Bernardo M. Villegas
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Qualifications to be a Senator

             Those who are wary about attempts of members of the House of Representatives to amend the 1987 Constitution under the guise of focusing only on some restrictive economic provisions have reasons to fear that there is a hidden agenda to also include significant changes in the political system.  Two of these possible changes are extension of the terms of the sitting elected government officials and even more possible is the move towards a unicameral  form of the Legislative branch, i.e. to weaken the power of the Senate in  passing laws by mandating that some important legislative measures be voted upon by both chambers, not separately, but jointly, thus emasculating the Senate whose members are clearly  outnumbered by those in the  Lower House.

            During the deliberations of the 50 members of the Constitutional Commission of 1986 that drafted the Philippine Constitution of 1987, the issue of a unicameral vs. bicameral Presidential form of government was hotly debated.  The Presidential vs. Parliamentary form issue was very early on resolved in favor of the presidential form because of the way the President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. manipulated the then existing parliamentary form to maintain his dictatorial powers.  But there was still the possibility of a unicameral Presidential form.  When the issue was voted upon, the bicameral form won by one vote.  The crucial vote was cast by myself, not because of any greater influence I had over the rest but because the casting of vote was done in an alphabetical order and my name being Villegas, I was the last to vote.  I broke the tie in favor of unicameral.

            What reasons did I give for my vote?  I gave a reason that has since been proven to be utopian.  I reminded my fellow commissioners that the word “senate” comes for the Latin word “senex” which meant in ancient Rome “an old wise man—a profound philosopher distinguished for wisdom and sound judgment, a prudent mentor for the younger generation.”  The persons who came to my mind from the recent political past then were the likes of former senators Lorenzo Tanada, Jovito Salonga, Jose (Pepe) Diokno, Francisco (Soc) Rodrigo, Lorenzo Sumulong and a few others.  These were the wise old men whom in my younger days I admired for their profound understanding of the nature of man and society (philosophy) and of the realities of global, regional and domestic affairs.  Many of them honed their knowledge and wisdom through years of teaching in their respective professions and actual practices especially in the legal profession.  They also had impeccable moral reputations.  I thought that we still needed an upper chamber composed mostly of these types of wise, old men who could transcend parochial issues and limited horizons that usually characterize members of the House of Representatives

            At the same time, I recognized the need for  a “lower house” in which there is plenty of room for younger, less experienced individuals who can focus on such mundane, but still important issues, such as what names to give to streets in their respective localities, how many schools and state colleges to have in their regions,  and how to fund the different projects and programs of both the national and local governments, issues which do not require  too much knowledge about the intricacies of global, regional, and national politico-economic realities.  This is not to say that there is no room in the House of Representatives for wise, old men and women distinguished for their profound wisdom and wide experiences, for example the likes of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Speaker Martin Romualdez and Representative Joey Salceda, who has always sound economic advice for his colleagues.

            I am sure the reader  already can guess why I said I was “utopian” in expecting that only the “senex” would be elected by popular vote to the Senate.  I conveniently disregarded the possibility that actors, actresses, sports heroes,  media personalities and rabble rousing evangelists would be elected by the undiscriminating masses to the Upper Chamber. Without generalizing, most of these well known figures have talents and experiences (which made them popular to the voting masses) that did not necessarily give them the wisdom and knowledge to understand the intricate and complex global, regional and national politico-economic environments which the Philippines has to navigate and which have to be taken into account in the delicate and demanding  task of legislation.

            That is why after more than 30 years of our political experiences under the 1987 Constitution, we may have to reconsider the possibility of a parliamentary form of government in which the leaders are chosen, not directly by the masses but by an elected group of individuals who can be expected to have above-average wisdom and knowledge based on both higher education and professional experiences that would enable them to choose more wisely our national leaders.  The only problem we have to resolve is how to evolve a real political party system in which members of a political party have enough loyalty to their respective party not to jump from one party to another after elections are over, which unfortunately is what is happening today.  With this “pole vaulting” culture, a parliamentary form of government would be rendered very unstable.

            Meanwhile, we have to do everything possible to educate the voting masses about who deserve to be voted as Senators, in the same way that are very laudable efforts in teaching financial literacy to the common folks or to inculcate the right values among the masses.  I want to make my own small contribution to the task of enlightening the masses about whom they should vote for in the 2025 senatorial elections among the persons I know very well from decades of friendship and professional contact.  One person I highly recommend is  the current Governor of Batangas, Hermilando I. Mandanas, whose term as Governor will expire next year.  He just turned 80 and can without any reservation be referred to as “an old wise man, distinguished by profound wisdom and wealth of experiences and outstanding mentor of younger men and women in politics and the professions.”  I have known him since our days in the 1960s in the faculties of De la Salle University where he was considered as a most outstanding professor of accounting and management. He then built a reputation as a very successful real estate investor, CPA practitioner, investment banker and financial expert.

            He then transitioned very successfully into the public sector in the province of Batangas in which he was a three-term governor (1995 – 2004, 2016 – 2024) as well as a three-term congressman of the second district from 2004 to 2013. To serve him in good stead if he were to be elected as Senator in 2025 are  his experiences as a long-time local government official with  a stint in the House of Representative where, together with the late Congressman from Bataan Enrique Garcia Sr., he made a radical move of filing a Supreme Court petition in 2013 that sought to increase the Internal Revenue Allocation of local government units (LGUs) by correcting a defective implementation  and interpretation of the law. Their appeal led to the landmark Supreme Court decision of July 2018.  Since 2022, thanks to what is now called the Mandanas-Garcia ruling, LGUs have had a bigger share from all collected taxes, that in turn, are expected to translate into stronger local governance and improved public services, especially in the health, education and agricultural sectors.  For this reason alone, I hope many LGU heads all over the Philippine will campaign for him in gratitude for what he and the late Congressman            Garcia did for them.

            In fact,  under the able political leadership of Governor Mandanas, the whole province of Batangas is positioning to be the next Metro Manila with much improved infrastructures, hundreds of manufacturing enterprises in the numerous industrial zones located in the province, and a booming tourism sector.  As an experienced industrialist himself and as Governor of the province, he was able to attract both domestic and foreign investors who have created numerous employment opportunities for the farmers and workers of Batangas that is famous for its low poverty incidence of 6 % as compared to the national average of 22 %.  At present, the widespread reference to the Mandanas-Garcia ruling that significantly benefited the LGUs may not yet make the name of Dodo (his nickname) resonate with the masses.  I hope this small contribution of mine to make him better known to the masses will lead to his election as Senator next year and vindicate my view that only those who are “older, wiser in judgment and honed by the right professional and political experiences” deserve to be elected  to the Philippine Senate.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia