Sweat the small stuff seems to be the mantra of certain senators in the wake of the prime-time spitting match between their colleagues Juan Ponce Enrile and Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Short of burying their heads in the sand, these senators could only purse their lips primly and appear unperturbed for the cameras as the two threw parliamentary behavior out the window and engaged each other in language that would make even the proverbial sailor blush.
What was it the two let slip in their respective privilege speeches? From Enrile came stuff like “deranged,” “cuckoo,” “obsessive hater,” “inane,” and “walang asim.” Santiago, who built her name partly on her facility for colorful patois, descended to the same gutter with words like “sick,” “assh-le,” “a cowering mouse,” “incorrigible liar and criminal,” and “psychopathic hypersexualized serial womanizer.”
Many consider this brawl an absolute waste of time and of taxpayer money. Perhaps it is—but only if the rest of the senators see it as no more than an entertaining sideshow, and would rather give their two colleagues wide berth to continue flinging mud at each other. That’s what some of them are now doing, reduced to bleating about the need to expunge “unparliamentary language” from the Senate records, purportedly to preserve a “dignified” chamber, one with “a good reputation.” But what that will amount to is a simple whitewash of the ugly proceedings; the deeper, more urgent, issues dredged up by the Enrile-Santiago word war will remain unremarked on.
Santiago launched the more disagreeable fusillade by dragging Enrile’s personal life and private affairs into the fray. But she also laid out some very serious charges against the former Senate president. The latter can smirk, perhaps even preen, at being called a womanizer, but the accusations of plunder, human rights violations, tax evasion, smuggling, et al. deserve more than a shrug from him—and his colleagues. In other countries, these are charges that would merit the highest levels of scrutiny by the public, and actual investigation by law-enforcement authorities. Should these be ignored and brushed aside by playing a computer game, and on office hours at that (an act, incidentally, for which some lowly government workers were recently sanctioned)?
But then Enrile has managed to walk away largely unscathed from some of the biggest political pickles in Philippine history—from his “ambush” on the eve of martial law to the dawn of “dagdag-bawas” in the post-Edsa polls. He is now accused of involvement in the plunder of billions of pork-barrel funds—which he has consistently denied, yet Santiago has gone so far as to say he masterminded it.
Would his colleagues even think of subjecting Enrile to an investigation, or at least an ethics inquiry, given the gravity of the charges against him? But that would seem like putting too much faith in the other senators whose collective response to the explosive accusations lobbed by Santiago has been to lament that “unparliamentary behavior” is painting the Senate in an unflattering light.
For example, Sen. Tito Sotto said, sotto voce, that he would move to have the most extreme of Santiago and Enrile’s words struck off the records because these are ruining the chamber’s image: “Parang nakakasira na sa image ng Senado ang unparliamentary language.” That’s coming from the same legislator who made the Senate a laughingstock by not only plagiarizing parts of his speech against the reproductive health bill and, worse, going on the counterattack when found out, and even enlisting the help of his colleagues—Enrile foremost among them—to defend his low behavior.
Perhaps there is one thing the senators can do to redeem the image of the upper chamber: to quit belaboring the insubstantial, such as the effect of their two colleagues’ inelegant behavior on their collective delicate sensibilities, and begin looking instead at the substance of the charges laid out on the Senate floor. Never mind womanizer. But is it true, as Santiago says, that they have in their midst a smuggler, plunderer, tax evader and human rights violator?
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