Credit at least Sen. Leila de Lima for remembering Shakespeare in her current travails. Under questioning by Winnie Monsod on GMA-7, the senator raised the frailty defense of womanhood. Shakespeare wrote the classic line in Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 1): “ Frailty, thy name is woman.”
I have been in journalism for a long time, yet I have never heard a female public figure defend herself against public charges and criticism, by ascribing her transgressions to “the frailties of a woman.”
The women of this country, which has twice installed a woman in the presidency, will not be pleased. De Lima does not strengthen her case, but weakens it. This is why I say the senator is in meltdown.
Cambridge dictionary defines “meltdown,” as a “dangerous situation in a nuclear power station when the material used for power becomes very hot and is likely to explode. The term is also used informally in politics to denote “a sudden disastrous failure with potential for widespread harm.”
I apply the term advisedly to the embarrassing career of Senator de Lima, who has hurtled from the heights of political power to the depths of political scandal and possible disgrace, and could sink even lower to penal detention.
Spanning three administrations
De Lima, or D5 as she is called in journalese (the other personage accorded numerical distinction is DU30), commands public attention because her career now spans three administrations (those of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Benigno Aquino III, and Rodrigo Duterte). She has served in highly sensitive and powerful positions in government, and has figured prominently in major public controversies.
Under President Arroyo, she got her first big government assignment on being appointed chairman of the Philippine Commission on Human rights (PCHR).
President Aquino named her as his secretary of justice upon accession to office in 2010. He designated her as the enforcer of tuwid na daan (straight path), to stand atop the criminal justice system, preach rectitude and the rule of law, and file cases against political enemies, starting with her former boss, President Arroyo, and former chief justice Renato Corona and leaders of the opposition.
But now, it is turning out from the record that this hammer against wrongdoing in government permitted the corruption of the national penal system and the systematic administration of selective justice. And on the side, the lady carried on an affair with her married driver, a DOJ employee, who is suspected by justice prosecutors as being her bagman for payoffs from drug lords.
Bizarre and perplexing record
It is bizarre and perplexing that despite being ethically challenged, D5 was persistently identified with the affirmation and defense of rights and right conduct in government. And yet she seems almost certain now to be remembered for crossing the line between right and wrong.
As the hammer for the straight path, she will be remembered as being as crooked as the felons and grafters convicted of crime and corruption.
As the loudest critic of the drug war of President Duterte and extra-judicial killings (EJKs), many criticize her for exacerbating the problem by leading astray the Senate committee inquiry, and putting up dubious witnesses.
Playing the gender card
To fight off the charges against her, De Lima has assiduously styled herself as a female victim of a macho president. But oddly, women do not sympathize at all with her plight. They are more embarrassed by the expose of her adultery and sexual adventurism.
In choosing Winnie Monsod’s “bawal ang Pasaway” as her vehicle for public confession, she unwittingly painted herself as a pasaway, a transgressor. Perhaps even an outlaw?
The spectacle of people in power
Disconnecting principles from their sexual behavior is an old, old story in Philippine politics.
What D5 highights is the fact that women can do it, too. It is not a defense to say that “men do this all the time.” The public doesn’t buy this line at all. It is still shocked by the sight of a woman politician as transgressor.
Until her public admission, De Lima pointedly never denied that she had a relationship with Dayan.
In the Monsod interview, De Lima said Dayan getting drug money using her name without her permission is “within the realm of possibilities,” but the administration is not dealing only with possibilities. They are seriously building a case against her.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and president Duterte believe that De Lima’s adulterous affair and corruption are umbilically linked
The President has said that he is in possession of wiretaps and ATM records showing that the former driver-bodyguard of Sen. Leila de Lima transacted with drug syndicates at New Bilibid when she was Justice secretary. The driver-bodyguard collected money from drug traders for de Lima’s senatorial campaign, and could not have acted without her knowledge.
Talking like the prosecutor that he once was, Duterte says: “What is really crucial here is that because of her [romantic]relationship with her driver which I termed ‘immoral’ because the driver has a family and wife, that connection gave rise to the corruption of what was happening inside the national penitentiary. That is why the inmates had special privileges.”
Duterte has also disclosed that an unnamed foreign country provided the wiretaps. “Even the ATM (automated teller machine) and the calls emanating from Muntinlupa to her driver,” he said.
The President conceded that the recordings are inadmissible as evidence in court, but said he would confront De Lima with these if given the chance.
DU30 will tell D5: “De Lima, I was listening to you. If she will face me, just the two of us, I will tell her: ‘Explain to me your immorality and explain to me your connection to the drug deal.’ ”
De Lima, speak for yourself
In defense against the controversies swirling over her head, De Lima cites doggedly her alleged reputation and record as a public official.
She declares: “This is my answer: My record as a public official first as CHR chair and next as secretary of Justice, speaks for itself. My reputation has been untarnished until now when it’s being unfairly and unjustly besmirched by all of these fabricated lies about my alleged involvement in the drug trade.”
Oddly, she concedes that her reputation is tarnished now.
One woman reader and friend underscored for me the extent of De Lima’s predicament today. She says, “De lima, speak for yourself. Don’t drag all womanhood into your tale of shame.”
The women’s-rights party-list group Gabriela has also slammed De Lima. On its Facebook page, the organization said:
“So-called ‘frailties of women,’ [or]even [of]men or any gender for that matter, can never be cited as a defense for crimes, be it adultery, abuse of authority by a public official or drug trafficking. [They] should not be used, especially by one who holds a position of power like Senator Leila de Lima, as an excuse from criminal accountability or to paint herself as a victim.”
It seems D5 must fight her battles alone.