SEN. Vicente Sotto 3rd has paid a high price for his tasteless gaffe about Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo being a single parent during the last confirmation hearings of the Commission on Appointments. He was completely out of bounds, and the public outrage is copiously reflected in the social media, where he has been spat upon and called names. But we may not have heard the last of it. It appears that even Sotto’s Senate colleagues are out to exact their own pound of flesh too.
Until the intense public reaction went viral, Sotto was being rumored as a possible replacement for Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, who is said to be on the way out. This rumor appears to have quickly evaporated. According to our best sources, Senators Panfilo “Ping” Lacson and Benigno “Bam” Aquino 4thmet with Pimentel in Tokyo recently, and the latter reportedly agreed to deliver the Senate presidency to Lacson. I have not heard whether Sotto’s position as Senate majority leader is also now endangered.
I tried to check this out with Pimentel, but have had no luck. The last time I saw him was at the launch and commissioning of the Philippine Red Cross’ rescue ship, “Amazing Grace,” at the Philippine Navy headquarters last Tuesday, where he introduced President Rodrigo Duterte as guest speaker. There was a crowd between us, and I lost him after DU30’s speech, where the President entertained the audience by referring to the PRC chairman and senator as “President Richard Gordon.”
Sotto’s loss, Lacson’s gain
If Lacson takes over the Senate presidency, it could mean a decisive change in the Senate leadership. Compared to Pimentel’s laid-back style, Lacson is clearly assertive. He is known, among other things, for not having taken part in the lawmakers’ pork barrel scam, neither before it was outlawed by the Supreme Court, nor after it was deceptively reinstated by Congress without any compunction. In the Senate impeachment trial of the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona, Lacson was one of four senator-judges who refused the P50 million or more bribe offered by then President B. S. Aquino 3rd to convict and remove the respondent.
Lacson voted to convict, but rejected the bribe. The three other senator-judges who rejected the bribe and voted to acquit Corona were former Sen. Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr., who is contesting Leni Robredo’s vice presidency before the Presidental Electoral Tribunal (the Supreme Court en banc); the late former Sen. Joker Arroyo and the late Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago. Nineteen senators, many of them still sitting in the Senate and facing no charges, had accepted the bribe.
The good news…
Perhaps Lacson could share with his Senate colleagues his “secret” of never having to dip his fingers into the public till without remaining or appearing penurious. In fact, in all his elections he appeared to have more resources than many known beneficiaries of “pork.” Another thing he could probably share with his colleagues is how to maintain an appearance of political independence without being hostile to the President. While supporting President Rodrigo Duterte, Lacson has managed to keep himself at arm’s length.
He does not hesitate to disagree with the President whenever he believes the latter is wrong, but he does not embarrass him or inflict any unnecessary injuries. For instance, after the Commission on Appointments rejected the nomination of Regina Lopez as environment secretary, and PDU30 blamed the alleged big “lobby money” for her fate, Lacson quickly rejoined, saying the remark was uncalled for and without any basis.
…and the bad news
But Lacson, who supports the death penalty, could be bad news for those who oppose it. The drug killings, which led Mindanao lawyer Jude Josue Sabio to file a “communication” against DU30 before the International Criminal Court at The Hague, have exacerbated the death penalty debate. The government expects the legalization of the death penalty to soften public condemnation of the drug killings. This makes Lacson a vital ally to the President.
A former police officer, Lacson clearly believes in an eye for an eye—lextalionis. He may not be easy to convince that the rule of law and the criminal justice system in the country have failed, and that under a death penalty regime the summary drug killings by the police and the “vigilantes” would simply multiply and the poor and the innocent would have no chance at all in the courts. If Lacson is elevated to the highest Senate post, one can only hope that there would be a qualitative adjustment in his appreciation of the rule of law and the administration of justice.
Preparing for impeachment
As Senate President, Lacson would be presiding over the impeachment trial of any of those being lined up for impeachment. Magdalo’s impeachment complaint against the President is not likely to prosper and will be thrown out of the House without any debate. But there is a noisy threat to impeach Vice President Leni Robredo, whose election is under protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, and an even noisier threat to impeach Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.
Lacson is not a lawyer like former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who presided over the Corona impeachment trial in 2011-2012. But as a seasoned police investigator, he need not get lost inside the legal thicket. If any party attempts to suborn the senator-judges during the impeachment trial of any respondent, as happened during the Corona trial, Lacson, given his experience, should be the first one to oppose and expose it. This cannot be an empty hope.
Back to Taguiwalo
The Sotto-Taguiwalo episode has produced two unseemly results.
