MANILA, Philippines—After the spice boys who made life difficult for ousted President Joseph Estrada during the 11th Congress and the so-called Bright Boys who were hand-picked by Estrada to act as a foil against the former, a group of very young first-time members of the House of Representatives is attempting to fashion a distinct identity for themselves in a chamber known for being a club of the old and the traditional.
Typically, the members of this neophyte group, the youngest of whom is only 25 years old, talk the language of reform and express confidence that change would start with them.
“I can categorically say that I am willing to sacrifice my pork barrel for a national agenda that I believe in and which might run counter to that of the administration,” said 28-year-old Valenzuela Rep. Rexlon Gatchalian.
Samar Rep. Sharrie Ann Tan, at 25 the youngest member of the House, said she was quite willing to do that, too, but asked if it would be necessary at all.
“Standing up for the national interest doesn’t mean sacrificing the interests of your constituency,” said Tan.
Gatchalian, who with Tan and Buhay party-list Rep. Erwin Tieng met with Inquirer editors and reporters over dinner late Thursday, said there were about 20 first-termers like themselves who come together regularly and go to “places people our age go to,” mostly bars or restaurants, for fun or to talk shop.
He said the group usually goes to Martini’s, a watering hole for the young and wealthy at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.
All three are members of the majority coalition in the House. Gatchalian is a Nationalist People’s Coalition member while Tan, who seconded the nomination of Speaker Jose de Venecia during last Monday’s election for the speakership election, is a Lakas member.
Tan administered De Venecia’s oath as the record-breaking five-term Speaker.
Other members of the group are Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, 32, and Caloocan City Rep. Mitch Cajayon, 29.
Chong dealt the Espina family, the dominant political clan in Biliran province, its first electoral loss by defeating the patriarch Gerardo. Cajayon beat Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice.
“We got together because we have common friends. Naturally, we got together because we are of the same age bracket,” said Gatchalian who is a son of the ethnic Chinese businessman William Gatchalian.
Rexlon’s older brother, Kenneth, 32, was a candidate of the Anak party-list group which failed to get the required number of votes. Another brother, Sherwin, 36, is the mayor of Valenzuela, Bulacan.
Gatchalian acknowledged that with the group of newcomers’ diverse political affiliations and agendas, they might still be far from forming a formidable bloc.
“We talk about politics but we don’t impose our politics on one another. If we do that, there might not be a group to speak of now,” Gatchalian said.
“Perhaps, with our group we can more easily ask each other to support our pet bills,” Gatchalian said.
He has already filed three bills for the welfare of overseas Filipino workers while Tan is set to file her version of a bill setting up a one-stop shop for land registration.
Anti-dynasty bill discriminates
Gatchalian and Tan acknowledge being members of political dynasties but don’t see it compromising their independence or reform agenda.
“My mother and I think differently. And besides the local government and the legislature are two different worlds,” said Tan, who is a daughter of Samar Gov. Milagros Tan.
“An anti-dynasty bill is a regressive bill. It discriminates … How would you feel if you and your brother both want to write but because you’re already a writer people would tell your brother he could no longer do so?” Gatchalian told an editor.
All three are eager to learn how to be effective in the House from their betters. Gatchalian and Tan look on Sen. Francis Escudero, a former Sorsogon congressman and one of the Estrada “Bright Boys,” as a role model.
In Gatchalian’s view, Escudero has shown that “wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age.”
Among the present crop of congressmen, Gatchalian said he wants to learn most from Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr.
“I didn’t think he was a lawyer because he is able to present his ideas in a way that is easily understood,” he said.
Tan, a seatmate of constitutionalist La Union Rep. Victor Ortega during the first session days, said the veteran politician has already begun mentoring her.
“I like his views,” Tan said.
There are 100 first-termers in the 224-member House, if you include the “returning veterans,” or those who have already served three consecutive terms and have returned to reclaim seats that were being warmed by relatives. Excluding this group, there are 80 outright first-termers in the 14th Congress.
Edsa I, II
Gatchalian, Tieng and Tan are much too young to remember a key event in the country’s recent history, the assassination of opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino in August 1983 and the ouster of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos that followed from it.
“I was just one year old in 1983,” said Tan.
Tieng said he was just three years old in 1983 and can’t recall what he was doing.
Gatchalian said he was four in 1983, but remembers his family taking part in the first People Power revolution of 1986.
“People from all walks of life, even apolitical individuals like [members of] my family came out and supported the cause,” he said.
Tieng remembers being with his family and praying during the first Edsa.
“We were all at home. I remember we were all praying for peace,” he said.
Tan and Tieng remember taking part in the protests against Estrada during the second people power revolution in January 2001.
“I went to Edsa and brought food to show my support,” said Tieng, a son of Solar Entertainment president Wilson.
“I remember there were no classes. We wore black shirts and went to Fuente Osmeña to attend a rally,” said Tan, who graduated from Cebu’s University of San Carlos with a degree in pharmacy.
Gatchalian, whose father was a friend of Estrada’s, said the second Edsa was “too politicized.”