Respect, propriety, and role-modelling | Inquirer Opinion
EDITORIAL

Respect, propriety, and role-modelling

/ 05:15 AM March 01, 2024

In a classic case of adding fuel to the fire, Sen. Robinhood Padilla initially laughed off the public outcry over his wife Mariel’s beauty drip session inside his office at the Senate last week: “Nakakatawa naman po ang political issue na ’yan,” Padilla said in a text message, adding that there were more important things to talk about.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri was seen similarly shrugging off a reporter’s question on the now-deleted Instagram post showing actress Mariel Padilla hooked up to an intravenous (IV), and telling her 4 million followers that she never misses “a drip because it really helps in so many ways.”

After Senate ethics panel chair Sen. Nancy Binay expressed concern over what seems to be a glutathione drip, Padilla tried to pass it off as a Vitamin C drip and not the questionable skin whitening treatment that, last January, was in the news over the death of a 39-year-old female user.

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‘Disrespecting the Senate’

The Padilla couple acted as if those disgusted by the actress’ action were the ones to blame, and they only eventually apologized after they were slammed for “disrespecting the Senate.”

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So why the continuing fuss? Isn’t this just another case of newbie politician being clueless about Senate rules on ethics and decorum? It’s not the first time either for Padilla to flout such rules. Remember how he was caught combing his mustache during a Senate session last year, which he justified by saying there are no Senate rules disallowing it? What’s worse was being seen with a messed-up mustache, he added.

But why are we surprised? Other senators have done worse: Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and former senator Juan Ponce Enrile had been charged and spent time in jail for their involvement in the P10 billion pork barrel scam instigated by businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles.

Sense of decency

Which just goes to show that public office does not always confer a sense of decency and uncompromising morals on even high-ranking officials. Recall how plunder charges hounded former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, with the former being indicted of it? Meanwhile, former president Rodrigo Duterte is facing a probe for crimes against humanity from the International Criminal Court.

Admittedly powers corrupts, but should we just ignore such inevitability or are there bigger issues involved in what erring officials often describe as a momentary lapse in judgment?

In that IV drip incident, the disrespect for the Senate is clear. Such disrespect, done in the presence of the senator himself who was seen seated on his desk as his wife went about doing her “drip anywhere” act, could erode the public’s trust in this institution whose mandate includes addressing some of the most contentious issues of the day and enacting the very laws that people should follow.

Unauthorized use

Worse than the lack of discretion and sense of propriety in the IV drip incident is how the Padilla couple had trivialized the risks in the procedure as the Department of Health and several doctors pointed out. “My wife loves to promote good looks and good health,” Padilla had said, seemingly ignoring Binay’s concern about “issues of conduct, integrity, and reputation of the [Senate as an] institution, and matters that [involve] health and safety.” Indeed, medical professionals slammed the seeming endorsement of the IV drip and its unauthorized use and promotion.

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While Binay has accepted the Padillas’ public apology, reminding other officials to “remain above reproach as representatives and electors of the people,” Padilla’s words in a press conference in June last year dampen hopes that he’d do any better. Responding to that mustache-combing incident, he said: “Kapag binago ko ang sarili ko, aba’y baka malayo [ang tao] sa akin … Ako ay hinalal para malapit sa mga tao, hindi maging kagalang-galang,” he said. (If I change my ways, it could alienate people. They chose me to be closer to them, not to be respectable.)

Deeper voter education

If his words ring alarm bells, they should. Role-modelling easily comes to mind, especially in the case of Padilla whose sizeable fan base must have assumed that his tough-guy-with-a-golden-heart movie persona was true to life, and thus catapulted him to top slot in the 2022 senatorial race.

With the 2025 midterm elections looming, the incident should prompt the Commission on Elections and civil society organizations to engage in deeper voter education, one that would help voters scrutinize candidates beyond their screen roles and press releases and help them determine these candidates’ fitness for the offices they are aspiring or check their track records in public service.

In this instance, voters should take heed of Padilla’s Instagram post on May 12, 2022, which has been particularly prescient. The senator had posted a photo with a quote from political activist and writer Emma Goldman, “The most violent element in society is IGNORANCE,” it said.

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Words to the wise, and a quote Padilla seems to have proven right.

TAGS: Editorial, opinion

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