Emblazoned on the standards that the Roman legions held aloft as they marched out of the Italian Peninsula to conquer much of what was then called the known world was the abbreviation SPQR. Signifying Senatus Populusque Romanus—Latin for The Roman Senate and the People—SPQR summed up how the ancient Romans regarded their city-state. An alternate translation for SPQR—Senatus Populusque Romae (The Senate and People of Rome)—expressed the same sentiment.
It was from the members of the Roman Senate (made up of the city’s patres, meaning "fathers," from which the term "patrician" comes) and populus (the people, consisting of plebes and proletarians) through their assemblies—the Centuriate Assembly (Comitia Centuriata), the Tribal Assembly (Comitia Populi Tributa) and the Council of the People (Concilium Plebis)—that political authority emanated.
On several occasions, though, certain ambitious politicians sought to subvert the Roman Republic by undermining the SPQR formula via fair means and foul. Among the most memorable of these power-hungry individuals was Lucius Sergius Catilina (108 B.C.–62 B.C.). Known in English as Catiline, he sought election to consul (the equivalent of a modern-day chief executive) by resorting to what one historian called "blatant and excessive bribery."
Try as he might, however, Catiline could not overcome opposition from senators, led by Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC-43 BC). According to one account, Catiline plotted with his underlings to assassinate Cicero. Alerted to the plot, Cicero assembled his fellow senators who then set aside the election and foiled Catiline’s bid to replace Roman democracy with one-man rule.
It was Cicero’s biting oratory that rallied patrician, plebeian and proletarian opinion against Catiline. The senator’s speech in defense of the Republic is still remembered, especially its opening line: Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra? Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? (When, O Catiline, do you intend to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us?)
Over 2,000 years later in a republic some 10,000 kilometers to the east of the Eternal City another senate finds itself on a collision course with a politician in whom her political foes might detect a modern-day Catiline.
With the House of Representatives behaving no better than an extension office of Malacañan and the Supreme Court exhibiting tacit sympathy for the executive branch, the Philippine Senate appears to stand as the last institutional restraint on the presidency.
And because the senators persist in investigating President Arroyo over the reported cheating in last year’s general elections, the mystery surrounding deals with Washington lobbyists, alleged "jueteng" payoffs to her kinsmen and purported irregularities in two contracts covering the $503-million North Rail project, Palace flunkeys are now accusing the Senate of destabilizing the government.