I spent all my years as a public servant in the legislature. From 1992 to 2001, I represented Las Piñas in the House of Representatives where I was fortunate enough to be chosen as Speaker by my peers. Then from 2001 to 2013, I served as Senator in the upper chamber where I became Senate President Pro Tempore and eventually Senate President. From the Batasang Pambansa to the august halls of the Philippine Senate, I have learned a lot about legislation, Philippine politics and everything in between.
All these memories came back to me when I was reading news reports about the final session days of the 18th Congress. In the Senate, Senate President Tito Sotto, Senators Ralph Recto, Franklin Drilon, Richard Gordon, Panfilo Lacson, Leila de Lima, Manny Pacquiao, and Francis Pangilinan gave their valedictory speeches, a tradition in the upper chamber given to those who are ending their political “tour of duty.”
In particular, I would like to congratulate my good friend Ralph Recto for a fantastic stint as Senator of the Republic. Ralph, together with the late Senator Joker Arroyo and myself, formed the core of the so-called Wednesday group (which also included Senator Pangilinan and former vice president Noli de Castro) which met regularly during the 13th Congress to discuss issues. Ralph was a superb legislator, always prepared with his insightful questions and interpellations. It was during the budget hearings when his brilliance was in full display scrutinizing budget items and asking tough but necessary questions.
The mixture of sadness and laughter that characterized the final session day of the Senate brought back memories of my last day as Senator. It was June 5, 2013. I walked with some of my staff members from my office at the fifth floor of the Senate building towards the elevator that would take me to the second floor where the session hall was located. It was a walk that I have taken countless times before. But that walk was no ordinary walk for me. That was the day I delivered my last privilege speech before the Senate after completing two consecutive terms.
Weeks before that, I remember telling my staff that I do not want to deliver a “farewell” speech. What am I saying goodbye to? Does public service end with the end of one’s term of office? I am not sure I like the phrase “retirement from politics” either. I thought, how can one retire from politics? If we hold true what Aristotle wrote that “man, by nature, is a political animal,” how can one take a reprieve from such? I am sure that all those who “graduated” from the Senate this year will continue to be involved in some form of public service years after their “retirement.”
I recall that there were a lot of things that happened during that final session day of the Senate. We approved quite a number of bills, then Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto was debating with Senator Joker about an issue I cannot recall anymore. And I was not the only one saying goodbye to the Senate that year. Senators Joker, Edgardo Angara, Panfilo Lacson, and, Pangilinan were also in this “graduating batch.”
In the speech I delivered on the floor of the Senate that day, I said that I was both proud of, and humbled by, my work as a legislator and public servant. Proud because in my more than two decades of public service I can confidently proclaim that I worked very hard towards the goal I set when I entered politics in 1992: that the life path I took from poverty to progress may be experienced by our countrymen too. I also said that I am humbled because the enormity of our problem on poverty is such that despite our small victories and humble gains, many Filipinos still cannot put food on their table. Even today, I continue to do my small part in winning the war against poverty.
This is the bittersweet reality for public servants — from President to career employees in government — you feel elated that you have done your best but you always have this feeling that somehow the work is not yet finished.