The conduct of the legislators who spent considerable time and substantial government resources prying into the private relationships of Sen. Leila de Lima looks even worse when viewed from the prism of Bonifacio Day. Is this behavior—boorish, patronizing, profoundly upsetting—the kind of freedom Andres Bonifacio, his fellow Katipuneros and the revolutionaries who rose against Spain fought for?
The idea that the House of Representatives needed to spend several hours to determine the exact nature of De Lima’s relationship with Ronnie Dayan is an insult to common sense; the fact could have easily been determined by a competent investigator in a matter of minutes, following the usual protocols, away from the public eye.
But notoriety, of course, was the true objective of the hearing. All the talk about what the erstwhile couple called each other, or the level of intensity of their relationship, was meant to add to the Duterte administration’s orchestrated campaign to turn De Lima into a villain.
Even Dayan’s disclosure that De Lima had advised him to stay away from the congressional hearing was seized upon as proof incontrovertible that the former justice secretary had obstructed justice. Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto was quick to dismiss the idea, pointing out that the matter was subject to interpretation; De Lima herself has stood by her action, saying it was in fact mere “advice.”
Now the House has forced the issue—the majority leader, Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, and the chair of the justice committee, Rep. Reynaldo Umali, have served a show-cause order on De Lima. They have given her 72 hours to explain why she should not be cited by the House for contempt.
This act threatens to extend the hooting legislators’ coarsening of parliamentary culture to the Senate; it represents an unprecedented attempt to enforce one chamber’s priorities and political agenda on a member of the other chamber.
Last week, even before the show-cause order, three of De Lima’s colleagues in the Liberal Party called out the House of Representatives. “One House of Congress cannot proceed against a member of another house without violating the principles of co-equality and inter-chamber courtesy,” a statement released by Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, and Paolo Benigno Aquino said.
On Tuesday, on the same day the show-cause order was coursed through the office of the Senate secretary, Drilon aired his concerns. “I would want that the institution, the Senate President, and the institution should tackle it, should respond to it. This is not only the issue of Senator De Lima, this is an issue of the whole Senate as an institution,” he told reporters. “I would want it to be discussed either in a caucus or in the plenary in the Senate.”
The implications are as stark as they are clear. The Senate giving due course to the show-cause order means taking part in the undermining of the Senate as an institution—a worrying development, especially considering that the mode of changing the Constitution through the option known as the constituent assembly is now the preference of President Duterte and his allies in Congress. The main stumbling block is the question of separate or joint voting; if the Senate agrees to the convening of Congress as a constituent assembly and signs off on joint voting, it will have made itself irrelevant in the Charter change debates.
The President’s own allies in the Senate may be tempted to fudge the issue and give the show-cause order due course—but they would be dragging their own institution closer to the precipice of irrelevance.
In their zealousness to target De Lima, the President’s political allies have proven themselves ready to risk the integrity even of the legislative branch of government. Risk-takers, but no heroes.
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