Senate’s profligate P15-B edifice a lesson for the nation

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PERHAPS the insistence of the Senate, led by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, to build its new luxurious 11-story, 8.5-hectare office building at the posh Bonifacio Global City at a cost likely to reach at least P15 billion will turn out to be good for the nation.

It will be a stunning lesson that will drive into Filipinos’ consciousness a reality that has been hidden from them through the rhetoric of “democracy”: We are really ruled by a small, exclusive, clubbish political elite — the Senate being one of its prime institutions — who don’t really have the masses’ welfare in their heart of hearts. Instead it’s fool them in the way Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd justified that monument to their superegos, when he said it will be an “illustrious home to the servants of the people.”

Give me a break. There has been no senator who became a senator because he wanted to be a “servant” of the people. Next to the presidency, it is the highest form in this country of building up one’s ego. After achieving that goal, maybe then they serve the people, especially since appearing to do so helps them get reelected.

The obvious belief of our senators: “We are the gods of the country’s political Olympus. We can do what we want. Rant as long as you like.”

The many comments posted in my column on this topic on Wednesday, and even in the Facebook posting of the Manila Bulletin newspaper on its new story that simply announced the groundbreaking for the edifice show citizens so angry at the new Senate building. Just a few examples:

— From Joel Vergel de Dios: “And what timing! Building this now when we see how useless most of these senators are?!Have some empathy for your countrymen who need this money more than you do! I hope your new eco building includes a mini crocodile farm to toss these creatures into!”

— Herman Laurel: “The new edifice is a monument to senators’ cynical self-indulgence.”

— From “El Presco” President: Duterte, please declare now rev govt and abolish congress, clampdown the media. Imagine the cost of this building for the likes of lito lapid, bong revile, jinggoy, pacman, hontiveros, pangilinan, soto, lacson, honasan, trillanes, nancy binay, villar, drilon? Susmaryosep.”

Senators (from left) Gatchalian, Sotto, Binay, Villanueva, Legarda, Zubiri and Angara ecstatic over a model of their future offices.

— “Scor Cesse”: This is madness!!! Pure madness. Apat na building may common parking para 24 senators sapat na ang isang building. P2bn pesos malaki na yun. Sana ipatigil ni DU30.”

Lacson, principal architect of the proposal, hasn’t responded at all to my criticisms of his planned P15-billion monument to profligacy. He can advance such arguments until he turns black and blue, that it will give the hardworking senators a better working environment, that they won’t have to work, as Sen. Win Gatchalian put it, in building with “claustrophobic” halls, that the building will be admired by foreign visitors.

All such arguments are debunked by one phrase: Not at this time. There are more urgent uses for P15 billion at this time, for instance programs to alleviate poverty and eliminate diseases, to build our rundown infrastructure, or to enforce our sovereignty in the Spratlys.

There will obviously be a time when we must build the kind of magnificent Congress building the senators want for their offices now. Perhaps when we have inarguably moved to developed-nation status. But that time is not now.

There are two aspects to the Senate’s insistence on building luxurious offices for them that are troubling.

One reveals the sad fact that the Senate is an exclusive club, whose members are clubbish. Not even such senators as Dick Gordon and Manny Pacquiao have spoken in public to oppose the building of an expensive headquarters.

This means that if there is a small group of senators proposing something, other senators would support it as long as it doesn’t affect their own interests. They do this in the expectation that when they in turn have their own proposals, the others won’t say something bad about it. This is dangerous to a democracy. Our Senate more often isn’t really a deliberative body, but a scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours club.

A second aspect involves the question: “Why are they rushing the building of new headquarters at this time when in just three months, half of the Senate could be different people?”

Is the present Senate afraid that their decision to build a P15-billion edifice would be reversed by more responsible senators? Or is there something else in committing to a certain contractor to start building it now?

This thing is one reason for me to vote for senators everyone President Duterte — who has expressed no fondness for the Senate — has endorsed. If he says that it is time to abolish the Senate, I’m sure his people in that chamber will work to do so.

 


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