IS the Philippine Senate going to the dogs?

Judging by the recent bitter and personal attacks between two of its ranking members, the man in the street would likely answer yes.

For good reasons.

The Senate’s sole function is to legislate, not recriminate.

Recently, we saw the spectacle of a no-holds-barred slugfest between the feisty lady senator from Iloilo, Miriam Defensor Santiago, and the aging and former Senate president from Cagayan, Juan Ponce Enrile who went at each other’s throat on the Senate floor.

They did it on live TV too via the so-called privilege speech, which means that none of them can be legally liable for what they said.

Santiago called Enrile names to his face, like: “you are the mastermind of plunder,” “the king of smuggling, gambling and illegal logging empires,” and “hypersexualized womanizer.”

In typical Santiago zinger, she derisively called him “Tanda.”

(Enrile is pushing 90.)

All claims are libelous if uttered outside the Senate.

It was Enrile, however, who drew first blood, calling her a “liar” and questioned her “mental health.”

But there has been bad blood between the two through the years and the word war just escalated on the floor while the nation watched in amusement and dejection.

To Enrile’s credit, he said he would not answer back, and let it go at that.

But the harm to the Senate’s image as an honorable institution has been done, perhaps irreparably.

Other deliberative assemblies, however, had behaved even worse.

Brawls had broken out in the parliament of South Korea and in the Japanese Diet.

Israel’s Knesset can also be vociferous.

Members of the British parliament have been known to curse one another at the top of their lungs.

Heated debates sometimes can lead to a vote of no confidence on the ruling party or government, resulting in its collapse.

In one hot exchange in the House of Lords, Lady Astor chastised fellow member Winston Churchill in a stinging rebuke.

“If I were your wife, I would pour poison in your coffee!,” she blurted out.

To which Churchill, who would become England’s World War II prime minister, cooly replied, “If I were your husband, I would drink it!”

The chamber broke into an uproarious laughter.

Unfortunately, there is no such wit in our Senate.

But it has had outstanding florid orators and sharp debaters in its history.

Among the illustrious names that come to mind are Claro Mayo Recto, Camilo Osias, Jose W. Diokno, Jovito R. Salonga, Arturo M. Tolentino, Primitivo Primicias, Benigno S. Aquino and Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Even during highly-charged interpellations, they were respectful of each other.

There was no breach of decorum.

What do we have today?

Movie actors, military putschists, sons and daughters of political dynasties.

Truly, in a representative government, the voters deserve the officials they elect.

But still there are younger and level-headed senators around.

“The trouble with us is puro tayo bangayan,” rued Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, the majority leader, referring to the constant verbal tussles among his colleagues.

“Of course, we cannot stop them from airing their opinions,” said Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, chairman of the Senate finance committee.

“But we need to enforce our code of ethic more. But we don’t even have a committee chairman yet.”

He agreed with some of his colleagues who proposed to strike out unparliamentary remarks from the Senate record, like the use of the Tagalog term “gago” (jerk).

That is better left said in parliaments of the street than in an august body such as the Senate where former distinguished members turn in their grave when their successors engage in “bangayan.”

He/she who is not without sin, political or moral, cast the first stone.

Hopefully, senators and congressmen should shy away from the pork in the barrel.

Presidents, too.

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