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The recent political rigodón in the Senate brought back memories from my time as a legislator. As my readers probably know, beginning 1992 I was a member of the House of Representatives, later on becoming its speaker. I was also fortunate to have been given the mandate to serve two consecutive terms as senator of the Republic, and become its president from 2006 to 2008.


I do not wish to discuss the specifics of the recent Senate shake-up, something that is not really new in our political system. That issue is something internal to its current members and I trust their judgment being duly elected public servants. This is more of a reflection, musings if you like, about my time in the legislature.


Let me start by saying that I am absolutely proud of my time as senator and representative of my city of Las Piñas. I think that politics is an important arena for people to achieve what is good for the country. Yes, our political system is far from perfect. Just like other political systems all over the world we have a few kink that needs ironing out. But, as a whole, my experience in the legislator was productive, enriching and, as such, one of the highlights of my life.


Political pundits refer to it as political rigodón which refers to a traditional formal dance brought to the country by the Spaniards settlers in the 16th century. The dance — also called Rigodon de Honor — is characterized by dance partners crisscrossing the ballroom, leaving each other toward the arms of other dancers with lilting footwork, then finding each other again.


 Loyalty is a scarce resource in politics, one of the many kinks of our system. At the end of the day, we all should be loyal only to the Constitution of the Republic and the people who ratified it and who elected us into office. But loyalty is also desired among public servants in terms of political alliances. And the history of our politics is packed with examples of lack of loyalty.


This is the reason why I consider myself lucky to have been surrounded by loyal and thoughtful colleagues and friends. When I was going through one of the toughest moments in my political life, the late Senators Joker Arroyo, Nene Pimentel, and Miriam Defensor Santiago were the embodiment of statesmanship, loyalty and integrity. 


I was also accused of being disloyal when, as Speaker of the House, I led the successful impeachment of the sitting president — the other highlight of my political career. After the House impeachment proceedings, I was immediately removed as speaker, an act which I consider as a feather in my cap, a triumph, rather than a debacle.


But beyond the personal hurt and betrayal that these political realignments foster, we need to look at it from a larger perspective. I have had the benefit of being away from politics for 11 years now. And when I look back, I see a political system that has stood the test of time. Despite these kinks in the system, our politics, our democracy remains steadfast. Senate presidents and House Speakers come and go but the institution remains.


This is probably the single piece of unsolicited advice that a retired politician like me could give to young politicians — love the country, protect the institutions. I did my tour of duty, proudly and with everything that I have got. When I was Senate President, my primary consideration in every decision I made was the Senate as an institution, as the bulwark of our democracy. The independence of the Senate was the main issue for me when I was removed as Senate President. The position was less of a consideration for me than the autonomy of the Senate to protect our people’s interest. 


You will exit the political world too sometime in the future. And the legacy you want is not in protecting your self interest or your friendship with someone but a legacy of defending our democratic institutions. As public servants, that is the most important thing we can bequeath to the next generation. 




Manila Bulletin/Views/MannyVillar