Coming soon: Miriam vs Benhur
In a heritage survey tour of Batanes last year, the group paid a courtesy call to the House representative of the lone district of the province, Dina Abad. The name should instantly ring a bell. She is, of course, the better half of Budget Secretary Butch Abad, whom she has succeeded in the congressional merry-go-round that even the beautiful and pristine Batanes islands have succumbed to. Locals told us that no visit to Batanes should ever omit a courtesy call on Congresswoman Dina. That sounded more like a warning.
The next day took us to Sabtang Island where we were to see the old Ivatan stone houses in the tiny village of Chavayan. Before doing so, however, we were told that the congresswoman was on the island too. It was the campaign period to the May 2013 elections. The house where she was having breakfast was nearby, so we went to see her. We explained to her the purpose of the visit, which was to identify the heritage sites of the province. In the course of the conversation, Representative Abad said, “That is why we want to remain in power.”
The courtesy call over, we took to our vehicle to see the island. But the conversation all centered around the congresswoman’s slip: “That is why we want to remain in power.” So that was how she saw her role. Remain in power. How many Abads have governed Batanes? There perched on the family’s hilltop villa called Fundacion Pacita, named after the secretary’s late artist-sister, were cast in stone figures of the Abad parents, both government officials during their time.
Butch is now budget secretary. Dina is now congresswoman. A daughter was in Malacañang. A brother was running for local office. Next to the monument was the lovely villa that Butch and Dina have built for themselves, overlooking the confluence of two oceans. How much more power did they still want?
For the ordinary layperson, it is difficult to not think that the Abads have benefitted from the alleged Napoles scam. President Aquino will continue to defend Butch as enjoying his “trust and confidence,” as his alter ego. And no alter ego in the present Aquino administration can err.
But that is not what the public thinks. As things go in this country, wealth, political power and wrongdoing are perceived to go hand in hand. And although perceptions have no role to play in a court of law, public perception has arrived at a verdict in this “trial.” I do not say this is good, but that is the reality of the Filipino cultural praxis.
These perceptions will either make or destroy President Aquino’s political life, including those of his alter egos. Even undiscerning perceptions can influence the ballot. If, however, they succeed in stemming the growing tsunami of belief that even Aquino allies are thieves, that they can use to their advantage. We can be sure an Abad will still run in the 2016 elections.
The difficulty of defending the Aquino allies would lie very much in the fact that at no other time in Philippine history has public anger against thievery by public officials been as heated. Already as we write, petitions are being signed to prosecute those implicated in the lists bared by Janet Napoles and Benhur Luy. Early on, there were a few takers of the line that thievery was done only by the Pogi-Sexy-Tanda trio. But the scam was too systemic and too organized that the idea only these three were the thieves was simply unbelievable.
With the emergence of new lists, bolstered by the Inquirer’s exposé of the contents of Luy’s computer files, the suspicions only gained more credence. Expect another round of public speculations pregnant with more meanings.
Meanwhile, Miriam Defensor Santiago will be the spectacle in this game of perceptions. This may be the only time when her pronouncements will be for naught. One day she says Benhur’s list is more credible, only to say the next day it was not after her name appeared on the Inquirer list. The sudden change of thinking will only fuel more speculations. Now that she thinks Benhur is not credible, public pundits will be led to think that her vociferous attacks against Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, based on Luy’s testimony, were nothing but personal. Miriam may be an intellectual heavyweight, but this time she may fail the perception test. Try as she might to spew venom at Luy, the more she feeds the perception that her goods against Enrile were just all “personalan” (personal attacks). That will reinforce the perception that she too is hiding her own dark secrets. Like the Abads and their alleged “financial gain,” the time may come when Miriam will crumble under her own intellectual weight. Despite vote-buying and political patronage, perceptions are still a factor in the game. The bottom line of laypeople’s perception that no politician has clean hands will be a litmus test.
It will be interesting to see how lifestyle checks on these officials will tally with public perception. This is exactly where Erap Estrada failed his own perception test. It is possible that even Miriam, who reportedly could afford grandiose family celebrations in swank venues, will also fail such a test.
Perceptions also love spectacles. It has been said that the next spectacle to watch will be the hair-pulling match between Miriam and Luy, courtesy of a Senate that loves grandstanding on TV. Take note, that too is an indication of how low public regard of public officials has plunged. The description of a congressional session floor as an “august hall” has long lost its meaning. We may actually be watching the demise of our legislative bodies that have long been on the path of self-destruction, by their own choice. Once that happens, the public perception that politicians are cunning thieves will be the winner.
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