We should remember the fifth hearing of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, held last Monday, not only for the ugly exchange of words and the politics of intimidation that marred its end, but also for the casually sexist manner in which the committee chair, Sen. Dick Gordon, sought to defend his indefensible position and confuse the issue. The outcome was pathetic in the extreme: An important if controversial Senate inquiry was stopped in its tracks because of the chair’s wounded pride.
We wish to be clear: Gordon is a formidable politician of substance, with an impressive record as city mayor of Olongapo and first chair of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority; as senator he has filed measures that became laws of real consequence; as the longtime head of the (nongovernment) Philippine Red Cross he has modernized and expanded the scope of the country’s leading service organization; as a charismatic leader, he has inspired many volunteers nationwide.
But this is also the same man who threw a tantrum in his first term as senator because he had come to a Senate session dressed as a commodore of the Philippine Coast Guard and his colleagues had teased him. This is the same man who has used the Senate’s power to hold witnesses and resource persons in contempt with unbecoming relish.
On Oct. 3, he indulged himself again by deliberately misreading Sen. Leila de Lima’s stance on a crucial point, that of the alleged “material concealment” of a serious kidnapping with ransom charge against self-described killer Edgar Matobato, and then, in the face of compelling evidence that he had been mistaken, refusing to gracefully accept his mistake and instead threatening to file an ethics case against De Lima and the lone minority member of the committee, Sen. Sonny Trillanes.
But it was the way that he tried to shame De Lima that angered many people watching the televised hearing. When an outraged De Lima protested his insinuation that she had deliberately tried to conceal the charge from the Senate, and raised her voice, Gordon tried to humiliate her with the standard alpha-male insult. He called attention to her emotional state, and told her not to “melt down.”
In his view, it was perfectly all right for him to perorate endlessly on his views on peace and order, and become emotional at the recollection of his father’s assassination, but it was unseemly of De Lima to express spluttering outrage at an unfair accusation. This is sexism, in all its rawness. He reacted to the rise in De Lima’s voice, perfectly oblivious of the times that, in the two hearings he has himself chaired, his own voice becomes shrill when he becomes impassioned. This is sexism, in all its unthinking male privilege.
The truth is, Gordon was not paying attention. Matobato himself raised the kidnapping charge he faced, in each of the two times he testified; that De Lima could not answer coherently, 12 hours or so in the hearing, whether this fact had been disclosed, was not sufficient reason for Gordon to allege concealment. He also explained that, it was at that moment, when he found out that Matobato had already left the Senate’s premises, that he suddenly thought there was a conspiracy to hide a material fact from him and the Senate.
But he was wrong—and the committee’s own transcripts prove it.
This is not to say that De Lima or Trillanes was blameless. She needs to get much better staff support. And Trillanes should have consulted Gordon before sending Matobato to a secure location.
In yet another interminable monologue explaining his position and defending himself, Gordon said, with some justification, that he did not side with anyone. True, up to a point. Unfortunately, he tends to side with himself. When his pride was wounded by De Lima’s demeanor, Matobato’s departure and Trillanes’ quoting from the transcripts, he began his own meltdown.
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