As a politician, re-electionist Sen. Ralph Recto surpassed his colleagues in the number of bills enacted, topped the list of most senate absences, fathered the E-VAT, and in 1992 filed the alias “Mr. Vilma Santos” in his certificate of candidacy.

Ralph Gonzales Recto, 43, is currently running under the administration slate TEAM Unity for another term in senate.

As senator, he was appointed head of the Ways and Means committee, which had previously been assigned to senior senators , and the Accounts committee dealing with the senate budget. He also co-chaired the Congressional Oversight Committee on Proper Implementation of the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) and the Official Development Assistance (ODA).

With these positions, Recto occasionally gave warnings and statements on budget deficits, public debt, and tax measures during his term.

For instance, he predicted in September 2005 that investments and businesses will flourish in two years because of the government’s investments in infrastructure projects.

“We expect a lot to take place because we have put our fiscal house in order.”

Recto said this in line with the passing of the Expanded Value Added Tax (E-VAT) on consumption of goods and services and imports of goods into the country, a law he was pushing for at the time.

He also said in a past report that those who buy more would be taxed more, but the E-VAT would solve the government’s fiscal deficit.

However, many continued to protest against the new law. “This would make our creditors happy but the middle class will be hit badly,” Sen. Sergio Osmeña III said in a past interview .

Michelle Palma, Recto’s supervisor and legislative officer, said in defense of the E-VAT that its benefits would only be considerable three years after its passing.

“But even now, the results can be seen because our debts have lowered. Malaking bagay ‘yon because a big part of our budget goes to debt servicing,” she said.

Aside from the E-VAT, Recto also authored the Sin Tax law levying alcohol and tobacco products aiming to add revenue for the government to fund health programs, and the Lateral Attrition Law granting incentives to all officials and employees of the BIR and BOC whenever they surpass their collection targets.

Some of his bills that were eventually made into law were the Barangay Micro Business Development Act promoting small businesses that would create jobs for the poor, the Film Development and Incentives Board rewarding exceptional local movies, and the Reimposing of the Gross Revenue Tax (GRT) on banks and financial institutions for a “more efficient collection of tax on the bank sector,” the law says.

Also marking his legislative performance are the 69 bills he filed, most of which proposed for tax reforms and exemptions, additional benefits for employees, and agricultural development.

According to a report in June 2005 , Recto, along with Sen. Jamby Madrigal, topped the list of lawmakers with most absences in the First Regular Session of the 13th congress. While Madrigal said it was because of her health, Recto gave no official reason for his absences.

Palma said she is not familiar with the data but affirmed that there were sessions Recto missed because of health reasons, important meetings, and out-of-town speaking engagements. Palma also said that based on her experience, the absence or the presence of the senator does not correlate with his performance.

“There are several senators who are boasting of perfect attendance but when you ask them what they have done, I don’t think that their 100% presence is an indication of their performance … So even if there are sessions that [Sen. Recto] missed, I can say that he performed very well because we are number one in the number of bills passed.”

Before becoming a politician, Recto earned a degree in Commerce, major in Business Administration from De La Salle University in 1987. He is also a holder of two Masters Degree, one in Public Administration from the University of the Philippines, Diliman and Strategic Business Economics from University of Asia and the Pacific. He also took a Leadership Scholarship Course at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1997 .

Recto was student council president in high school at the De La Salle College and started a business when he was only 15, though his representatives said they do not know what business it was. According to a report , he earned his first million at 17 and went on his own at 21.

Sen. Recto has business interests in Vilma Santos Inc., Taking Care of Business (TCB) Corporation, and in Malarayat Golf and other clubs, for a total of more than P64 million in stocks and advances as of 2003, according to a past report . He has a total net worth of P225.6 million, making him the second wealthiest senator after Sen. Manuel Villar.

Recto has been company president of TCB Corporation in San Juan, Manila since 1994 and a Member of the Board of Sanikleen in Lipa, City from 1995 to 1999.

