A mockery and an insult
Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. took to the Senate floor on Monday to deliver what had been billed as his second privilege speech since he was implicated in the billion-peso pork barrel scam. By the time he sat down, a damaged Senate had become even more diminished: He had transformed it, in the space of a few minutes, into a videoke bar, the type frequented by seedy, swaggering politicians.
Even if we were all to grant Revilla every benefit of the doubt, to argue that a popular politician indicted for plunder should be allowed a very public farewell because that makes him less likely to resist arrest, or to simply assert that a privilege speech can also be used to express gratitude, we can all agree that there are limits. And singing on the floor of the Senate, to accompany a video album of self-serving images, breached those limits.
Let us call Revilla’s performance for what it is, then: a mockery and an insult. A mockery of the privilege speech as a tradition and the Senate as an institution; an insult to the voter and citizen.
It was not just the (tacky) musical number at the end that offended many; it was Revilla’s misuse of the privilege throughout.
Instead of clarifying the issues at stake, now that he together with Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jose “Jinggoy” Ejercito Estrada are facing plunder and graft charges, he offered a simplistic and indeed ridiculous analysis. President Aquino, he said, was governing out of “hatred,” rather than out of “love.”
Instead of rebutting the charges against him, point by well-supported point, he made a show of pretending he had his own list of politicians and personalities implicated in the pork barrel scam, too (he was referencing the various lists supposedly emanating from alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles). “Mr. President, before I end, I also have a list. Mas matindi ito sa lahat nang iba pang listahan. Para sa ikabubuti ng bansa, hayaan niyong ibahagi ko ito sa inyo. Wala akong itatago. (This is more intense than all other lists. For the good of the country, allow me to share it with you. I will not hide anything.)” And then the big, embarrassing reveal: It was a list of people he wanted to thank. “First on my list, is God.”
Instead of expressing regret that he had brought dishonor to the chambers of Congress, he exhorted his fellow lawmakers, without a trace of irony or self-consciousness, to help the legislature recover from the pork barrel scandal. “To Congress, ibangon natin ang nayurakan na institusyon (let us revive the ruined institution).”
But it was the song at the end which did the most damage.
To be sure, the privilege speech has a checkered history, but it is a tradition worth preserving because it can be used to change the country’s destiny or shape its future. Sen. Ninoy Aquino’s “Jabidah massacre” speech roused a sleeping people; Sen. Teofisto Guingona Jr.’s “I accuse” speech was the beginning of the end of the Estrada administration. It is this tradition that Revilla mocked, with his attempt to substitute entertainment for evidence.
But the most important issues of the day are meant to be debated in the halls of the Senate, too. Surely, there are few issues more serious, or more important, than the pork barrel scam. The very culture of political patronage is on trial—and all Revilla can do is make jokes about “intense” lists? His privilege speech mocks the very institution he was meant to serve.
Could it be that he was, in fact, addressing a different audience, not the middle class but the masa?
This notion was already widely shared even while he was still in the middle of his performance; social media was abuzz with the possibility. But let’s examine the idea closely.
Revilla presented a simplistic argument that did not respond to the very specific charges filed against him. He showed an amateurish (indeed, shoddy) video album of flattering but irrelevant images. He sang a tribute to friendship that he said he wrote himself. These are the arguments he thinks the masa will accept, and judge him innocent? We did not realize, until now, that his opinion of the millions of people who voted him into office was that low.
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