One is that many who have spoken in Taguiwalo’s defense now tend to proclaim single parenthood as an ideal parenting status. That is quite a stretch. While Taguiwalo and many others are to be commended and admired for the heroic way in which they have raised their children without a husband’s help, it is not correct to proclaim single parenthood as an ideal. Every child is still entitled to be cared for by a mother and a father, and the family, which is the foundation of the nation according to the Constitution, should be founded on the exclusive marriage of one man and one woman for life.
Those who fall out of this norm do not deserve society’s condemnation or censure but rather its compassion and support. As Pope Francis famously asked, “Who am I—who are we—to judge?” The absence of a father in so many homes is a big part of the world’s family crisis. In the United States, David Blankenhorn’s “Fatherless America,” a bestseller, describes this crisis. So many others have written on the same subject. It is one of the constant concerns addressed in international family conferences; I am sure it will come up again at the 11th World Family Congress and Family Summit in Budapest, which I will be addressing this month.
It is not too late for Sotto to recognize his mistake and make amends.
Armed struggle still on
The second unseemly result, which former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales and others lament, is that as a result of the fevered reaction to Sotto’s attack on Taguiwalo’s character, the media totally swept under the rug the most important part of Taguiwalo’s response to questions from the members of the Commission on Appointments. This, according to Gonzales, who apparently listened to the entire proceedings, (which I did not), was her response, or lack of response, to Lacson’s question as to whether or not she had renounced the communist armed struggle when she agreed to join the Cabinet.
Gonzales noted that she gave a lengthy, roundabout answer, but at the end of it, Lacson had to remind her that all he wanted to hear was whether or not she had already renounced “armed struggle” as a means of winning political power to take over government. She failed to say she had. Which raises a very serious question about her moral and political fitness to sit in the Cabinet. If armed struggle remains her preferred mode of taking political power, how can she or the appointing power justify her presence in DU30’s Cabinet?
The same question applies to Cabinet Secretary cum National Democratic Front vice chairman Leoncio Evasco Jr., whom many regard as the “de facto President;” to Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, who appears to have created the current unrest in the agrarian labor front; and to all the other CPP/NPA/NDF members in government. They have not disowned nor even tried to conceal their plan to fast -track a communist-oriented “revolutionary government.”
Their pursuit of this plan is single-minded and unswerving, fueled by the growing rivalries, antagonisms and divisions among various interest groups within DU30’s inner circle, and by the climate of violence and anarchy spawned by the rush of incidents in Quiapo, Bohol, Davao, and other parts of Mindanao. This is certainly creating serious concerns within the military, the Church, the bureaucracy and the citizenry. But none of these concerns are being addressed by government.
Can DU30 disarm the bomb?
Are we sitting on a bomb ready to explode? Can DU30 still disarm it, or have his communist allies made sure he no longer can? Can the military intervene on their own, or in collaboration with militant democratic forces, and set up what the National Transformation Council originally called an interim therapeutic transitory government?
These are the truly serious questions before us, but the only thing that seems to occupy the government is its drug war and how to deny the facts and discredit those who denounce the killings. The first of these is the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard whose presence in the country the government has been trying to blow out of all proportion into a mega event, and against whom our Permanent Representative to the United Nations has issued a worthless “tweet” which he seemed to believe carried the weight of an official document. Instead of heckling Callamard in a tweet, which had absolutely no value, Ambassador Teddyboy Locsin could have provided DU30 with some serious and authoritative studies on the ICC.
It should have given DU30 some relief to find out if the court could exercise jurisdiction over “crimes” allegedly committed by him when he was still mayor from 1988 onwards—23 years before the Philippines became an ICC member in 2011. Some international legal authority should be able to tell him this.
At the same time, it has become quite clear that Malacañang committed a grave error when it sent Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano to “defend” DU30’s human rights record at the UN 27th Session of Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. Whether or not DU30’s record is worth defending, he deserves a competent defense. But Cayetano was certainly not the fellow to do it. He was way out of his depth, and he talked to the 47-nation human rights council like it was a local assembly in Taguig. He tried to completely “vaporize” the dark side of the government’s human rights record, as though it did not exist and never existed before. The last time one read anything like it was in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. For getting the council members to gang up on DU30, Cayetano got the foreign secretaryship. Wow.
Correction: A factual error occurred in my Wednesday column (A Good Shepherd passes). As reader Pepe Balderama points out, Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, successor to Saint Josemaria and first prelate of Opus Dei, was beatified in Madrid on September 27, 2014, not on October 12, 2014. Sincerest apologies.