LP conducts probe; Tolentino could lose senatorial slot
“Women are not objects to be given away as gifts during celebrations.”
This was the stern statement of Malacañang on Friday on an incident involving video and pictures of an allegedly lewd performance and parlor games conducted by an all-female dance group during the birthday party on Thursday of a Laguna congressman belonging to the ruling Liberal Party (LP).
The video and pictures from the birthday celebration, which was held simultaneously with oath-taking of local members of the LP, went viral on social media.
In a text message to reporters, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said President Benigno Aquino 3rd himself was appalled by the incident, saying part of the program was uncalled for.
Valte was referring to the sexually provocative performance of the group Playgirls that drew flak from the public.
Witnesses claimed that the event’s master of ceremonies twice mentioned that the performers were a “gift” from Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino, who was reportedly also present.
Tolentino, who recently declared his intention to vie for a Senate seat in next year’s elections, is eyeing a slot in the LP ticket.
Tolentino has denied the claim.
Laguna Rep. Benjamin Agarao, who hosted the oath-taking that was held to coincide with his birthday party, has since been defending the incident.
He said the dance performance and the parlor games were done out of sheer fun, adding that he was not sure if indeed Tolentino brought the girls with him.
According to Valte, they see the incident as a form of “exploitation” that should not have been allowed.
“The President has always stood firm against the exploitation of women and will not condone such displays of disrespect,” she said.
LP standard-bearer Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd, who attended the oath-taking, reportedly left before the intermission number started.
He also condemned the incident.
“I remind those who stand with us, let’s do away with this kind of gimmickry especially if it demeans people and does not help improve the level of public discourse,” Roxas said in Filipino.
“I’m making this clear, I strongly prohibit any activity in our campaign that would degrade women,” he added.
Roxas said the administration-backed party has started investigating the incident, adding that the LP is sorry for what happened.
“There are groups that are trying to drag my name and link it to the dance performance even if I was in another part of the compound and not even part of the audience,” according to him.
“I did not see the performance,” Roxas said.
House Deputy Speaker Henedina Abad of Batanes, an LP member, told reporters the party will not sanction Tolentino until after findings from an internal investigation are presented.
“That’s prospective … but nothing has been proven yet. The sanctions will depend on what really happened,” she said in Filipino when asked if the incident could lead to Tolentino’s non-inclusion in the LP senatorial ticket.
“We believe in dignity and equality of men and women. The party does not tolerate the exploitation of women,” Abad added.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales 2nd of Mandaluyong City (Metro Manila) said the incident should serve as a lesson to all LP members.
“My advice is that LP members and candidates, despite their desire to woo the support of the people, should also be sensitive to women’s rights,” Gonzales pointed out.
He said the LP could only do so much even if the birthday celebration was not an party-sanctioned event in the first place.
“Let us not single out the LP. It was a birthday celebration. It was not a part of the affairs of the LP. We had a convention in Balay [in Quezon City]and nothing like that happened. That’s part of [Agarao’s] birthday party,” Gonzales added.
“Our bylaws does not say anything on how to conduct your birthday party, wedding party or anniversary,” he said.
Mamamayang Liberal, a sectoral group within the LP, said Tolentino should be axed from the Senate slate if proven that he had a hand in the incident.
|“We urge the LP leadership to take swift action should the claim that the women were hired by Chairman Tolentino be proven. If true, the Liberal Party must do nothing less than removing [him]from its Senate slate,” the group said in a statement signed by among others Dinagat Rep. Arlene Bag-ao and lawyer Herminio Bagro 3rd.
“There is no room for objectification of women in the Liberal Party, which has long fought for the freedom of women from patriarchy and successfully advocated the passage of the Reproductive Health Law in 2012. Women are not gifts to be given, but leaders of our nation and partners for social change. This has been proven by the sterling performance and track record of women in government and civil society,” it added.
The group also slammed Agarao’s apparent perverse reasoning that went: Depende ‘yan sa appreciation. Katulad ko, lalaking lalaki ako. Hindi ako masasagwaan. Diyan nga sa Maynila, mayroon pa ngang sumasayaw sa hawla. Sa probinsya, luluwa pa nga ang mata, walang malisya [It really depends on who is looking at it. Like me, I am alpha male. I don’t find it obscene. In Manila, there are even women who dance inside a cage. In the province, the eyes pop over them, no malice is involved].
“The performance squarely contradicts the idea of daang matuwid [straight path], which seeks to empower, not exploit,marginalized and oppressed sectors in our society such as women. Gimmicks like this, regularly incorporated in sorties of traditional politicians, are a perversion of our electoral process, which should be an opportunity to deepen our understanding of people’s issues and party platforms,” Mamamayang Liberal said.
“At the same time, however, we urge the LP leadership to discipline members who clearly tolerated and are tolerating the obscene exploitation of the women. These include Laguna Rep. Agarao. Such callous indifference serves nothing but to perpetuate patriarchy,” the group added.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmeranes said the incident in Laguna was a show that degraded and violated women.
“What the LP did in Laguna was discriminatory [against]women. It is a violation of Republic Act 9710 [Magna Carta for Women]. Someone has to be held to account for that,” Colmenares added.
“Secretary Mar Roxas is part of the government. So … he should find out who were behind this and have them punished. He could not just say ‘I didn’t know that.’ That’s a Liberal Party meeting,” he noted.
Buhay party-list Rep. Jose Lito Atienza, a former LP stalwart, said what happened is actually the face of the Liberal Party at present.
“That’s not normal. It’s a manifestation of a party that is now overburdened by everything, money, power, material, and they think they already had it. They will realize this when the elections come,” Atienza added.
Political analyst Bobby Tuazon of the Center for People Empowerment and Governance said he need not say anything more as the public’s negative reaction was very clear.
“I think definitely that this was a monumental political blunder. It will affect not only the candidacy of Francis Tolentino for the Senate but also on the [LP’s] presidential candidate, Mar Roxas,” he added.