Monday, October 22, 2018
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Looking Back

Syphilis and sex videos

Sex videos were “thrown in” in an attempt to block the confirmation of Leila de Lima’s appointment as justice secretary. Bypassed by the Commission on Appointments for four years, she nevertheless continued to serve as justice secretary in an acting capacity after being reappointed by President Aquino when Congress was in recess. So, would it really have mattered if she were bypassed for another two years? But she finally got her confirmation last June 11. But then even if the videos were true, what did they have to do with her job as justice secretary?

While we understand the need for checks and balances in government, there are times when the Commission on Appointments, supposedly a checks-and-balances tool, becomes a venue to settle old scores for slights real or imagined.


De Lima is not alone in her experience with the commission. Many before her have gone through it, going all the way back to Malolos and the birth of the Filipino nation.

Disliked by Congress, Apolinario Mabini’s appointment as chief justice by Emilio Aguinaldo was questioned. During the time Mabini had the full confidence of President Aguinaldo, his detractors could not find any hint of corruption or dishonesty on him, so they concocted the rumor that he lost the use of his legs because of syphilis.


In youth we were cautioned against catching syphilis from those we would describe as “service providers” today. I don’t know why we were not instructed on the proper use of condoms but told instead to abstain, pray and take cold showers. To drive the fear of venereal disease on us, we were shown photographs of diseased genitalia and warned that syphilis could lead to blindness and insanity. So when I first heard about Mabini having syphilis I asked why wasn’t he blind or insane? I also wondered how syphilis led to his paralysis. Known to us as the “Sublime Paralytic,” I once overheard a senior member of the National Historical Institute intone as he pointed to the statue of Mabini outside the National Library, “Oh, from the sublime to the syphilytic.”

An autopsy of Mabini’s remains in the 1980s revealed that polio was the cause of his paralysis. So, where did the syphilis rumor come from? My guess is, from the Malolos Congress, where men with interests vested in themselves rather than in the country wanted Mabini away from the president’s ear. Mabini actually lived in the president’s house; no written communications went to the president except through Mabini, so he had to be neutralized.

Contrary to popular belief, Mabini opposed the Malolos Constitution because it curtailed the powers of the president during a critical period. Mabini believed that all three powers—executive, legislative, and judicial—should be in one hand in those times to steer the ship of state to safe harbor. One of the items in the Constitution Mabini opposed was the establishment of a Commission on Appointments as we have it today.

On Jan. 4, 1899, Mabini advised Aguinaldo thus: “Should the Constitution be approved without the amendments, no one could be appointed a Department Secretary without the approval of Congress. In my case, for example, because Congress doesn’t like me, I will be censured for anything I do until I will be forced to resign and, if I do not resign, the members will say that I am a despicable weakling who can swallow all insults. In short, no one can stay in the Department except the one who knows how to regale the Representatives, do what they want, and be in cahoots with them, even to do such that will be against the interests of the country and justice. Such

Department Secretaries, even if they should do badly, would be in the good graces of Congress, while the good ones would not be.

“What will you do if the Secretaries you appoint are not acceptable to Congress? You will have to change them. And should the new ones be neither acceptable, change them again, of course. When this happens no right-thinking person will accept the position except the one who has an understanding with the Representatives. For this reason, you will find yourself forced to choose their men, whether you like them or not; and since you cannot govern without a Council of Government, you will have no other way except to please the Representatives.

“You cannot dissolve Congress because, in accordance with the Constitution, this cannot be done without the former’s consent. You will have to follow whatever they want because you do not have the veto power. Neither can you indict any Representative, because to do so you will need the permission of Congress. And, should you do it by force, the Representatives will say that you are violating the law, they are finding so many faults with you, what will they not do when you will be out of it?


“…Please do not believe in the promises of the Representatives to the effect that when the Constitution should be in force, you can do whatever you want, because what will happen will be the opposite—you shall have to do what they want. If now that we have yet no Constitution they are already pushing you down, what will they not do when you are tied to them?”

Mabini’s words, read in the context of the confirmation of President Aquino’s long bypassed Cabinet secretaries, sound prophetic indeed. But then comes the sad realization that for Mabini to be relevant in our times means we have not progressed very much since the nation was born.

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TAGS: “Sublime Paralytic”, Apolinario Mabini, Benigno Aquino III, commission on appointments, congress, Council of Government, Emilio Aguinaldo, Leila de Lima, Malolos, Malolos Constitution, National Historical Institute, National Library, Philippine history, Philippine Revolution, President Aquino, Sex videos
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