The residents of the 1st district of Surigao del Sur, at least those who are following closely the on-going political campaign for positions in the Philippine Senate, are understandably eyeing the developments in the present senatorial campaign with considerably more interest than in previous national elections.
The reason is simple. Their present congressman, Prospero "Butch" Pichay, who has served three successive three year terms in the House of Representatives, is one of the "senatoriables" running under the administration ticket of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This is something unprecedented in Surigao del Sur politics.
This province has always been in the backwaters of Philippine politics, a consequence and a reflection of the relatively poor state of its economic development and consequently its lesser standing and importance in national affairs in comparison with the other more well-off provinces. Thus in the past and even to a large degree at present, its local officials and representatives to Congress have been more or less reticent, low-keyed individuals who are mostly unknown to the national electorate.
Butch Pichay is the exception. From relative obscurity, he rocketed to national prominence in just the nine years he had served in Congress and is now known as a prominent wheeler-dealer, power broker and a key political figure in the Arroyo administration. No mean achievement for one previously known only as a businessman and who never had held any public office prior to his election to Congress. That as a politician he has also been controversial is also true and it has been said that he has as many detractors as well as admirers both from within and outside the government.
That Surigao del Sur is set to gain from having one of its own leaders in the Senate is obviously true and, in truth, the province needs all the help it can get. For one, it has one of the most poorly maintained road networks in the country, most of it unpaved and prone to blockages due to landslides and flooding during bad weather. The poor condition of the existing road system in the province particularly in Pichay's own congressional district is an issue that has been raised against the congressman countless of times and it is one he would have to address and answer again and again as he campaigns for a seat in the Senate.
The province would also benefit from his help in lowering the high levels of poverty and unemployment that is hindering its economic development and in addressing peace and order problems caused by an active communist insurgency that holds sway over many of its remote barangays and whose continued presence has not exactly been helping attract business and infrastructure investments. These and more his fellow province mates expect of their man when and if he can join the elite group of individuals who will earn the right to the title of senator of the republic.
I personally would like to see someone from the less privileged provinces, especially one from our remote part of Mindanao, get into the Senate. That would be a much needed correction of the imbalance in representation in that august body that is in favor of Luzon, the Visayas and the richer provinces.
But the members of the Senate have a national constituency and prospective senators have to appeal to a national vote and deal with national issues. He must be able to project himself as a leader of integrity and competence to the whole country and one who speaks for all Filipinos and not just a tiny minority.
That most of the voters of Surigao del Sur would like to see a Surigaonon, one of their own, be a part of the next Senate is obvious and a matter of self interest if not provincial pride. But Butch Pichay is running for a national position, a position to which only the best of the country are supposed to aspire to. It is an office of great prestige, great honor and great responsibility, one that should be given only to the most worthy and the most deserving.
Butch Pichay will have to set himself by this harsh and unforgiving measuring stick of personal competence and worthiness. And it is the nation, the entire Filipino people and not just the people of Surigao del Sur and Mindanao who will have to judge if he measures up to it.