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We need the Senate to be the Senate.

'Separation of powers' and 'checks and balances' should be prominent political thoughts in governance right now.

The poll results are not yet known when this editorial was written but surveys indicate that most of President Duterte's senatorial candidates will likely win, thereby firming up his majority in the Senate.

The Filipino people need the Senate now more than ever, but they also need the Senate to be more of the Senate of yesteryears-the Senate that was publicly lauded and sometimes even scorned for its independent action. We need senators who can say the unpopular 'no' even at the cost of losing votes, like the 12 senators of the 8th Congress who said no to US bases renewal in 1991, for instance.

Manuel Quezon, Manuel Roxas, Lorenzo Tanada, and Claro Recto-all these great leaders, these great Filipinos and more like them, came from the august halls of the Senate. Those who became senators after them carried a heavy burden of responsibility and they had a rich tradition to live up to.

Can the incoming Senate of the 18th Congress measure up? Can they show genuine concern for the welfare of the Filipino people? Can they personify the dignity, integrity and promise of government service? Or will they prioritize loyalty above all else-loyalty over principle, loyalty above conscience?

Patriotism is a vague idea. Basically, patriotism means a profound love of one's country and people. But we express this love in different and often clashing ways. Which is why patriotism almost always serves a particular interest at a particular time and in a particular context. Which is why the same act could be considered patriotic by some and traitorous by others.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, 'To announce that there must be no criticism of the president or that we stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.'

The same could be said in this country. It is also unpatriotic and servile, and morally treasonable for Filipinos to stand by their leader, right or wrong. When people are right, we should support them; when they are wrong, we should try to make things right.

The absence of checks and balances is unacceptable in modern-day politics, but this seems to be Philippine political reality today.

The press, sometimes referred to as the Fourth Estate for being the fourth power after the three branches of the government, is supposed to be the voice of the people, but it can only be so if it is, indeed, free and if its access to public information is honored by the powers that be.

The free press is supposed to have a considerable influence on public opinion, which should make the administration wary of infringing on its rights, but this assumes that the executive gives a damn about public opinion. Public opinion only matters because it can win or lose elections. But what if the elections are already won? What if public opinion favors the President and the administration? Would public opinion still matter then?

With press freedom and safety compromised, the Senate's responsibility to exercise its de facto independence in order to constrain the executive to act in the public interest and not in self-interest is all the more important.

Now more than ever, the administration and its allies need to learn they cannot simply ignore laws and institutions without consequences.

Good luck and more power to the senators who are up to the task.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:May 14, 2019
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