3 moments in the House
The inquiry of the House of Representatives into the illegal drugs trade at the New Bilibid Prison earlier this week was many things, most of them unbecoming of any Congress. It might be best to start any review of the first two hearings with one of the few grace notes: Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali was, by and large, a fair and objective chair of the most anticipated hearing in the House. That is, when he did not yield the floor to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre.
Perhaps three moments from the first two days of hearings will suffice to show that, despite some serious accusations raised, and in spite of the gravity of the situation, the House inquiry was an exercise in calculated intimidation and calibrated harassment.
Despite repeated assurances from officials of both the executive branch and Congress itself that there would be no attempt to single out any individual, the target of harassment and intimidation was clear: Sen. Leila de Lima.
President Duterte already set the tone during the election campaign, regularly directing his ire at De Lima in his campaign rallies. He raised the stakes when, after taking his oath of office as president, he suggested that De Lima was involved in the illegal drugs trade that supposedly flourished when she was justice secretary.
Taking their cue from the President, Aguirre and Solicitor General Jose Calida have publicly accused De Lima of just such a crime. In fact, even before the hearings started, Aguirre provided a preview of the testimonies that the witnesses he would present would give. The big picture, in sum, was that De Lima allegedly oversaw an illegal drugs empire inside the national penitentiary.
The first of the three moments was Aguirre virtually taking over the hearing, presenting the witnesses—including convicts serving their sentences in Bilibid—and himself asking the questions. While Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas was quick to explain that the rules allowed a resource person who is not a member of Congress to ask questions in place of the representatives, it was still an extraordinary spectacle: a justice secretary directing the line of questioning in an investigation in aid of legislation.
In those hours the House committee on justice yielded the floor to Aguirre, it struck many Filipinos watching the hearings that Congress had practically abdicated its responsibility; the Duterte administration, through the justice secretary, had taken over its role.
The second moment that serves to sum up the first two days of the House investigation was provided by the witness Rodolfo Magleo, who conducted himself bizarrely. He seemed overeager, and sometimes gave answers to questions he for some reason seemed to have anticipated. He gave the impression of an amateur actor too obviously following a script.
The third moment was an act of deliberate cruelty, performed on live television and with the ready help of some representatives in attendance. Aguirre managed during his presentation of witnesses to disclose the specific address of De Lima’s residence—and also her cell phone number. In fact, when the witness Herbert Colanggo, a convicted bank robber who claimed that he had donated money to De Lima, at first gave the wrong number, Aguirre corrected him. Cebu Rep. Gwen Garcia then offered confirmation that it was the same number she had in her phone book, under De Lima’s name.
It was completely unnecessary for De Lima’s number to be broadcast to the entire country. It only reinforced the perception of some observers that the object of the hearing was not so much to resolve the trade in illegal drugs as to harass and intimidate the clear target: De Lima.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.