Speech of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III

"To reiterate the vow that I made when I first took this post, we will continue to nourish the trust and confidence that our country has bestowed on us by ensuring that this Senate will remain cooperative but independent, balanced, transparent and sincere." - Sen. Tito Sotto

Speech of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III
Senate of the Philippines, Pasay City
22 July 2019

To the members of the diplomatic corps;

Members of the cabinet;

Dear colleagues;

Families and friends;

Your Excellencies and your Honors:

Magandang Umaga at Maraming Salamat po sa inyong pagdalo sa Senado sa araw na ito. Welcome and thank you for your time and effort to honor us with your presence at the beginning of the First Regular Session of the Senate of the 18th Congress of the Republic of the Philippines. But of course, a most special welcome and heartfelt congratulations to the mix of familiar and new faces of twelve Senators freshly-mandated to join this Chamber in the recently-held May 2019 elections.

Thank you for electing me today as the 23rd Senate President.

Like all beginnings, this day is full of hope and promise for the lifetime of the 18th Congress and the nation. A new wind has continued to blow over the political horizon, and the unexpected happened. It all started in 2016, when a straight-talking leader emerged, and a number cringed at his humor, his style, his irreverence. We admire the progress of nearby states brought by authoritarian leaders, yet criticize our very own. The diplomacy of many years under other mild-mannered presidents failed to bring back our Balangiga Bells and made us a garbage dump of neat and progressive nations. Only a tough stance resulted in solutions we have long been waiting for.

This 2019, the saga of political change continues.

The youth of the land had awakened and risen, sending forth a clear signal that they can put their very own to the peaks of political power. They have taught us that poverty is not a hindrance to public service, nor youth a disadvantage. We welcome their entry into the political ring, both their interest and active participation. The same phenomenon is happening ten thousand miles away, with articulate young and immigrantrooted politicians hurling stones at their Goliath. Millennials have seized the towers of social media, debated in their chat groups, and launched to fruition the candidates of their generation. Rizal’s hope in them had not been misplaced. His letters reached their destination in three months, while his millennial heirs send messages in three seconds to any part of the globe. His modes of transport were ships and river ferries, and horsepower then really came from an animal.

Though times have changed, the social ills of our hero’s times remain tenaciously around. Poverty, lack of infrastructure and services for education and health, and a lingering sensitivity to foreign views and presence still inhabit the corners of the Filipino mind. For some of our countrymen, keeping body and soul together is a daily challenge. Getting a high school or college education is a major obstacle due to the need for daily earnings. Health facilities and doctors services are Manila or citycentric, far away from the barangays they reside in.

Dear colleagues, we are legislators. The Latin roots of the word convey the meaning of a proposer of laws. That is our main task -- to craft bills, debate and refine them, get them approved by the other house, and seek the signature of the President to turn them into laws of the land.

Thus, we are primarily, legislators. We are not prosecutors. We are not judges. Our hearings had been known to be precursors of high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and even self-injury. It should not be the case. The Constitution expressly provides that the rights of the invitees must be respected. And also because, being taxpayers, our invitees are our employers. I do not mean to soften our powers; I only mean that our inquiries should really be in aid of legislation; although I also believe that those who lie in our face must stay in our premises if they continue to do so. What I am only saying is that we are legislators, primarily.

My dear colleagues, thank you is a very weak expression to convey the deep sense of gratitude that I feel today, for the honor of being your Senate President. To be elected at large by the whole nation is indeed a rare honor and privilege for twenty-four in a more than a hundred million population, and to be elected by those so elected, as you did to me, is so much more humbling than a greater source of pride.

You have gifted me the honor of being your Senate President. I know the context of my position is different from what is usually understood. I did not become your superior; I am simply a presider of your sessions. Any concept other than this is misplaced and unwarranted. Additionally, I am your listener, your adviser if you so desire, your enabler for anything within my power to do so.

And the reason is simple. The Senate is made up of 24 independent republics. You bring here the diversity of your backgrounds, the fierceness of your advocacies, the ambitions you keep secret from others. Simply stated, I am primus inter pares, as Roman-law inspired lawyers say -- First Among Equals. And these lawyers may be right, for the Senate as an institution of governance is considered to have been there in the ancient Rome of the Caesars. The images remain -- the politics, the oratory, the intrigues. It is for us, the inheritors of this legal tradition, to focus on truth, justice, peace and the common good.

To reiterate the vow that I made when I first took this post, we will continue to nourish the trust and confidence that our country has bestowed on us by ensuring that this Senate will remain cooperative but independent, balanced, transparent and sincere.

And so, thank you for this laurel wreath of victory, and I hope it does not distract me from treading the path of true service to the people. On a personal note, allow me to thank my family for bearing with the life of a politician, to Helen, the children and grandchildren that God had sent us, and to the Filipino people for this chance to serve. Likewise, I offer this day to my father Marcelino who worked with the then Central Bank, and my mother Dra. Herminia Castelo of Nueva Ecija, a staunch feminist in those early times. And finally, I dedicate the honor this post may bring to the memory of my late grandfather, Senator Vicente Sotto of Cebu, a man for all seasons, a journalist, man of letters and of the arts, and a regular dissenter to the Great Manuel Luis Quezon, the first Senate President in 1916.

Thank you and all best wishes for today and always.