Chel Diokno champions the cause of the very poor, the voiceless, and the victims of oppression and injustice as the ever-active head of FLAG (Free Legal Assistance Group) that was set up by his father, the late and much lamented Senator Jose W. Diokno, during the Martial Law years.
He is nevertheless his own man, and has not rested on his father’s laurels. He has won many cases involving teachers, workers, farmers, and fishermen in need of justice. He served on the Commission on Human Rights under President Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos, and was team leader and private prosecutor in the impeachment proceedings against President Estrada. His voice and his tireless dedication to defending freedom as guaranteed by our constitution are sorely needed in a senate that has become very docile and to rejuvenate a justice system that has decayed.
Bam Aquino richly deserves re-election. He chairs the Senate Committee on Science and Technology. He has been a social activist from his grade school days, and champions entrepreneurship as the basis for abolishing poverty. As senator, he has authored some 50 bills, all of them involved with national and economic development -- promoting universal access to education, macro-financing for the poor, and other laws that promote welfare for the lower classes. He also has an inescapable legacy to keep alive, that of his uncle Ninoy Aquino’s fight against dictatorship.
Sonny Angara, also a re-electionist, chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Local Government Committee. He knows the crippling problems of poverty and civic decay, and how a government truly responsive to the needs of the people can alleviate these problems. And, like his late father, he champions agriculture, and the development of Filipino culture and education. He is a very good and prolific legislator, and has authored so many laws to to advance national welfare, to protect labor and women’s rights, and to institutionalize transparency in government.
These three are perhaps the most competent and the best-prepared candidates for the senate, the real powerhouse of government. Senators have a national view unlike Lower House congressmen who are concerned more with their districts and pork barrel. All three are honest, sincere public servants, and are the hawk-eyed auditors of governance. They are deeply rooted in our land, and most important, they have a vison of what our future can be, a nation free from poverty and corruption. My hope is they will contribute more to the examination of our foreign treaties and to the deals this government has made with China.
IT IS IMPORTANT FOR US to have the most cordial and warmest relations with China, with whom our historical ties were established long before the Spaniards came in 1521 to colonize us. China is now a world power and all of Southeast Asia will surely be sinicized within the next few decades.
But sinicization should not mean colonization, for that is where our relationship with China is going, with its occupation of portions of our territory. Can we therefore conclude that, for all our respect for China, China is not our friend but our enemy now? How do we deal with a powerful neighbor in its ascendancy and hegemonic reach?
That hegemony is being challenged by the United States with whom we also have strong ties. The South China Sea is now a flashpoint, and it is here where armed conflict between the United States and China will probably start, a conflict neither country wants.
Our senators must concentrate on our basic problem with China and its imperial claim on the South China Sea. It must be firm in its opposition to Chinese intransigence and must pursue our sovereign rights for all the world to see. We are not powerless or voiceless to confront China.
For instance, we can harness the thousands of Filipinos working overseas to demonstrate before every Chinese consulate or embassy all over the world. We can mount an international campaign to make known our stand against China's imperial ambition in the South China Sea. The point is to gain international understanding of our plight.
THE SENATE AS THE INSTITUTION that looks after our treaties with other countries should now look at all the deals that this government has made with China, study them carefully, and nullify them if they are to our disadvantage.
I would like to see the senate examine and strengthen our alliances with the United States, Japan, and Australia, and most important, with our ASEAN neighbors, particularly Vietnam and Indonesia, who have vital interests in the South China Sea.
I would like to see a senate that is truly independent. In fact, if there are going to be changes at all in the constitution, I would like to see the lower house abolished with the senate as the only legislative body. We will be saving billions for education, public service, and the Armed Forces.
As an independent institution, the Senate can abolish corruption in government, by strengthening the SALN law, making it compulsory for all government officials and enforcing appropriate sanctions -- fines and imprisonment -- for those who violate it.
It’s election time. The President knows that thousands of Filipinos are angry at his apparent surrender to Chinese bullying, and he and his people are making small noises to show some form of opposition to China's impositions. It is very obvious that the President himself is the major obstacle in our struggle to enforce our sovereignty. And after the election he will resume his happy accommodation of the Chinese. Yet it is also possible the nationalist in him will truly surface, for his own good as well as ours.
This midterm election is very important. It will illustrate the quality of the candidates and will test the critical faculties of the millions who cast their votes. But no matter how good the candidates are, the ballot is useless if it is not used with intelligence.
First published in The Philippine Star, April 27, 2019