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Commentary

More scandalous than a sex video

/ 12:10 AM December 06, 2016

Few expect Congress to live up to the “honorable” title that its members affix to their names, but the lower chamber reached a new low in its voyeuristic probe of Sen. Leila de Lima. Despite the senator’s previous admission of an affair with her former driver-aide Ronnie Dayan, the House of Representatives seemingly wanted to extract every bit of salaciousness about her “love life.”

Some may gleefully welcome the revelations as proof of De Lima’s unfitness for office, but they are a big disappointment to a Filipino public that wants to get to the bottom of the trade in illegal drugs and establish, once and for all, whether the senator is truly involved.

But it is not the first time that the Philippines has been gripped by a sex scandal. And it is not only today’s congressmen who have used their political opponents’ sex lives against them.

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On Nov. 11, 1970, Dovie Beams, Ferdinand Marcos’ alleged mistress, held a press conference where she played an audiotape of one of her alleged sexual encounters with the then president. The audiotape, which had Marcos singing the Ilocano folk song “Pamulinawen” in between the sounds of lovemaking, proved politically explosive. The opposition jumped at the scandal, with dzUP even airing the audiotape to the fury of Imelda Marcos.

Then as now, the sex lives of politicians can be used against them, and in a country where “sex sells,” they are a potent weapon. For all her feistiness, the “slut-shaming” of De Lima, initiated by President Duterte himself (“She was not only screwing the driver but the nation”) has had an apparent efficacy in rattling her.

The politicization of sex, however, is detrimental not just to the people involved but actually to the whole nation. Firstly and most obviously, it distracts the public from the real issues at hand. Secondly, it subjects the nation to a sleaziness that is unbecoming of our political discourse, not to mention unfit for a general audience that includes young people.

Thirdly, instead of enforcing moral standards, it actually displays—and reinforces—a sexual double standard. When Mr. Duterte assailed De Lima for her supposed immorality, many were quick to point out his hypocrisy, as someone who had boasted of having “two wives and two girlfriends.” This does not mean that men are immune to similar attacks (the late Miriam Santiago once called her colleague, Johnny Enrile, a “sex addict”), only that women are more vulnerable than men.

But even as we cry misogyny and sexism, we must recognize that many women are themselves complicit in the perpetuation of this double standard. Recently, Chief Public Attorney and Supreme Court hopeful Persida Acosta opined that women should be subject to stricter adultery laws.

Some people have tried to turn this double standard on its head by saying that men like Sandro Marcos and Basté Duterte are themselves subjected to sexual objectification: During the run-up to the May elections, some social media users openly expressed their desire to have sex with these scions. But in a society where male hypersexuality is nothing to be ashamed of, this adulation, while likewise reprehensible, does not diminish their social worth.

Moving forward, we have to make sure that our plea for a higher level of political discourse is itself not politically tilted: As far as slut-shaming is concerned, Mocha Uson must be as vigorously defended as Leila de Lima. And we must make clear that calling out our lawmakers for being bastos does not necessarily equate to calling their political leanings into question.

And our civil and spiritual leaders are more than welcome to preach about the importance of morality and integrity among our leaders—women and men alike. But while I, too, wish for a leader who is as morally as he or she is politically beyond reproach, I also look forward to the day when our people will see the corruption, ineptitude, and undignified behavior of our government officials as more scandalous (as far as the country is concerned) than any sex video, and more of a public concern than their sexual lives.

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Gideon Lasco (www.gideonlasco.com) is a medical doctor and anthropologist.

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TAGS: Commentary, House of Representatives, Leila de Lima, opinion, Ronnie Dayan, sex video
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