The words that come to mind are “disgusting,” “revolting,” “deplorable”—adjectives usually employed only for the basest of human activities. They’re not supposed to be associated with public officials who, on their first day in office, swear to be exemplars of conduct and duty, and who thereby not only like to call themselves “Honorable,” but also insist that others address them thus.
But last week’s hearing by the House of Representatives—purportedly to look into Sen. Leila de Lima’s involvement in, and possible enrichment from, the trade in illegal drugs at the national penitentiary only to degenerate into a salacious dissection of her admitted affair with her former driver and aide—summoned all those ugly emotions and more. The House, never high in the esteem of the public for its image as a lair of craven, grasping politicians, sank even lower with a day-long inquiry that breached every basic line of propriety and decency.
Even that most macho of men, Ramon Tulfo—one of the Duterte administration’s most vocal supporters, who has generally maintained that De Lima is guilty and that the attacks against her are par for the course—denounced the congressmen as a pack that “behaved like prurient or sex-starved adolescents.” That verdict was echoed across the land, with even many of those against De Lima recoiling at the inability of congressmen to step back and inject some measure of sanity or plain good sense into the proceedings.
And, in the end, all for nothing. The moral inquisition the legislators put the country through still failed to establish any concrete links between De Lima and the convicted drug lords who had testified they had given her millions of pesos in kickbacks for her senatorial run through Ronnie Dayan, her former aide and lover. On the contrary, Dayan would end up denying and contradicting many of the fundamental details of the convicts’ testimonies, inadvertently puncturing and rendering even more questionable the master script apparently in place to pin down De Lima.
This is not to plead De Lima’s innocence; only that, so far, attempts to prove it—by means mostly foul as in the case of the House hearing that seemed only to follow the pattern of sexist, misogynist assaults on her person—have not gone beyond mere allegations. Where are the bank accounts, the paper trail, the mass of solid evidence other than the tangled testimonies of convicts that the justice department has promised would definitively establish her guilt?
The charges against De Lima are some of the gravest leveled at any public figure—the coddling of and profiteering from drug syndicates. De Lima has a duty to answer them. But, following the basic legal tenet that the burden of proof lies with the accuser, the government is duty-bound even more to present its case with compelling, inarguable evidence.
None of that was on display in the disgraceful House exercise, in which there was not even a cursory attempt to clarify the fundamental inconsistencies in Dayan’s testimony vis-à-vis those made previously, but zeroed in instead on the most intimate details of his affair with De Lima. An affair that both parties had admitted to, so “proving” it, establishing its veracity, was no longer a question.
How then to explain congressmen’s questions delving into the “intensity” and “climax” of the relationship, among other things, other than these so-called honorable lawmakers merrily indulging themselves? Getting off on such leering lewdness and titillation had no useful purpose, let alone a legislative one, except to further humiliate the woman in the administration’s crosshairs, and, along the way, perhaps divert the public’s gaze from the hollow nature of this taxpayer-funded exercise.
Coarsening the discourse in this way is not what these people’s representatives were elected for. To the highest degree: Shame.