It was a black September day in 2016. That was the day when senators killed the rule of law in the chamber that they fondly call august (August: respected, illustrious, prestigious; words that no longer apply by any means, even faintly, to our present Senate).
That was the day when 16 senators voted to oust Leila de Lima from the chairmanship of the Senate justice and human rights committee. There was no tinge of dishonor even if they made themselves known they were part of the Duterte infrastructure of venom and vendetta.
Unlike the 16, De Lima had the indomitable bravado to fight the windmills of impunity. Thousands lie buried in mass graves in three killing fields in Davao city. They were killed and buried secretly by men sworn to uphold the constitution and protect ordinary citizenry. Only Leila had the bloodhound’s instinct where the graves lie. She had the evidence – thousands of bones and the testimonies of killers who had turned against Rodrigo Duterte’s Death Squad.
But the 16 chose to cheer for De Lima’s public execution. We knew of course where the cue was coming from. We understood of course how much pieces of silver they were afraid to lose as sitting senators. We recognized of course why the sixteen were suddenly afraid of their own shadows. But none of these were decorum expected of senators elected from a national constituency and sworn to uphold the law.
Almost seven years later and Leila’s freedom now reverberating across the world in gleeful celebration, we remember the infamy of the sixteen senators who placed the nail on the coffin of integrity. It becomes a comic exercise to look back at how the sixteen justified their votes with either lie or fantasy. They were like jumping aimlessly from trampolines to make the most absurd mental calisthenics.
“Unfortunately, under the leadership of Senator De Lima, the committee on justice had become a hollow vehicle for the fulfillment of personal political vendettas,” explained Sherwin Gatchalian of his vote. Yet the biggest irony of the day was her ouster being sweetest to the ears of a vengeful Duterte. It was Duterte who had the benefits to hurl vendetta, not Leila.
Grace Poe, the most benign of all senators who remained mostly deaf and mute in all the six years of Duterte’s extrajudicial killings, mumbled “grandstanding and polar bickering” as the reasons for her vote. Of course the polarity was due to the majority’s loss of check and balance as all legislatures are expected to do, as Poe was expected to do.
Today Poe sings a different tune. “Seven years of incarceration is long and arduous. Rich or poor, it is unfair to stay in jail for a long time because of the slow legal process.” Yet she was instrumental in the vilification of De Lima through her cowardly vote. Tahimik noon, Trapoe ngayon, so essentialized netizens in heaping flak on Poe.
Joel Villanueva gaslighted. De Lima had her “rookie mistakes,” he said. Villanueva has never been known to be a crusader. He aligns with the sitting president’s supermajority, whoever he or she may be, whatever the vile controversies hounding the sitting president.
The shallowest explanation came from JV Ejercito. De Lima was “dragging the whole country down as evidenced by the international media’s portrayal of the Philippines at present, destroying President Duterte.” It was Duterte who was self-destructing. The Philippines had become the pariah of the world because of him, to refresh Ejercito’s memory.
The senate majority leader at that time, Tito Sotto, lapdogged as usual. “I urge my fellow senators not to use their committees as a venue to besmirch anyone, to remain impartial and do not allow anyone to use our chamber for grandstanding and mudslinging.” This was a senate investigation with credible witnesses coming forward even at the cost of their lives. Instead, the senate chose to self-besmirch when it defended Duterte. Sotto, however, is not the stuff to tell that kind of truth.
Our last laugh must go to Nancy Binay. “My condition was if Alan Peter Cayetano would replace De Lima, then I would not vote in favor of her ouster.” She was self-protective. Cayetano had actively steered the investigations under the previous senate on the alleged corruption of her father Jejomar Binay, then the vice president.
“If only we had more allies then like what President Duterte is enjoying now, we probably would not have had to endure what we endured then, ”Binay said.
It is no longer unusual for senators to sell their souls. We remember today the folly of the sixteen who killed the integrity of the Senate by choosing to slay the rule of law. Leila de Lima deserves her freedom because her way to prison was paved with the spinelessness of sixteen senators who do not deserve the Filipino people.
The traitors to the rule of law and democracy were Aquilino Pimentel III, Tito Sotto, Alan Peter Cayetano, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Panfilo Lacson, Cynthia Villar, Sherwin Gatchalian, Gregorio Honasan, Juan Edgardo Angara, Joel Villanueva, Richard Gordon, Nancy Binay, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Manny Pacquiao, Loren Legarda, and Grace Poe. The pages of history have ample space to remember them by.
The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.