Highlights of Q&A with the Senate Media
24 June 2022, Philippine Senate
Q: What will be your role in the next Congress? Majority or minority?
Senator Pia S. Cayetano (SPSC): Every time there is a new Congress, I always think about what my role will be and how I will serve the Filipino people best. I started as a new senator in 2004, it was the 13th Congress, I was 38 years old, and I became very nostalgic in the last few weeks, remembering my first few years in the Senate. The SP at that time was the Minority Floor Leader now, Sen. Drilon, and among the members of the Senate are all, sadly, the late senators Joker Arroyo, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Juan Flavier, and Miriiam Defensor-Santiago.
So many of you who have been in the news industry would know that they are all legal luminaries, seasoned legislators, and these were the people I learned from. Sa una, nakakatakot. I had my training as a lawyer, and I continue to use that skill to listen before I open my mouth. These are the kinds of people I learned from.
Joker Arroyo, Nene Pimentel, and Juan Flavier were actually my seatmates in different times, so all of them were lawyers, except for Sen. Flavier, who was my mentor because I chaired the Committee on Health in my very first year in the Senate. So, can you imagine sitting beside these people who, when we look back, have not just crafted various laws, but we really look up to as statesmen and stateswomen?
I am always conscious of where I am now compared to where I was then, and I am cognizant of the lessons I learned from them. One time, Joker Arroyo pulled me aside and said to me, “Pia, makinig ka din sa mga debate na boring kasi bakit dinedebate ni ganto si ganyan?” Sabi ko, “Oo nga eh magme-merienda nga sana ako kasi medyo hindi ko gets kung bakit nila pinagdedebatehan.” It was such a simple bill. Sabi niya, “Alam mo kung bakit? May history kasi si ganto kay ganyan, galit kay ganyan. Walang kinalaman sa bill yan, nag-aaway lang sila kasi may iba silang tampuhan.”
So you have to know those things so that you can understand and be a better senator.
I mentioned this because I am the second most senior senator now in the Senate. I come from the 13th Congress, Sen. Loren Legarda started in the 11th Congress. Nag-umpisa siya 1998 with my father. Yung ‘seniority’ is because of the number of years we’ve been senators. I am the second most senior senator, so I have on my shoulders a very important role to play, because every time there are new senators, or junior senators, I feel that ‘wow, the baton has passed.’ I am holding that baton now.
So to answer your question, kung saan ko ilalagay ang sarili ko? I think my most important role is to be a role model in the Senate, to ensure that we pass meaningful laws, to always fight the good fight, to not get tired to discuss issues kahit bugbog na… sa talo… to continue to find inspiration and strength to keep on fighting these good fights because that is what I was elected for, and that is my role.
So how I will do that? I think it’s quite simple to just look at my track record. I was in the minority, from what I recall, it was just one Congress, and I think it wasn’t even a whole Congress kasi nagkaroon ng parang coup at that time. I cannot even distinguish the role I played whether majority ako or minority because I was grounded on a very simple principle: I do my best, I fight for the Filipino people.
So significantly enough, as minority, one of the landmark laws I passed was the Expanded Senior Citizens Act (RA 9994). So it didn’t really matter na pinasa ko yun as a minority because it was a good law to support. And as you can see, I was in the majority [in the 18th Congress], but I was the sole defender of the Sin Tax Law on its anti-vape provisions. In the final round of voting, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan joined me. Isang majority, isang minority. So, it didn’t really matter. So that’s the role I intend to play.
The reason I gave you a lengthy explanation [is because] what matters to me is that I guide the new senators, fight the good fight, and continue to uplift the Senate and ensure that it performs the way it’s meant to perform.
Q: Preference of committee chairmanship?
SPSC: I’ve always been interested in a number of committees, which again, you’ll see by my record. I chaired Education, Health, Environment, and in the last Congress, SDGs and Futures Thinking, and Ways and Means. I also chaired the Committee on Women, Children, and Family Relations.
So, from my experience in the last Congress, kahit hindi ako nag-chair ng education and health, andami ko namang bills na tinulungan ipaganda at siguruhin na it’s a stronger bill because of my experience chairing those committees. I didn’t have to be the chairman to improve those bills. Same goes with the two adoption bills that the Senate passed. I was not the Chair of the Committee on Women and Children, but I supported the work that had to be done.
So I am in a situation where I think I have the opportunity to either go back to a committee that I formerly chaired, or take on a committee that is new to me that I would also like to explore and improve my knowledge on. So I believe at this point, those options are all available naman to me.
Basically, what I am saying is, I am in a position where, kung sa akin lang, kasi I always look at my capabilities and what are my strengths. And yun nga, sa level ng seniority ko, I may not have chaired some committees, pero may understanding na rin ako doon, pwede naman ako mag-chair nun. So basically, I think there are different committees that I can consider and I am studying what (bills) are in those committees.
Q: Have you discussed any possible committee chairmanships with Sen. Zubiri?
SPSC: Siguro bago siya mag-assign sa akin, alamin ko muna ang basis na ma-assign-an ako ng committee. Kasi like I said, I am a senior senator and have lots to contribute to the Senate, so I don’t want to just be assigned a committee. I want to also have the time to mentor other senators who care to be mentored and I also want to have time to review various bills because this is a very important time. Every new administration is important, and yun nga, I feel na pilay kami in a way that we lost so many senior, experienced senators. So parang the burden is on me and not just me, but others to step up.
So, I don’t just look at it maybe as a new senator na it’s just about the committee you’ll chair, these are not feathers in my cap. It’s really saan ako makaka-contribute?
Q: Have you discussed with Sen. Alan on whether you will be part of the majority or minority?
