Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Seares: Cebu’s other Senate presidents

WITH the election of Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto III by his peers last week, he became the 24th Senate president of the country.

Few remember there were two other Cebuanos who led the Senate in their time: Mariano Jesus Cuenco, the fourth Senate president (1949-1951) and Marcelo B. Fernan, the 16th (1998-1999).

Who is M.J. Cuenco?

Commuters on M.J. Cuenco Ave. in Cebu City may not have asked, “Who is M.J. Cuenco?” Those who bothered to check out the name learned that he was the patriarch of the Cuenco clan that also produced Miguel, Antonio and Nancy, House members; Manuel, governor; Jose and Roland James, city councilors; and Jose Ma. Cuenco, Jaro, Leyte archbishop (rescued from politics when, bedridden by an illness, he read the lives of saints and decided to become a priest).

Mariano Jesus was born in Carmen, Cebu but served as assemblyman of the fifth district, governor of the province, constitutional convention delegate, and public works secretary, multi-term senator and Senate president of the land. He died in 1964 at 76.

Fernan’s 2 top posts

Marcelo Fernan, born in Cebu City. the only Filipino to become Supreme Court chief justice and Senate president, was Provincial Board member, constitutional convention delegate, Batasang Pambansa member (who walked out with other opposition legislators to protest the 1986 rigging of the snap elections); and SC associate justice, then chief justice.

MBF, after whom one Mactan-Mandaue bridge and the MBF Cebu Press Center are named, ran for vice president to Mitra in 1991 but both lost to Ramos and Estrada; was elected to the Senate in 1995 until he resigned in 1999 because of illness. He died in the same year at 73.

What they shared

Both M.J. Cuenco and Fernan were Cebuanos: they grew up and were raised in Cebu. Cuenco studied in Colegio de San Carlos (now USC) and got his law degree from Escuela de Derecho (now Manila Law School). Fernan received early basic schooling at Cebu Normal School, moved to U.P. Diliman law college and later took master’s degree from Harvard in the US.

Both were lawyers, served and led the Senate, and helped in drafting the Constitution (Cuenco in 1934; Fernan in 1971). Cuenco went into publishing. Fernan embraced the advocacy of helping and defending the press: he served as first chairman of the Cebu News Workers Foundation (Cenewof) and principal mover in the building of the MBF Cebu Press Center. Both were giants, titans in their field.

Sotto’s roots

Now comes Tito Sotto. He’s grandson of Vicente Sotto who was former councilor, mayor, congressman and senator and author of the Sotto Law, which says newspaper workers cannot be compelled to reveal the source of their news except when national security requires it. He’s also grandnephew of Filemon Sotto: city councilor, vice mayor, fiscal, assemblyman and constitutional commission delegate (called one of the “Seven Wise Men”).

While he’s biologically linked to two great Cebuanos, Tito Sotto was born, raised and educated in Manila, mostly in Letran. The Senate website profile lists Manila as his hometown. In Senate sessions, he is “the gentleman from Manila or Quezon City” (where he served as councilor).

He never fails to cite his Cebu roots though, particularly when he campaigns here for his Senate seat.

Good or bad

In 2012, four US copyright holders, including the president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, complained of copyright infringement and plagiarism for a Kennedy speech that Tito Sotto allegedly copied in the Senate. Even then, many Cebuanos were embarrassed. They cringed when Tito Sotto’s reply was: “I did not copy. I translated. They have low IQ.”

Cebu folk would relish his success and mourn his failure. Good or bad, it’s theirs too.


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