THE swift, unforgiving “punishment” meted by the Senate majority against Sen. Leila de Lima should strike fear in the hearts of those still thinking of crossing President Rodrigo Duterte. They should expect an equally harsh treatment, whether they be from the House, Judiciary or even the media.
My memory may not be serving me right, but I can’t remember a single instance, either in the House or in the Senate, where the entire membership of a standing committee is declared vacant. For this singular act, boxer (!!!)-lawmaker (???) Manny Pacquiao will end in the record books of Philippines legislative history for making the motion seeking to declare the chairmanship and membership of the Senate Committee on Justice vacant.
Previously, committees are overhauled when there’s a change in leadership at the House or Senate. Indubitably, followers of the new Speaker or Senate President get plum posts. To the winners belong the spoils, remember? In between changes of leadership in a chamber, chairmen of standing committees remain secure in their posts. But not now, not in the Senate where “change” is promised.
Oh yes, there was a time when the chairman and all members of a committee were replaced. This happened to the House Committee on Agrarian Reform during the Eighth Congress. Unlike that in the Senate, however, there was no motion to declare the entire membership of the House committee vacant. The chairman, the late Rep. Bonifacio Gillego of Sorsogon, and all his members resigned after the plenary voted down many of the key provisions of the bill on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) that Gillego was sponsoring. With Gillego out of the way, the landlord-dominated House was able to insert into the CARP a provision that virtually exempted Hacienda Luisita from the law’s coverage.
Ah, but I digress. Going back to the case of Senator de Lima, her unseating from the Committee on Justice could have a chilling effect on critics of the administration, whether they be driven by politics or by moral beliefs. Her opponents are not through with her. There is a pending case against her before the Senate Committee on Ethics (Yes, Virginia, there’s such a committee in the legislature) for allegedly allowing convicted drug lords to ply their illegal trade inside the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa.
It’s doubtful if a senator could be held accountable for acts allegedly committed before his or her election, but the time of the commission may not matter much to the rabid followers of President Duterte who were offended by her dogged pursuance of extra judicial killings in the country. Just read the dirty words thrown at her in social media and you’ll feel the depth of hatred the President’s admirers have towards her.
I remember that before the convening of the current Congress, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano was already vocal against having De Lima as chairman of the justice committee. He reasoned out that this vital committee shouldn’t go to a political opponent of the President. His stand was ignored. In fact, it was one of the reasons why majority didn’t support his bid for the Senate presidency. Now, Cayetano got what he originally wanted on De Lima.
After this, what will happen to De Lima? I doubt if she’ll accept the chairmanship of another committee. Then, there’s the further tarring of her name by a House inquiry on her alleged links to drugs. Not the least of her worries is the protest against her election filed before the Senate Electoral Tribunal by former MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino who placed 13th in the elections last May.
Maybe, had she been less assiduous in pursuing the issue on extra judicial killings in the Senate committee that she used to head, she wouldn’t be in the mess that she’s in right now. She had all the time to pursue that when she was chairman of the Commission on Human Rights but she did not. Maybe, had she confined her inquiry to recent killings, she would still be holding the reins of the committee. The fact, however, is that even before she presented Edgar Matobato as witness, she was already under fire. It looked like her enemies were only looking for a noose with which to hang her.
My questions on her ouster as committee chairman notwithstanding, I must confess that I don’t sympathize with her complaint that the administration is throwing everything at her — not after she threw everything at former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the behest of then President BS Aquino.
Oh yes, I would also feel no sympathy for the former president should he be charged with a non-bailable offense. That would be the day!