A descendant of the Mayo and Recto political clans of Batangas, Recto referred to the late nationalist statesman Claro M. Recto, his grandfather and his father Rafael Recto, a former Assemblyman in an interview in October 1994 .

“My grandfather and my father are less politicians. Hindi sila sanay kumamay sa tao, mag-basketball sa barangay, mag-anak sa kasal o binyag. Hindi sila palabati. Ayun ang pagkukulang nila na nakita ko. And I would like to correct that. It’s very important that you feel what your people feel. You have to be one with them,” he said.

At that time Recto was only in his second year in politics as Representative of the 4th District of Batangas at the age of 30, being the youngest member of congress.

He is the second in a brood of three, incumbent Batangas Vice-Governor Richard “Ricky" Recto being the eldest, and fitness expert Plinky the youngest. His uncle, Vicente Mayo, was former governor of Batangas.

Before he ran for congress in 1992, Recto’s father took him under his wing and trained him with his staff. In the same report, Recto said his apprenticeship made him disposed to run for a seat in the 9th Congress.

His decision to run was met with “raised eyebrows,” especially that his engagement to movie star and now Lipa Mayor Vilma Santos who is 11 years his senior had been known before his first campaigns. They married in 1992 and had Ryan Christian in 1997.

Recto won landslide victories in succeeding terms as representative and fell to 12th place in the senatorial lineup after the 2001 elections when he ran under the People Power Coalition (PPC) of the Arroyo administration.

His ranking was determined in August 2001 by Comelec after some poll clashes with Sen. Gringo Honasan who came in a close 13th with a difference of only 44,000 votes. Opposition camp Puwersa ng Masa (PnM) protested the ruling, saying the declaration was illegal since it did not get the approval of the majority of the seven-member Comelec, according to reports .

Despite being an administration senator, Recto once in a while criticized Palace decisions. In November 2006, for instance, Sen. Recto said the Executive “overappropriated” at least P4.4 billion for debt service in the 2007 national budget bill, because of its “flawed assumption” of foreign exchange rate of P53 to a dollar.

“This is bad habit [of the Executive] of overappropriating for debt service should be stopped,” he said, adding that the forex rate used was above the projected average for 2007. He recommended that the money be used to augment funds for health programs.

On January the following year, he said in a press release that the debt service for 2007 was padded by P6.6 billion, again because of the usage of the forex rate of P53-$1. He suggested to instead use the P50-$1 to “free up P6.6 billion in non-productive expense for social services.”

He recommended a debt-for-education scheme to address the deadlock. “Use this instead to fund both school-feeding, school-building, and end budget deadlock.”

His latest move for education was a few weeks ago when Recto urged the government to build new libraries all over the country and name them after famous Filipino writers. He said this should encourage both the young and old alike to develop reading skills.

“When 75 percent of these young people cannot read sans help, it means the Department of Education has to make up for the slack, go back to the drawing boards and promote reading and understanding,” he said in a press release .

Recto said the government plans to build 300 library hubs in the next few years.

At the height of the Garci tape controversy from February to March 2006 involving the Arroyo administration and its subsequent declaration of Proclamation 1017 which threatened activists and the press with arrests and prosecutions, Recto defended the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism against threats of imposing violations for posting the “Hello Garci” tapes on its website.

“To a large extent, this government rode on the coattails of the [PCIJ] exposés on the alleged Erap [Joseph Estrada] mansions,” he said in a past report , referring to the series of PCIJ stories about the lifestyles of the deposed President Estrada and his mistresses, culminating to EDSA Dos that overthrew Estrada from position.

Recto said that Estrada only threw tantrums whenever the PCIJ came out with an investigative story critical of his administration. “But [the Arroyo] administration wants to throw the whole PCIJ staff in jail,” he said.

He also called on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to fire officials who had advised her to clamp down on the media.

