The word to describe what the House of Representatives did last week in its inquiry into the alleged drug dealings of Sen. Leila De Lima is “prurient.”
Officialdom and the media groped for a week for a word or words to describe what had transpired. Vice-president Leni Robredo, who was unusually active and interested in what happened, offered two words, “harassment” and “slut-shaming.” Her objective was to defend a member of her sex from abuses, but her word choice unfortunately had the effect of labeling de Lima a slut. Others more bluntly said the probe was lascivious.
A wit here at the Times has suggested that we should apply to the House proceedings the word “kahindik-hindik,” which an over-zealous former chair of the Commission on Audit used to describe the alleged pork-barrel corruption uncovered by a Senate inquiry some years back. But after a word search, we could not find the word in any known Filipino dictionary. We will ask if the word is part of the lexicon of the audit commission.
We think “prurient” is the word that can bring things back to normal, good sense back into the public conversation.
Oxford dictionary defines “prurent,” an adjective, as “having or encouraging an excessive interest in sexual matters, especially the sexual activity of others.” Prurience is the noun form of the word.
(Oxford dates the word’s origin to the late 16th century and says it is derived from the Latin adjective prurient—itching, longing and “being wanton” and the verb prurire.)
What must be said of our House legislators at the inquiry is that they exhibited a prurient curiousity about Senator De Lima’s extra-marital affair with her driver-bodyguard, Ronnie Dayan. They were not content to take the liaison as fact, they wanted the witness to provide details – the more salacious, the better.
The questioning went berserk, when one congressman asked Dayan to describe the intensity level of ther love affair, comparing it to the intensity level of an earthquake or the signal rating of a typhoon.
When the inquiry delved into Dayan’s jealousy over the senator’s affair with two other lover-bodyguards, the House was aghast at its own discovery.
It finally started to dawn on some legislators that they had strayed way past the whole point of the inquiry, which was to probe for facts about the senator’s alleged dealings with and acceptance of payoffs from drug lords incarcerated at the new Bilibid penitentiary.
There is no defense for the entire line of questioning adopted by the presumably honorable members of the House. In acting thus, they damaged not just themselves in front of a live national TV audience; they inflicted damage on the prestige and honor of the House.
In our view, what happened at the House probe was an instructive lesson on how a congressional inquiry can get out of control because of the failure of the committee chairman to exercise good judgment and responsibility in steering the inquiry. He permitted it to become an “anything-goes” inquisition.
What is the cure for prurience?
We recall to the House and the public the cautionary saying, “curiosity killed the cat.”
Prurient curiosity in the House probe of de Lima may have damaged the chamber far more than the most guilty legislators realize. The stain smirched every House member. Let no one be in doubt about that.