I WOULD be bold to say this. Ordinary people do not mind much the extra-marital affairs of their leaders, as long as the public officials perform well in their official duties and functions. The only time they would be bothered by the private sins of public officials is when these get in the way of the performance of their duties.
Thus, I would argue that the moral condemnation of extra-marital affairs inhabit the mindsets mostly of the elite moralists, whom I call the “neo-Victorians.” Under the present political set-up, this has become so politicized by partisanship that it is now a breeding ground for misogyny and selective moralizing.
Critics of Leila de Lima condemn her for having an affair with her married driver, even as they dismiss Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s affair. The President himself lent his supportive voice to the normalization of Alvarez’s affair when he dismissed it as a non-issue.
On the other side of the political war are the Leila de Lima defenders who pounce on the President and the Speaker, yet were silent on de Lima’s frailties. They painted Leila as a victim of misogyny, even as Ronnie Dayan is in the same situation as Alvarez.
Defenders of Alvarez argue that de Lima is being held up for public scrutiny not for the affair with Dayan, but for her use of her relationship with him in connection with her involvement in the drug operations inside the national penitentiary, as alleged in the cases for which she is now detained.
But Alvarez is also being accused of allegedly committing acts anent to his role as a public official triggered, if not influenced, by his affair, although he is denying this. This allegedly included not only his filing of a case against Congressman Antonio Floirendo Jr., but also his order for the Congressional Spouses Foundation to vacate their office at the Batasan Complex.
Lest it be misunderstood, adultery and concubinage are both punishable offenses under our Revised Penal Code. Adultery attaches to a married woman who engages in sexual intercourse with a man who is not her husband, and in full knowledge that she is married at the time that the act occurred, even if the marriage is subsequently declared void. Concubinage, on the other hand, is committed by a married man who keeps a mistress in a conjugal dwelling, or has intercourse under scandalous circumstances with a woman who is not his wife, or cohabits with her in any other place.
However, while these are considered as crimes, only the offended spouse can file a complaint against both the spouse and the paramour. A criminal proceeding is in fact terminated when the offended spouse consents to the offense, or withdraws and pardons the offenders.
It is in this regard that these crimes become problematic, in the sense that while they are considered to be acts against the people of the Philippines, in the final analysis it remains a private matter between the offending party and his or her spouse.
It is about time that we take a serious re-evaluation of these crimes.
For one, there is indeed a misogynistic element present, particularly in the penalties. The penalty for a married woman found guilty of adultery is higher than the penalty for a married man convicted of concubinage.
Furthermore, there could even be an issue of violating the equal protection clause, considering that Muslim men can have more than one wife, thereby institutionalizing concubinage in the context of marriage solemnized under Shariah law. This has led to many married men converting to Islam just to escape the legal penalties for keeping a girlfriend, and for which they are now even allowed to marry them.
There are also legal loopholes. Sexual intercourse appears to be a necessary requirement for the crimes to attach, and cannot simply be assumed, except in concubinage when the man already cohabits with his paramour.
If there is no cohabitation, then the law stipulates that mere existence of sexual intercourse is not even sufficient to convict. In order for concubinage to attach to the act, it should be proven that sexual intercourse happened under scandalous circumstances, whatever this means.
It is evident that cultural constructs and personal relationships have greatly shifted through the years, and that the institution of marriage itself has experienced shifts not only in meaning but also in how it is practiced.
Adultery and concubinage rest on the assumption that sex occurs outside the bounds of marriage. It is worrisome that the elitist moralizing by “neo-Victorians” may not end here, but may even extend into other forms of sexual relationship outside marriage, such as pre-marital sex, or gay sex, of two consenting and unmarried adults.
To use affairs outside marriage as a metric in judging the public conduct of officials must be re-examined in the light of changing times.
In the end, we should realize that there are instances when private affairs of public officials are none of our business when they do not infringe on the affairs of the state, and do not undermine the public good.