LOST all of Tuesday this week to the Senate.
The day started with news of Senate Resolution 388 affirming and supporting martial law as declared in all of Mindanao by President Duterte. What we knew was that 15 senators were signing the resolution, excluding the Senate minority of five people—Bam Aquino, Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, Kiko Pangilinan and Antonio Trillanes—and Grace Poe and Chiz Escudero whose names weren’t on the released copy of the resolution.
A questionable report
Resolution 388 cites some parts of the President’s report on the martial law declaration, talking about “violent acts” committed by the Maute terrorist group, and the takeover of a hospital in Marawi.
But at this point, major parts of the President’s narrative about why martial law was needed at all, had already been discredited. Among others: no, the chief of police of Malabang town is alive and had not at all been beheaded (SunStar CDO, May 26); no, the Amai Pakpak Medical Center had not been taken over by Maute (Inquirer.net, May 28).
A fact-check by journalist Janvic Mateo, who is on the ground, is more damning. Only one of the three schools listed in the report had in fact been burned down as of May 24; no faculty members of Dansalan College were killed, and no civilian casualties declared as of May 25 – the day the report was submitted; the Land Bank of the Philippines branch had not been ransacked.
Here were 15 senators affirming the declaration of martial law over all of Mindanao, even as the basis for its declaration in Marawi alone has been put into question.
But it seems our senators weren’t asking questions. Resolution 388 would pass in the Senate with the support of 17 senators.
The Senate minority
In the early afternoon of Tuesday, as expected of the well-oiled machine that is the Liberal Party, the Senate minority held a press conference, which was covered live only by CNN Philippines – which also needed to cut it short to go back to regular programming. It was still better than ANC and DZMM Teleradyo which did not break programming at all; it was at this press conference that one learned of what went on during the session between the Senate and the members of the AFP.
According to the presscon’s official transcript on the Senate website, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, when asked if the military could contain Maute without martial law, had replied in the affirmative: the military could deal with Maute without martial law being declared.
But the next thing they knew the President had already declared martial law, and they were required to implement it.
Asked if any of the security officials facing the Senate in the briefing had recommended the declaration of martial law, none of them responded in the affirmative.
After declaring their utmost support for the military fighting this war against terror, the Senate minority clarified that this was not about questioning whether or not martial law needed to be declared, but mainly about the insistence on convening Congress in a joint session, as required by the Constitution, so that these questions might be discussed.
This was of course going to be a losing battle. I did not vote for any of the five senators in the minority. On Tuesday, I was thanking the heavens they were there.
Eyes on the Senate
Watching our senators in plenary discussing the martial law declaration is probably the single most infuriating thing I will watch all week.
Because there is nothing like seeing Miguel Zubiri and Richard Gordon, on performance level for nationwide television, spewing platitudes and motherhood statements about nation, about supporting the President, supporting our troops! asking why we must waste our time on having a joint session when there are more important things to do!
Gordon we expect to be all rhetoric, no substance – he does that well. Zubiri though seemed almost crazed, even saying absurd things like: Labanan ito sa social media! and I’m talking to the trolls! like he actually knows who those trolls are, and like it is “social media” that is at all affected by the declaration of martial law and the bombing of cities.
When your senators are so affected by what is said by the minority on social media, where people can be paid to say things, and trends and likes and shares can be a matter of how much money you spend on boosting and advertising, then we know there’s something wrong. Evidence A: Zubiri.
The opposite of that is the senator who just doesn’t give a flying f**k about what’s going on, who cannot even keep up with what’s happening in front of him, much less what’s happening outside the Senate hall. It is he who thinks that having already spent four hours listening to the AFP briefing on martial law, that it was already enough time wasted on this issue.
“No need to convene pa. For what? For media coverage? Mileage? Hindi na kailangan. Marami pa tayong gagawin.”
Exhibit B: Manny Pacquiao. Who is so busy training for a boxing match, and who will not be able to defend any of the things he stands for to save his life.
The real independents
What gave me hope though, and probably the bigger surprise, was this: while the majority vote was clear to affirm martial law and pass Resolution 388, the vote for Resolution 390 was different.
Those who voted to convene the joint session was not limited to the minority of five, but also included four other senators: Escudero, Win Gatchalian, Poe and Ralph Recto. Joel Villanueva was not present for the vote, but sent word he would’ve voted “yes” to the joint session as well.
These five to me are probably the most interesting of the senators at this point, voting beyond party loyalties and outside of the majority rule, and forcing upon us a more complex discussion of martial law in the process (read the transcripts of their explanations for their votes). These are the ones we should be watching, because they might be all that we have given a Senate that is devoid of any critical, independent stance from party politics and loyalty – the Liberal Party minority included.
On week 2 of martial law in Mindanao, I will depend on these senators for some sense of control, and sanity.