Robinhood’s temper tantrums

The senator who has played the role of a gangster in several movies demanded respect from an undersecretary of foreign affairs whom he described as a “barumbado” during a budget hearing at the Senate on Friday.

It takes one to know one, some would say. But watching a recording of the hearing on YouTube, it was Sen. Robinhood Padilla who was rude to Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo Jose De Vega, not the other way around.

De Vega, a lawyer and longtime diplomat, was smiling when he answered Padilla’s question about the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States.

This happened when the Senate subcommittee on finance was hearing the proposed budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs for 2023. Padilla joined the hearing via Zoom while DFA officials, including De Vega, were at the Senate in Pasay City.

Those attending the hearing at the Senate were in formal attire while Padilla was wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

At one point, Padilla lectured DFA officials that they should inform the public about the MDT and the VFA, as well as the 2016 arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea.

The senator lamented that the US did not provide adequate support to the Philippines during the siege of Marawi City in 2017 despite the military agreements.

Initially, it was Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo who replied to Padilla’s concerns. He said the U.S. is committed to defend the Philippines, as provided for under the MDT, adding that “clarificatory talks” have been going on about the MDT implementation, particularly as to how the U.S. would come to the defense of the Philippines.

De Vega then butted in, saying: “Don’t be worried, Sen. Robin Padilla. ‘Yung DFA at saka ‘yung gobyerno handang ipagtanggol ang bansa kung sino man ang lulusob sa atin, maging sino man sila (The DFA and the government is ready to defend the country against whoever will invade us, whoever they are).”

Manalo and De Vega were speaking in mixed English and Filipino. The undersecretary was smiling as he was responding to Padilla. “The DFA will always fight diplomatically. We will always use diplomatic means to defend our country,” he assured.

Padilla appeared to have been pissed off by de Vega’s reference to one of his popular movies, “Maging Sino Ka Man,” in which he shared top billing with megastar Sharon Cuneta.

De Vega did not sound provocative, nor was he disrespectful. Padilla probably thought the undersecretary was trying to make light of the situation while he was speaking about serious matters such as the MDT, the VFA and the 2016 arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea.

Padilla wants to be taken seriously. Well, he got the highest number of votes, 27 million votes, or 48.18% of the votes cast, in the May elections. But is that enough for him to be respected?

Because he topped the Senate election, he demanded that he be given the chairmanship of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes. And he got it. He became the first non-lawyer and neophyte senator to head the panel since it was created in 1987.

As an actor, Padilla was known as the “bad boy” of Philippine cinema. He portrayed the roles of a hoodlum, or anti-hero gangster. In fact, he had movies titled “Bad Boy “and “Barumbado.”

Days after assuming office in July, Padilla sent a letter to Senate Secretary Myra Villarica, saying that he preferred to be “addressed as Robinhood C. Padilla for all Senate communications and correspondence.”

Padilla may be going through a serious identity crisis, from being known as the Philippine cinema’s bad boy to being the country’s No. 1 senator. That’s probably why he lost his temper when the undersecretary made a subtle reference to one of his movies in response to his concerns.

It sends a message that Robinhood Padilla, the senator, wants to be different from Robin Padilla, the actor. As the country’s top senator, he wants to earn the “honorable” title.

Mr. senator, respect is earned. Honorable men do not demand respect.  They act respectable. Always remember the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated yourself.


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.