A fighting retreat
Richard Gordon had specialized in hearings in aid of exoneration. He had done it twice before. Back in September last year, he replaced Leila de Lima and presided over the Senate justice committee’s inquisition of Edgardo Matobato, using Arturo Lascañas to debunk his testimony. This allowed Gordon to gavel the hearings on killings to a close in October (only for Lascañas to recant his previous testimony in February of this year, to the astonishment of the ruling coalition; De Lima was thrown in jail and senators who dared attend an anti-Marcos and anti-EJK rally were ousted from their committee chairmanships).
Gordon loyally refused to reopen the hearings on killings when Amnesty International reported cops were getting paid to undertake liquidations. It took Panfilo Lacson to accomplish what Gordon failed to do: Go through the motions of hearing Lascañas, followed by gaveling the proceedings to an abrupt end, which killed the issue — for a time — until the liquidation of Kian delos Santos made the country recoil in horror leaving no senator contemplating re-election unmoved. A hearing had to be held, under the chairmanship of the steadier Lacson. Policemen had to be sacrificed as the government found itself on the defensive.
But in the meantime, Gordon still had yeoman work to do, this time as chair of the Blue Ribbon committee, inquiring into that other topic that refused to go away: the Bureau of Customs and a multibillion-peso-valued drug shipment that got through. Both House and Senate hearings raised so many questions, President Duterte had to throw Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon overboard while maintaining the man was merely misunderstood. Even this half-hearted sacrifice wasn’t enough to calm the waters.
Three days into his hearings, Gordon piously insisted hearsay was beneath his committee’s notice, and that he would not be a party to an unfair inquiry into the Davao vice mayor, even as questions arising from testimony before his committee wouldn’t go away. Not least because strict standards weren’t applied to one of his colleagues, De Lima, and because too many references had been made to Paolo Duterte. At the start of September, Gordon still insisted he wouldn’t invite alleged personalities in the so-called Davao Group. After all, the witness who’d implicated them had — surprise, surprise — apologized and “cleared” through a press statement the officials he’d previously squealed on. The Palace for its part cooed that see, there’s no reason to force these humble officials to go to the Senate.
But as it turned out, this was merely the latest skirmish in what’s been a fighting retreat on all fronts. The President had attempted to turn the tide of outrage over drug war liquidations by assigning lethal arrest specialist Jovie Espenido to Iloilo City, which served to spark a kind of public opinion mutiny among Ilonggos who reacted with a kind of Iloilo-style irritation that can only be described as anger over a Davaoeño president’s imperialism. The President had to pull back, withdrawing the assignment and keeping Espenido in place in Ozamiz City. New revelations about another liquidation—of Carl Arnaiz, murdered around the same time Delos Santos was slain—means more cops have to be sacrificed rather than go on the offensive.
Along the way, Gordon has been reduced to being a sideshow, gunning after Antonio Trillanes IV in a manner reminiscent of how Eduardo Quintero was flayed after making his Constitutional Convention expose in 1971 (Gordon was then the youngest member of that body). His bluster is due to his being punch drunk after the hammering he has been getting from the public over perceptions of double standards in the conduct of his investigations.
Of what use are allies in such a situation? This explains why, after the crowing of the Palace, the President and his daughter, the mayor of Davao, both advised Paolo to attend the senate hearings anyway. Which he is expected to do, tomorrow. The President’s advice to his son — go, but plead what the Americans call the Fifth — is not just paternal (thus politically beneficial) but also lawyerly (thus, politically harmful), advice. It brings to mind what the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski once wrote: “When is a crisis reached? When questions arise that can’t be answered.”
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