(TIMES) Written by : Efren L. Danao, Senior Reporter - SEN. Ralph Recto was the youngest congressman in the Ninth Congress (1992-1995) at age 28, and the youngest senator in the Twelfth Congress (2001-2004) at age 37. As the Benjamin of the House, he had the honor of swearing in the newly elected Speaker Jose de Venecia.

He was born on Jan. 11, 1964, the second child of the late Rafael Recto, a former member of the Regular Batasan, and Mrs. Recto, the former Carmen Gonzalez. He finished his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at the De La Salle College where he also played varsity football. He holds two master’s degrees – in Public Administration at the University of the Philippines and in Strategic Business Economy at the University of Asia and the Pacific.

When Recto was reelected to the House in 1995, he set an election record by winning in all the barangays and towns in his district in Batangas. In the Tenth Congress, he was vice chairman of the House Committee on Economic Affairs then headed by Bataan Rep. Felicito Payumo. Among the more prominent laws authored by Recto was that setting uniform criteria and powers for newly created special economic zones.

He repeated the feat of winning in all barangays and town when he got his third mandate in 1998. In the Eleventh Congress, he became chairman of the House Committee on Economic Affairs.

After his third term, he ran for the Senate and won, duplicating the feat of his grandfather, the eminent nationalist Don Claro Recto. His campaign for the Senate in 2001 drew some criticisms for capitalizing on the name of his wife, the popular actress Vilma Santos. Perhaps, it was because by that time, many of the voters outside Batangas might have already forgotten the Recto name, and that of Vilma’s gave an instant recall.

To his credit, he put less emphasis on Vilma Santos’s name when he ran anew for the Senate in 2007, when he lost, and in 2010, when he won his second term in the Senate. By then, he had enough confidence in his achievements as senator that he believed he could stand on his own.

Sometimes, however, Vilma Santos was an invisible presence in his campaign. In the 2007 campaign, he told his audience in Bohol: “I will bring projects to your province if you’ll vote 12-0 for Team Unity.”

The reaction of the audience was lukewarm. So this time, Recto said: “I will bring Vilma Santos to your province if you’ll vote 12-0 for Team Unity.”

The audience roared and became animated by that province. So, could you blame Recto if he brings up the name of Vilma Santos now and then?

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The Senate leadership of the Twelfth Congress showed its confidence in its youngest member by giving him the chairmanship of the Committee on Ways and Means, a post usually reserved for senior members. That was a high point in his career as a legislator. It was also the main reason for his failure to win reelection in 2007.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, he sponsored the Reformed Value-Added Tax (RVAT) that increased the VAT from 10 to 12 percent. Measures increasing taxes are always unpopular among the masses, and Recto bore the brunt of the public’s ire. It did not matter to the voting public that the revenue measure emanated from the House and that it was endorsed by the World Bank, the Department of Finance and Malacanang, and was approved by the entire Senate. To them, Recto was the face of VAT, such that he was even called Vatman.

Recto never expressed any regret in sponsoring an unpopular taxation measure although he believed he was unjustly pilloried for it. In his valedictory in the 13th Congress, he intoned: “If I shall end up as a footnote in history, I shall be blissfully content with being remembered as one who chose principles over popularity and did what was right rather than what was expedient.”

In an exemplary show of sportsmanship Recto conceded his defeat even when he was in 14th place and was within striking distance of the 12th, what with more than a million votes still to be canvassed. He said that his men had already gathered all the needed information and he was convinced he could no longer win.

In conceding, Recto said he would now be able to devote more time to his family and finally say to his wife “Honey, I’m home!”

He was just 43 then, and too young to retire from politics. Retirement, however, might have been far from his thoughts. In his valedictory at the Senate, he thanked his supporters for traveling with him “in the high but hard road.”

“This is a short detour, a momentary pit stop. We shall resume our journey soon,” he added.

As it turned out, he merely went on a sabbatical from politics. In May 2010, he won in his second bid for a second term in the Senate and resumed his political journey. At age 46, he still has a long way to go.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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