SPSC: I remember about a week ago, he was interviewed and asked about that, and he mentioned that I was currently abroad, which I was, to attend UNITE, which is an organization of members of parliament to fight infectious diseases and threats to global health. So hindi kami nag-usap. We have not really sat down in more detail since then kasi ang thinking namin is medyo matagal pa naman, and people deserve a break naman, nagpahinga din yung ibang senators.
So, I use my time really to prepare, to look at the bills I will be refiling, and so on and so forth.
Q: Sen Pimentel plans to build a dream minority…
SPSC: Yes, I want to talk to him also, kung matatapos tayo baka makausap ko na siya. [laughs] Balita ko andito daw siya, so kung makakausap ko siya, why not?
I think you guys know me well enough that I really don’t like politics. I just like to do my work well. So I go into this as friends, mag-uusap lang kami as friends. Ganun lang. So wala akong prepared answer, wala akong agenda.
Q: Sen. Zubiri?
SPSC: I haven’t heard from him since I left. Pero just to clarify, nag-usap sila ni Alan, and I think some people feel like kapag nakausap naman nila, I am sure kinamusta niya ako through Alan…
Q: Did it occur to you that you can run as one of the leaders of the Senate?
SPSC: Syempre naman karapatan ko naman yun, and again in all humility, may K naman ako para gawin yun.
Q: Do you have plans?
SPSC: Nakita niyo naman na-consume ang utak ko sa vape na yan, di ba? So doon ako naka-focus tapos during the break, bawi naman ako sa kids ko, although work from home allowed me to see them more, pero syempre I was working the whole time.
So you know I don’t really plan my destiny in that sense. God has taken care of me every step of the way. Kahit hindi ko pinangarap maging senador, naging senador ako. So yung mga na-accomplish ko is simply driven by the fact that God gave me brains, in-allow niya maging abogado ako, so it is my duty as a Christian to use my talents that the Lord has given me and to serve my country well, and to also honor my father in that process. I’ll just go with that and if the opportunities come about, why not? If I feel the time is right for it.
Q: Were there no offers?
SPSC: I personally didn’t really express anything, kasi nga it wasn’t really on the top of my mind really at that time.
Q: Will you refile the Absolute Divorce Bill?
SPSC: Ire-refile ko yun [divorce bill]. With all due respect to the religious community, I think they understand that there are circumstances where women in particular, but it could happen to men, of course, [that] their lives are endangered, both their mental and physical wellbeing are jeopardized. So naniniwala ako na there’s got to be more ways to save lives in that sense through more options of dissolution of marriage.
APPEAL TO COLLEAGUES: GIVE CREDIT TO ORIGINAL AUTHORS
SPSC: Yung role ko as a senior member of the Senate, I want to start with one particular aspect of lawmaking, which starts with law filing.
I would hear time and again in the last decade or so, that so and so filed 100, 300, 1,000 bills. But ang akin ganito lang, sabi nga nila it’s the height of flattery if somebody copies your work. So in terms of legislation, I believe that it is the intellectual property din naman of the one who [first] drafted it. So when I draft a bill, and I have had this experience, I know ako nag-draft nun, wala pang ibang bill na ganun, and then the following Congress, may 3, 4, 6 na. So it is the height of flattery, thank you. ‘Di ba we’re all honored when somebody says, “Can I be a co-author of your bill?” Tama lang, we appreciate it.
Pero ang sa akin lang, kung ipapa-file niyo lang din sa staff niyo ang bill na na-file na ng ibang tao, i-recognize niyo naman ang original na nagsulat nun, yung staff na naghirap doon. Most of the bills that I’ve worked on, I prepared on my own with my staff or with advocacy groups. When I do adopt a bill that has already been filed, I give credit to the member of Congress who filed that bill. And sometimes, hindi mo alam and therefore sabihin mo na lang, “I am re-filing this bill because I’m a big supporter.” Kasi for me let’s just give credit where credit is due. Nakakaloko sa tao na sabihin mo 1,000 finile mo pero 999 doon, iba naman ang naghirap. Sabihin mo lang na magaganda ang na-file so sinusupport mo, no problem.
Let’s have intellectual honesty naman. And I brought this up how many Congresses ago, nag-agree naman ang colleagues ko. But it’s a reminder to all na let’s follow it, lead by example. It’s a great way to practice honesty.
Example ko ito, the Anti-Prostitution [Bill] of 2010, obviously 2010 pa ito, at bill pa siya hanggang ngayon. In the explanatory note, I recognized that this was based on the bill first introduced by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago that failed to go into third reading.
Wala naman akong problema sa kopyahan, let’s correct that, [but] acknowledge kung kanino ka ‘kumopya.’ In the Senate, it is okay to support another person’s bill and the way you do that is you either file a similar bill, or express your support verbally. Pero kapag nag-file ka ng same na same lang at hindi ka nagsasabi, hindi ba parang medyo devious? So yun.
In fairness, it’s not one two or three, it’s a practice. Kaya reminder ko rin sa staff, I don’t think may malisya, in fairness, I don’t think anyone does it maliciously, it’s a reminder lang. I become very sentimental kapag nalaman ko na yung original author namatay na siya, so parang pinaghirapan niya yan noong buhay siya. Kunyari kapag pumasa ‘to, ako, bakit ako lang eh ang totoong nag-umpisa ng fight na yan is another senator?
Naalala ko rin nung nag-retire si Sen. Nene [Pimentel]. Meron talaga siyang bills na hindi natapos, so bakit ba porke retired ka lang, kalimutan na ang work na ginawa mo doon? As reporters, wouldn’t you want to know that? Usually maririnig mo lang yan kapag nag-abala ang staff na nag-research doon sa sponsorship speech ng chairman, o kaya magbuhat ng bangko ang isang senador. Pero kapag walang ganun, sayang naman diba? We’re all a product of our history, so let’s just acknowledge it. Yun lang. #