestor, so in times of great decisions, as we ponder our choices, we inevitably ask ourselves what would he have done if he were alive today.

Indeed, we summon the past to chart the future, and reading the Senate's records never fails to be a teachable moment for those who seek wisdom from this institution's storied past.

The Senate's story in the past 100 years is interwoven with the nation's.

Whatever the era, the Senate played a major role in shaping our country's history.

Any chronicle of the struggle of our race - for independence, against occupation and in the restoration of freedom - will not be complete if this institution's contribution is not faithfully recalled.

During colonial rule, the Senate was a bastion for independence.

Amid the rubble of war, it lifted the spirits of a people whose homes may have been shattered but whose hopes were not, and rallied them to reconstruction.

When democracy was stifled, it did not go gently into the night; many of its members carried the torch until the second dawn of freedom.

Recall any watershed in our history, and the senators were right there in the middle of it, not as mere or mute witnesses but as lead actors, dictating the tempo and defining the outcome.

For this has always been the role of this institution: A few good men and women fighting the good fight, serving as protectors of the people.

Whenever the state overreaches to dilute rights and snatch liberties, the Senate steps forward and stands in front of the people.

Whenever a leader is tempted to perpetuate himself to power, the Senate foils his selfish ambition.

Whenever a harm is committed, whether to one man whose name has been tarnished or to the nation whose honor has been stained, the Senate rectifies it.

There's also one freedom that the Senate has fought for through the ages - freedom from want.

It has birthed brave legislation to spur growth, to level the playing field, to end economic bondage, to create wealth, and to make sure that it is enjoyed by all.

And in all of these, senators were guided by what was not popular but what was right.

In many crusades, it sailed against the wind and defied convention.

Many members fought solitary fights, never seeking refuge in the strength of numbers but in the strength of their ideas.

Each one of them believed that one man with conviction is enough to constitute a majority.

People see them as tilting the windmills. They, on the other hand, imagine their lances as pricking the nation's conscience.

The labors of our predecessors were so prodigious that it can be said that the complete history of modern Philippines can be written by just patching together the excerpts of their biographies.

For this indeed is true : For what is the history of our country for the last 100 years but the combined life stories of the members of the Senate?

Mr. President :

Since Quezon and 23 other originals borrowed the sala of the Goldenberg Mansion, which is the stately house beside DBM, to hold the Senate's inaugural session 100 years ago, the Senate has remained small.

There's also one tradition it has adhered to since: To do its work in rented buildings.

With 24 members who can't fill half a bus, this Senate is one of the smallest in the world.

As befits its size, it holds session in a rented hall whose floor area is smaller than a volleyball court. Some call it the tiniest legislative plenary hall in the world. I call it cozy. And if there's a beauty contest among senatorial edifices in the world, the Philippine Senate, with its bunker-type concrete façade, will never win.

All its members may be prone to hyperbole, but none would ever dare to call their rented digs "magnificent" or "imposing".

Compared to, say, Hungary's beautiful Parliament building by the Danube, ours has the unkempt look of a tool shed.

As a book must not be judged by its cover, a legislature must not be by its façade, or by the size of the real estate it occupies.

I am proud of the prodigious output of this 24-person crew in studying bills, churning out laws, appropriating funds, conducting zealous oversight, confirming appointees, ratifying treaties, and, yes, probing scams.

While the latter makes for good TV, they do not even represent a tiny fraction of the work we do.

Lawmaking is the main event; telenovela-like probes are sideshows.

The fact is, most of our labors are done outside the glare of klieg lights - in conference rooms where the humdrum of policymaking is endured for hours, in senators' and secretariat offices where staff work on ideas which do our nation good even if they don't on our reelection chances.

The beating heart of the Senate is not in this volleyball court-size chamber which comes to life at 3 pm three times a week, but in rooms where policies are discussed and debated.

The session hall may be the showroom, but the production line lies somewhere else. It has been said that the Senate in session is exhibition. But the Senate conducting committee hearings is at work.

Laws do no incubate in the plenary. They arrive here almost complete except for the finishing élan, cancelling the need for finish-line oratory as it would be repeating what has been said in the committees.

When the vetting is rigorous, the voting becomes anti-climactic. And while the division of the house may tally votes, it does not record the work that goes into the measure.

I have to stress this, Mr. President, to abuse the popular notion that we are preoccupied with probes and not with policy. Nothing is farther from the truth.

The fact is, each one of us here have introduced and heard more bills than we have interrogated witnesses. As it is true in life as in legislation, the essential is invisible to the public eye.

Mr. President :

Today, we celebrate 100 years of the Senate, including the 25 years when it was padlocked or abolished, because as much can be learned when it was in session, as it was when shuttered.

And the period when the Senate was closed coincided with our nation's darkest - for 15 years when Martial Law raged, and 5 years under the Japanese occupation.

For that was how liberty probably died - through the loud clanging of the chains that locked the Senate doors.

There was also a brief period of five years, from 1936 to 1941, when we experimented with unicameralism, but soon this folly was rectified by the same way it was imposed : through a constitutional amendment.

Mr. President:

It gave me great relief when I heard you made the solemn pledge, in the old Senate hall, where your father and my grandfather once walked, that as a custodian of its legacy, you will not allow the Senate to perish during your watch.

Although yours is a powerful voice, it merely echoes what the people want, so that even if we sign our own death warrants, the sovereign would overrule us, out of the belief that their interests are served more by a Senate in existence than a Senate extinguished.

It is also what the names on the wall near this hall would want. If they could speak, their centennial message would be that of another senator, that we must toil as hard as they did, be as vigilant as they have been, and better than they were because "the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

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