The ‘Bato’ in the Senate is not hard as rock

The reaction of Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa to moves in the Senate and the House of Representatives urging the government to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in its investigation into the drug-related killings during the Duterte administration is nothing but self-serving.

It’s reminiscent of an incident in December 2016 when the then chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) was seen on video with his men scrambling for safety when an oversized triangular firecracker labeled “Goodbye De Lima” that he was holding emitted gray particles initially mistaken for smoke.

Instead of throwing the firecracker into an open space where no one would get hurt when it exploded, the PNP chief passed it on to another police officer beside him and quickly turned and scampered away. The police officer then threw the firecracker, but it was too close to a car parked on the roadside, and another person doused it with water.

That incident happened before New Year’s Eve in Bocaue, Bulacan, when PNP officers inspected the town known as the country’s “fireworks capital” for its fireworks and pyrotechnics production.

This time, Dela Rosa appears to be in a panic over the explosive issue involving the thousands of killings of suspected drug personalities during his watch under the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros and congressmen from the administration coalition and the opposition have filed resolutions in the Senate and the House of Representatives seeking public accountability for the killing of thousands of suspected drug personalities by cooperating with the ICC in its investigation of the extrajudicial killings related to Duterte’s bloody drug war.

Dela Rosa’s reaction was instinctive for self-preservation. Well, he has reason to be defensive. As the then-PNP director general, he was the chief implementer of the controversial anti-drug campaign. He justified the killings with the “nanlaban” tale, meaning the drug suspects killed had resisted arrest during police operations.

Dela Rosa said he was “hurt” that a colleague whom he considered a “close” friend filed the resolution. Dela Rosa said he and Hontiveros’ late husband, Francisco Baraquel Jr., were batch mates (mistahs) at the Philippine Military Academy. He said Hontiveros’ resolution was “very personal” to him because he is one of the subjects of the ICC investigation, and that the lady senator could not simply say it’s part of her job as a legislator.

Hontiveros responded to Dela Rosa that her resolution is not about any senator but about the many victims of Duterte’s controversial campaign against illegal drugs. “This is really bigger than anyone of us in the Senate. … More than anything, this is really about the thousands of widows and orphans of the extrajudicial killings during the war on drugs,” she said.

Dela Rosa’s reaction to the resolutions filed earlier in the House was more violent. He said he would use “all [his] parliamentary powers” to pin down Kabataan party-list Rep. Raoul Manuel for his alleged involvement in the Communist Party of the Philippines–New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). Manuel was one of the authors of the resolution.

Isn’t that abusing his position and power and misusing taxpayers’ money to get back at his perceived critics?

Dela Rosa chairs the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs. In a public hearing two weeks ago, former rebels Arian Jane Ramos and Kate Raca testified that Manuel was, indeed, a member of the CPP, recruiting students to be a part of the NPA.

Manuel belongs to a minority group in the House known as the Makabayan bloc, whose members are consistently pushing for the ICC probe of the drug-related killings.

Addressing Manuel, Dela Rosa said: “That’s why this person was so happy when they were made to believe that the ICC would be allowed to enter the Philippines. He was really happy that the ICC would investigate me. Let’s see now, I will investigate you. I will do all my parliamentary powers to pin you down. You are actually a member of the CPP, which is the party of the NPA that is trying to destroy this government.”

Dela Rosa has been echoing Duterte’s harsh words against the progressive party-list lawmakers, who have been quite vocal in their criticism of the drug war and other policies of the previous Duterte administration.

If Dela Rosa indeed believes that he committed no wrong in implementing the bloody drug war policy and that the country’s judicial system is well functioning to fairly handle the cases, then why is he now panicking at the thought that the ICC would soon be allowed to come in and conduct its probe?

He tends to show that he is not as hard as a rock in his convictions but he easily gets hurt and takes things personally, even when an apparent attack is not directly about him. Sign of guilt?

What the drug war showed was his “pusong bato” against persons merely suspected of involvement in illegal drugs but were summarily killed without any semblance of due process. Weren’t some of those killed even victims of mistaken identity?


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.