It’s another one of those magic-realist quirks of this country that an 89-year-old man should be unctuously solicitous about the health of an adversary in her late 60s. He’ll pray for Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s swift recovery, Juan Ponce Enrile says, after their exchange of verbal fire last week, which had Miriam’s blood pressure shooting through the roof. It was in fact, say her doctors, a minor stroke—after her major stroke of shining a light again on Enrile’s past—which manifested itself in burst blood vessels in the eyes and not in the brain. Of course some will say too late, but let’s be kind and refrain from the jokes.
Of course I wouldn’t put it past Enrile to have meant his display of concern as a sly retort to Miriam saying, “tumigil-tigil na nga ’yang matandang ’yan.” He must have been sorely tempted to prescribe stem cell treatment for her but resisted it heroically.
My sympathies are with Miriam on this one, and I wouldn’t mind her clinging tenaciously to her cause of exposing Enrile, particularly in his role as martial law enforcer, which he has tried to obscure from view. That is not, as cynics might say, because as her doctors have warned pursuing that tack could lead to nasty consequences, baka matuluyan, but quite earnestly because I do think she is doing the country a favor by it. The elections being just round the corner, it helps monumentally to make the electorate remember what some of the characters there have done to screw them in the past. Indeed, to make the voters see the real character of those characters.
It should also help to lessen the public’s perception of Miriam as the neighborhood, or senatorial, bully with the way she has gained renown, or notoriety, for picking on people who can’t fight back. It’s time she showed she’s capable of taking on people her own size, figuratively speaking.
Of course the retaliation was bound to come. It’s not just that Enrile wasn’t going to take it lying down, being depicted as lying through his teeth, it’s also that Miriam isn’t exactly invulnerable to attack. The pot is perfectly right to call the kettle black, but so is the kettle to call the pot black. Unfortunately for Miriam, the thing that got her to mount her high horse and sally forth to slay the ogre does not put her at a great advantage. It had to do with money, which all of them are sullied with.
Specifically, it had to do with Miriam returning the P250,000 she got in gratuity from Enrile last December on the grounds that it was undue and improper. Her argument of course was solid. The bonus was justified as supplemental budget, but, she rightly asked, why should the senators be entitled to supplemental budget at the end of the year when their work was already done?
But the public, rather than seeing that as a sign of principle, saw it only as a sign of pettiness. That was so because only she and three other senators got P250,000 while the 18 others got P1.6 million, a patent case of Enrile wanting to punish her and the three other senators—Antonio Trillanes and the Cayetano siblings—for being less than tractable, or servile, before him. For the public, Miriam’s spurning of her P250,000 was just as patent a case of her scorning not the quality but the quantity of the gratuity. Not the amount being undue and improper to the taxpayers but the amount being undue and improper to her. It wasn’t an injury to the taxpayers, it was an insult to her.
Naturally Ping Lacson was quick to jump on it. Quite apart from the fact that it puts pressure on the other senators to return their P1.6 million, a thing they are exceedingly loath to do, he is Enrile’s man. “A crusading crook,” he fired back at Miriam. And added with the same bile Miriam heaps on her enemies: “She is a hypocrite par excellence who doesn’t have a single shred of integrity in her veins and moral ascendancy over any mortal on earth. Ask people who have fallen victim to her verbal threats and assaults and they will tell you how much they shelled out (for her to stop).”
Given a taste of how it feels to be ganged up upon, or to be at the receiving end of her own tactics at Senate hearings, she ended up at the doctor’s office.
Enrile says they should all call a truce, the recriminations aren’t helping, they’re just destroying the image of the Senate. But not at all. That’s just the logic of l’etat c’est moi, or of people believing they are the institution, but are destroying the institution themselves. In fact these recriminations improve the image of the Senate, they strengthen the Senate. Exposing the rot inside institutions does not damage the institutions, it cleanses them of their dregs, it separates the innocent from the guilty, the lofty from the base. Unity is not just an overrated virtue, it is a downright vice when all it means is keeping it all in the family, not exposing dirty linen in public. Hallowed institutions like the Senate do not say it best when they say nothing at all, they say it best, to paraphrase the song, when they say everything that needs to be said.
What Miriam said last week about Enrile needs very badly to be said. And I will applaud her if she continues to say it despite the odds. It should be a test of character, it should be a test of mettle, it should be a legacy to be remembered by. Enrile’s role during martial law may not be forgotten and forgiven, may not be obfuscated or obscured. Miriam at least stands on solid ground there, her difference with Enrile during that time being the difference between day and night. She takes up the cudgels for those who suffered during martial law, as she once did for people like Lino Brocka, who knows, maybe she can find redemption after the fall.
What can I say? Serve the people.