The second hearing on the P3.5-billion Dengvaxia vaccine controversy, a joint undertaking of the Senate blue ribbon and health committees, will be remembered for two things: a rare appearance by a former president of the Philippines as a resource person, and the unfortunately familiar sight of an imperious senator monopolizing both the time and the narrative as chair.
Make that cochair, because while Sen. Dick Gordon heads the committee on public accountability, Sen. JV Ejercito is chair of the committee on health.
But anyone watching the joint inquiry, either in person or outside the Senate, would be forgiven for thinking that Ejercito did not have a role to play at all.
Indeed, Gordon acted as though, if not for that pesky rule about a required number of members to constitute a quorum, he would have been happy to conduct the investigation, or “gather all the evidence,” all by himself.
Indeed, in an attempt two days after the hearing to justify his actions, he almost said as much:
“The trouble with the blue ribbon investigation is the blue ribbon committee, the staff, my staff, they have to gather all the evidence, otherwise there will be no evidence gathered. All the senators are talking about taxes, they’re dealing with other problems ….”
This is an insult, not only to the intelligence of Gordon’s fellow senators, but to the Senate as an institution. Because in his view the other senators were “dealing with other problems,” he felt they were distracting him from his purpose of gathering “all the evidence.”
But who is to say that in those infrequent times he allowed other senators to ask questions, their questions did not lead to a greater understanding of the controversy?
Gordon is not the impartial investigator here; as he told reporters even before the hearing where former president Benigno Aquino III appeared, he believed there were “very, very strong signs of conspiracy” behind the Dengvaxia scandal.
Nothing wrong with entering an investigation in aid of legislation with a preconceived hypothesis, rather than an open mind. But it takes an enormous amount of hubris to think that only one person is doing the work assigned to two committees.
As for his hypothesis, he was manifestly partial to nonmembers who confirmed his bias. He allowed someone who was not even a resource person to read a statement full of accusations but empty of evidence, and — infamous stickler for the rules that he says he is — he created an environment where resource persons thought they could ask questions of other resource persons.
His exchange with Sen. Franklin Drilon will be remembered, for reasons deeply unflattering to him: After a resource person asked a direct question of another resource person, Drilon (the Senate minority leader, no less) inquired whether he could ask questions now.
Gordon said he could ask his questions anytime. But the first resource person asked a direct question again, and this time Drilon called the man out. Gordon responded: “I’m the chair right now.”
Even those who must have been raring to see Gordon grill Aquino must have been greatly disappointed. The former president’s nondramatic, strictly professional approach to the inquiry played a large part in what even Aquino’s critics would concede was a successful appearance at the Senate.
But without realizing it, Gordon played the foil; he created the contrast — arrogant, bombastic, cocksure, dismissive of other views — that allowed Aquino’s simple, clear answers to shine.
He had made the mistake of suggesting that the controversy was a character issue; unfortunately for him, Aquino accepted the challenge.
If only Gordon were as gung-ho about ferreting out the truth behind the P6.4-billion “shabu” (crystal meth) smuggling case, which implicates President Duterte’s own son.
If only he were as committed to gathering all the evidence on extrajudicial killings, wherever it may lead.
If only he were as passionate about resolving the Dengvaxia issue, rather than simply assigning the blame for it.
As things stand, Gordon’s tenure as blue ribbon committee chair is reflecting badly on the Senate and on the Duterte administration with which he is allied.
He has proven to be a partisan investigator driven by hubris and scornful of his colleagues, whose entirely avoidable mistakes become the administration’s too. The majority should consider replacing him.
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