Sex and the Senate
Or: when the circus came to town. All that was missing was the dancing seals, the jugglers, and the trapeze flyers, and they could start selling peanuts.
Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmena, Manuel Roxas, Claro M. Recto, Eulogio Rodriguez, Lorenzo Tanada, Jose W. Diokno, Jovito Salonga, Benigno Aquino Jr. Throughout history the Philippine Senate has been the incandescent cradle of statesmen of towering intellects and oratorical intensity. Teofisto Guingona’s breathlessly elegant denunciation of Erap, "I Accuse," was haunted by the spirit of Emile Zola. Decades earlier, Jose P. Laurel declared, "If I had to choose between my love of country and the church, my love of country comes first."
On May 28, 2009, it’s just... "I even shouted ’sizzling hot!’"
The Rizal Bill of 1956 drew great debates between intellectual heavyweights like Claro M. Recto and Francisco Rodrigo-both men of letters, in what was controversially viewed as conflict between the Catholic Church and the emerging nationalism. Ninoy Aquino exposed the 1968 Jabida Massacre, where the AFP exterminated at least 28 Moro recruits trained for covert military operations in Sabah.
In May 2009, Bong Revilla has the Hayden Kho-Katrina Halili sex video.
I also doubt "Ano’ng software ang ginamit mo?" would resound as one of Philippine history’s greatest speeches.
But since the Erap impeachment trial (some say as early as the 10th Congress), the Senate has stopped becoming the shining beacon of political nobility. Not since its members are voted into office not for their knowledge and virtue but through stupid jingles and celebrity endorsements. Once it was a fount of wisdom and patriotism. Now they’re just like those squirming little things you find under dead tree trunks after the rain.
This is not the first time the Senate has taken on a highly lurid controversy of absolutely zero political consequence. Remember the Brunei Beauties controversy back in the ’90s where Ruffa Gutierrez et al were summoned to an investigation? "In aid of the legislation" has become the most abused and misused phrase in modern Philippine politics. "Ano’ng software ang ginamit mo?" and "Saan mo nilagay ’yung camera?"are not examples of questions with legislative intent either. What’s next, a bill proposing the ban of USB cables?
The 14th Congress of the Philippines has debased itself when it became the theater of a salaciously cheap psycho-sexual drama on May 28, 2009. It is bad enough that the past high-profile hearings simply went pfft. Citing the hitherto unresolved examples of ZTE, the Euro Generals, Jocjoc Bolante, the Legacy Group, by now we should have reached the conclusion that the Senate hall in the GSIS Building can serve the people better by being converted into a bowling alley.
Heading the investigation were three senators, two of whom are not known for their tact, two of whom are movie actors (one of them also not known for being a serial monogamist).
Towards Kho, Revilla was abrasive and judgmental, his thick eyebrows raised to intimidating angles. Jinggoy Estrada bullied Kho’s lawyer, Lorna Kapunan who was requesting that the hearing be made private. (In contrast, by characteristically keeping his mouth shut, Lito Lapid was a portrait of grace. But Lapid was not required in the panel. He is, after all, the so-called chairman of the Senate committee on silence.)
That the packed gallery-made up mostly of Senate employees-burst into applause when Estrada snarled "I demand the presence of Kho in this hearing!" ought to have been a clue already. All that was missing was the dancing seals, the jugglers, and the trapeze flyers, and they could start selling peanuts.
You can accuse it of anything but you can’t accuse it of not being gripping entertainment.
It has elements not even Robbie Tan and Mauro Gia Samonte would have imagined. Sex, drugs, illicit romance involving eye-pleasing celebrities, dirty accusations hurled, haughty interrogators squeezing their teary-eyed subjects for details, each one juicier than the next.
And each has no place for what is supposed to be an august body. That afternoon of May 28, 2009, Madrigal, Revilla, and Estrada-especially Estrada, for demanding a public inquiry-ceased to become honorable lawmakers. Instead they sank to the level of showbiz tabloid interviewers who merely stoked the flames of prurient interest. Where it used to be an intellectual battleground for issues that change the nation’s destiny, now it’s just a cesspool of gossip and smut. In the ’80s, Abner Afuang achieved a certain mythical status by going against a corrupt police department a la Serpico. He should not have simply poured water on Hayden’s head; he would’ve done the country a big favor by pouring gasoline and setting fire to the GSIS Building.
The bottom line is that the whole thing was an exercise in poor judgment and a total lack of propriety. In a sense, by rabidly denouncing the video in a privilege speech-Bong Revilla may have inadvertently sparked a bigger bushfire of interest in the videos, with no small help, of course, from a hyperventilating mass media. Our children’s morals and sense of values are in danger? Thanks to Revilla, your 5-year-old daughter now knows the meaning of the words "sex video" and "Ecstasy." But that’s not before she asks you first over the breakfast table while you read the Inquirer’s front page. She is now aware that Ecstasy makes you do stupid things, like wear a bandanna and perform macho-dancer moves and mess up the lyrics to a Wham! classic.
But still, we can learn several important lessons from this whole sordid imbroglio:
âÂ€¢ That one does not need video software to make films. Just a camera and a USB cable.
âÂ€¢ That in a public discussion involving the subject of illicit sex, the phrase "hard drive" should be used with prudence. Lots of it. Especially by the perpetrator.
âÂ€¢ Between an act of high-profile infidelity and a scandal video, people will forget that you’re a treacherous kabetching.
âÂ€¢ That your humiliation simply does not end with the entire archipelago witnessing your coital habits. One day an ex-cop-turned-mayor-turned-tabloid columnist named Abner Afuang (portrated by Philip Salvador in an ’80s biopic) will walk up to your side and douse you with water. Although not quite Cherie Gil. More like those subliminally homoerotic Gatorade commercials. But a skeptical Bong Revilla will think the whole thing is scripted.
âÂ€¢ Thirty tablets of Valium might not kill you. Unless you’re bullshitting us.
âÂ€¢ That when the whole world seems to conspire against you, only Mother will rush to your rescue. But she will blame Lolit Solis first. And that Mother can be inexplicably creepy on national television.
âÂ€¢ That sex video scandals have the power to thankfully eclipse news items like Dona Dionisia Pacquiao’s ballroom-dancing debut.
âÂ€¢ If you screw up big time, blame it on drugs. If you can’t blame drugs, blame it on your bad childhood. If you can’t blame your bad childhood, well...there’s always Mom.
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Artwork by Warren Espejo.