AT my favorite watering hole in Daly City, California, the hottest topic has been the series of Senate and House committee hearings, particularly those on the extrajudicial killings under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte and the alleged involvement of Senator and former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima with drug lords, as well as with her driver.
“Can somebody please explain the objective of these congressional hearings?” asked Pete, to kick off the discussion.
“The hearings are in aid of legislation,” replied Johnny. “To help Congress come up with bills to fill possible gaps in the judicial system or to streamline the governmental processes.”
“Or to unearth anomalies in government or instances of graft and corruption,” added Harry, as he nurses his beer at a table.
“If the anomalies or the corrupt practices are dug up, what happens?” Pete asked. “Does the Senate or the House of Representatives have the authority to file charges or indict”
“No, no, that’s the job of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan,” Johnny knowingly explained. “The job of Congress is to legislate.”
“In that case,” asked Pete, “what kind of bill does the House of Representatives expect to file following its inquiry into De Lima’s amorous relationship with her driver?”
At this, Gerry chimed in from behind the bar. “Maybe they’ll file a bill making it illegal for public officials to have extra-marital affairs.”
“That would never pass either the Senate or the House,” said Johnny. “Too many guilty parties.”
“And Duterte would veto it,” added Harry. “Too many extramarital affairs.”
“Maybe the law should only apply to women public officials or lady senators,” continued Gerry, without losing a beat.
“Para kang si Chief Public Attorney Persida Acosta,” said Johnny. “She wants the law on adultery to be stricter on women.”
Gerry beamed: “And the law should be strictest of all on lady senators and their drivers. I even have a title for the bill. The Anti-Screw Driver Law.”
Pete realized that the discussion has become ridiculous. But he is dead serious and pursues the topic.
“Aside from providing sexual excitement for lecherous members of Congress, what’s the point in raking up De Lima’s extra-marital affair with her driver if no sensible bill can be filed?” Pete asked.
“To destroy her reputation,” said Johnny, an old hand in Philippine politics. “Whatever happens, wasak na ang reputasyon ni De Lima. Of course, in the Philippines, lumilipas din ang hiya. The shame will wear off.”
Harry picked it up: “Pero may basis daw naman ang investigation kay De Lima. I think it has to do with the driver’s role as go-between for De Lima and the drug lords, in exchange for protection,”
“Dayan denies it,” said Pete. “In fact, he denies knowing the drug lords in the New Bilibid Prison.”
“But the drug lords all pointed to Dayan as the bagman,” said Harry.
“Ang problema, their testimonies were not consistent,” said Pete. “Each one denied knowing the others and each one denied being the principal while pointing to the others. They only agreed on one thing – Dayan.”
“Maybe that’s all they remembered of the script,” quipped Gerry.
“What script?” asked Pete.
“Di ba obvious? Scripted ang mga testimony ng mga sinasabing drug lords,” explained Gerry. ”Ikaw naman ang pangakuan ng immunity. Of course, you will be happy to follow a script.”
“But the testimonies have not been consistent,” said Pete. “According to one congressman, everyone swears to be telling the truth while the others are lying…and that includes Dayan.”
“And a congresswoman also admitted that it is not up to the committee to determine who is telling the truth,” said Johnny. “Only a court of law can do that.”
“In that case, what kind of legislation can result from the investigation?” asked Pete.
Gerry had a suggestion: “They should file a bill requiring scripted testimonies to be rehearsed so that they do not contradict each other.”
“I think I like that,” said Harry with tongue-in-cheek. “Kasi, the hearings are televised, kaya dapat may rehearsals.”
“In fact, the bill should make it mandatory for the members of Congress to wear make-up before they go before the cameras, para photogenic” added Gerry. “They should also be required to fix their peluka.”
“Wait,” said Harry. “What about Kerwin Espinosa, the self-confessed drug dealer? He has admitted giving millions to De Lima through Dayan. He even has a picture with De Lima in Baguio.”
“Duterte also has a picture with alleged drug lord Peter Lim,” said Pete. “Does that make Duterte a drug coddler?”
“Espinosa says he contributed to De Lima’s senatorial campaign,” said Harry.
“Receiving political contributions from crime lords and bigtime scam artists isn’t new – ask the pork barrel queen, Janet Napoles. Every politician does that. But they all deny knowing that they’re dealing with crime lords,” said Pete.
“Besides, that’s difficult to prove in court. No receipts.”
“Ah, I know what bill should be filed,” Gerry cut in. “It should be made mandatory for crime lords to issue an official receipt for their contributions – or keep a ledger, just like Napoles.”
“You should have been a congressman, Gerry,” said Harry.
Gerry, who is the bartender, shot back: “Wellll…I’m a member of the bar.”
“What about the Senate hearings on extra-judicial killings?” Pete asked. “What legislation do they expect to file as a result of that?”
“Senator Dick Gordon has already concluded that part of the Senate hearing,” said Johnny. “According to his findings, there is no evidence of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration – at least, nothing that can be traced to Duterte.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Harry said with unveiled sarcasm. “After all, Duterte only promised to kill several thousand drug lords and pushers and offered a reward to the police for every killing.”
“Gordon’s committee reminds me of the three monkeys,” added Gerry. “Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil.”
“What about the killing of Mayor Espinosa inside the jail cell?” asked Pete.
“That was not extrajudicial,” says Gerry. “Espinosa was in police custody – therefore, it was judicial.”
“According to the police, they were serving a search warrant on Espinosa when he attempted to engage them in a gunfight,” said Johnny, brimming with sarcasm.
“Serving a warrant on someone already in custody – and at 4 o’clock in the morning???!!!” Pete asked incredulously.
“Senator Ping Lacson says it was premeditated murder. Salvaging,” said Johnny. “Lacson should know. He’s an expert in salvaging.”
“Whether or not it’s salvaging, the courts will have to decide that,” said Harry.
“Not the Senate committee?” Pete clarified. “So what bill will be filed as a result of the investigation – in aid of legislation?”
Once more, Gerry had a mischievous suggestion. “They should file a bill making it illegal to serve a search warrant at four o’clock in the morning.”
The conversation had already spun out of control and has become a joking session.
“Kung sabagay,” said Pete, resignedly. “I get the impression that the congressional hearings are all a big joke. A useless exercise.”
Harry agreed. “It’s been seven years since the Ampatuan massacre, three years since typhoon Yolanda and questions about missing calamity funds, almost two years since the Mamasapano slaughter of 44 Special Action Force troopers, and over two years since Senator Grace Poe led the inquiry into the MRT anomalies. Ano na ang nangyari?”
“They’re still asking about justice for the media people killed in that massacre and for the Fallen 44,” said Johnny. “The Yolanda funds are still unaccounted for. And we still have the traffic problem in Metro Manila. Pero lahat iyan nagkaroon ng congressional hearings.”
“In other words, the congressional hearings were a useless exercise,” said Pete.
“Not necessarily useless,” Johnny corrected Pete. “The media mileage that Senators and Congressmen are gaining from the investigation is worth millions. And they’re getting that for free.”
“But it’s at the expense of the Filipino people,” protested Pete.
“Not necessarily again,” Johnny continued. “The public is getting its money’s worth in entertainment, drama, romance, sex, suspense and comedy.”
“And you’re saying that the public should be satisfied with that?” asked Pete.
“Why not? Mababaw ang kaligayahan ng Pinoy,” was Johnny’s quick response.