“Don’t listen to them, Madame President. The enemies of the press freedom are the real enemies of democracy,” Recto said in another report .

Recto recently debunked claims that TEAM Unity would push Charter change. He pointed out that Lipa City was the only place in the country that did not give a single signature to last year’s people’s initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution.

“Now it can be told: Not a single soul signed in Lipa. We didn’t disclose that information before because it is not in our character to thump our chest,” the senator said in a press release . He attributed it to his wife, Mayor Vilma Santos. “Iba syempre ‘pag order ni misis.”

When Charter change was also a top issue in 2003, reports said that Recto was one of the senators who were not open to the idea at the moment. He shared the same stand with other “Wednesday group” senators, which met every Wednesday after regular sessions, namely senators Joker Arroyo, Francis Pangilinan, and Manuel Villar.

“[The Cha-cha drive] is just in life support system,” he said in a past interview . “Pull the plug, put this behind us, so we can all move forward.”

On January 2006 when four American marines based in Subic, Pampanga were charged of raping a Filipina woman, the United States embassy refused to turn them over to Philippine custody. Public outrage moved for the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries.

Sen. Recto said a direct call from Mrs. Arroyo to Pres. Bush might save VFA.

“We’ve been saying that we should resort to diplomacy before we do something drastic about the VFA,” he said in a past interview . “Two leaders talking is diplomacy at the highest level. We should explore it.”

On the current issue on extra-judicial killings, Recto welcomed the offer of the U.S. to help the Philippines in resolving the growing number of executions, according to a press release last March 1 . However, the Senator said that the government must be cautious about the offer.

“The offer is one thing we cannot refuse, but we must draw the line on U.S. personnel doing actual sleuthing since it would be a travesty of our sovereignty,” he said.

Recto also suggested that the U.S. could contribute forensic equipments for free or on credit, even if they are hand-me-downs.

“The US can help us solve all killings, not just politically-motivated ones, if they can give us, either for free or on credit, equipment, like CSI-type crime labs that can elevate the forensic skills of our lawmen” .

Palma said that Recto pushed for lobby groups in the U.S. to make sure that their government is well-aware of what it is doing about the killings.

However, in a report last March 14 about diplomatic protests over the U.S.’s investigations of the killings, the senatorial candidate told U.S. officials to “mind their own business” and stop poking their noses into the country’s internal affairs.

In March 2005 , Recto, a Roman Catholic, opposed the Divorce Bill being pushed in congress. Recto, along with other senators, believes that this kind of policy is not appropriate in the Filipino culture unlike in other countries.

Recto is also against abortion and in favor of people’s education on family planning. “He is definitely pro-life,” said Palma, although she is not sure whether Recto is strictly for natural family planning or open to educating people on the use of artificial methods.

On his current candidacy, his platform is mainly focused on economic reform and countryside development which are both, according to Palma, involving his agenda “HEARTS” which stands for health, education, agriculture, roads or infrastructure, technology, and security.

Recto also reportedly said that he ran under TEAM Unity partly for practical reasons.

“If, for example, we’ll announce that (the Wednesday group senators) will run as an independent bloc, that’s good because we’ll get headlines possible in Inquirer, Star or tabloids. After that, we file our certificates and then … we start campaigning … So how do we campaign, there’s only four of us? … As I’ve said, there’s a compromise in everything. You’re aware of the ideal issue on one end, and the pragmatic issue end.”

The Wednesday Group separated ways in the end. Recto and Sen. Arroyo are under the administration ticket, Villar with the Genuine Opposition (GO) while Pangilinan is running independently.

Recto’s present Senatorial campaign has been highlighted with media reports of the feud between his wife and his elder brother, Ricky over who will run for governor.

“I cannot forgive him for making derogatory statements against my wife. I cannot forgive him for saying he’s better than my wife unless he issues a public apology. He is not even this compared to my wife,” Recto recently told reporters , gesturing with the tip of his finger.—Camille C. Diola

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