THE month of March this year did not seem like a celebration of the International Women’s Month in the Philippines.
Instead of getting accolades for the role they play in government, some prominent women leaders were not only vilified but also accused of criminal offenses.
Senator Leila de Lima, whose private life has become a public pastime, was arrested and detained on March 8, marked as International Women’s Day. De Lima is facing non-bailable offenses for her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) while she was justice secretary.
An impeachment complaint was filed against Vice President Leni Robredo, also this month, over her criticism of the government’s war on drugs that has become too bloody with more than 7,000 deaths in the first eight months of the Duterte presidency.
Just a few days ago, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, too, was taken to task for having cleared former President Benigno Aquino III of criminal liability in a pork barrel scam case. A former Manila city councilor wanted her disbarred.
To many of us, De Lima, Robredo, and Morales are women of substance. They are not easily cowed and co-opted. They are not afraid to say what they believe in, even if it is against a President. They are women of principles. They are empowered women.
Sadly, the opposite of those descriptions, maybe worse, fit their accusers. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre presented high-profile convicts to pin down De Lima; perennial election losers Oliver Lozano and Melchor Chavez have accused Robredo of being a “termite of the (Duterte) government.” Defeated senatorial bet Butch Belgica wanted the revocation of Morales’ license to practice law, and consequently be removed as chief graft-buster.
I couldn’t say if Robredo, Morales, and De Lima are squeaky clean; I don’t know them that well. But in their many years of service in government, they have managed to maintain good reputations, unlike their accusers who have not earned the trust of voters to elect them to positions of power.
In their letter dated March 20, addressed to House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Lozano and Chavez accused Robredo of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution for her “unfaithfulness.”
Lozano probably holds the record of being the fastest filer of impeachment complaints against Presidents in the past. This time, he trained his guns on the Vice President soon after Alvarez publicly verbalized his plan to have Robredo impeached over her video message sent to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs criticizing the Duterte administration’s anti-drug war.
Alvarez said Robredo’s open criticism of the government’s war on drugs before an international audience constitutes betrayal of public trust, an impeachable offense.
“Sa buong buhay ko, ngayon lang ako nakakita ng isang mataas na opisyal ng gobyerno na walang pakundangan siraan ang ating bansa sa international community…Ano ang magiging epekto noon economically?” Alvarez was quoted as saying in news reports.
(In my entire life, this was the first time I have seen a top government official smear the country’s reputation before an international community. What would be its effect, economically?)
But while Alvarez was quick to impute bad faith in Robredo’s video message (which the Department of Foreign Affairs said was not played at the UN), the summary execution of suspected drug dependents in the administration’s war on drugs seemed all right with him.
Duterte is also facing impeachment over his alleged hand in extra-judicial killings and corruption as well as his foreign policy pronouncements, being subservient to China in the face of its massive intrusions into disputed territories that have been established and recognized internationally to be well within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
Alvarez warned Representative Gary Alejano of the Magdalo party list that his impeachment complaint against Duterte should have “strong enough substance” for it to stand a chance on trial.
However, with a “supermajority” of congressmen backing Duterte, Alejano’s complaint does not appear to stand a fair chance.
As we have seen in previous cases, impeachment is clearly a numbers game.
With a small minority, it is not far-fetched that the impeachment case against Robredo, regardless of its strengths and weaknesses, would most likely move faster than more important bills pending at the House, while the complaint against Duterte would end up in the trash bin, no matter how thick or thin the pieces of evidence would be.
The case against Morales is misplaced. Belgica should have explored first the impeachment route before pursuing her disbarment.
All these accusations and cases against Robredo, Morales, and De Lima that were raised and filed by men lacking in credibility and good reputation are clearly attempts to harass, silence, and weaken these strong women leaders.
Unfortunately, these men flexed their muscles against women at a time when women empowerment is highlighted in observance of the International Women’s Day.
Times have changed, indeed!