FOR a while there, the opposition must have convinced itself that it had the upper hand in its never-ending campaign to get rid of President Rodrigo Duterte, with the help this time of the International Criminal Court. Then its leaders, lulled perhaps into a false sense of impending victory, decided to press their advantage – and lost whatever headway they had made in a series of self-inflicted injuries.
It started when Vice President Leonor Robredo went on one of those rare, unsupervised forays into media early this week. Robredo, who really shouldn’t open her mouth unless she’s going to read something her spokesmen wrote, appeared “live” at television host Daniel Razon’s show.
Big mistake. In what became the most meme-friendly social media quote of the week, Robredo described her critics as part of a “well-oiled infrastructure” that was engaged in “tira” (“tumitira sa akin”).
The “tira” in question derives from the conjugated Spanish verb “to throw” which in Filipino is synonymous with “to attack sexually.” Taken together with “well-oiled” and the coincidental hacking on the same day of a Makati electronic billboard by miscreants who showed a porno clip instead of a commercial and Robredo quickly went viral for all the wrong reasons – even if there was no mention at all in mainstream media of her gaffe.
But Robredo learned her lesson and clammed up the following day, when she was once again trolled by Duterte at the graduation rites of the Philippine National Police Academy. The president, who seems to enjoy poking fun at Robredo, said he wished there were more graduation rites in the near future that he could attend, because the PNPA ceremonies were the third in a row that he had gone to where the vice president was in attendance. Robredo only smiled, in all likelihood because she didn’t have a script with her and didn’t want to repeat her performance in Razon’s show.
Not so Robredo’s allies in the Senate, who seemed hell-bent on beating her in some weird contest of who could embarrass himself or herself more. I’m talking about Senators Risa Hontiveros and Antonio Trillanes4th, who tried but failed by a mile.
First, Hontiveros added yet another faux pas to her ever-lengthening list when she declared in the Senate that everything that was wrong in the judiciary would be fixed if Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre would only resign. Not one senator, not even the many distinguished lawyers in that chamber, had the heart to tell Hontiveros that Aguirre, regardless of his perceived powers, never was and still is not a part of the judiciary.
But the bigger case of foot-in-mouth disease in the Senate was certainly Trillanes, who engaged an actual lawyer, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, in a debate about whether or not Duterte could make the Philippines withdraw from the ICC without the chamber’s approval. Trillanes test-drove the role of constitutionalist when he argued that Duterte could not, simply because the requirement of the Senate’s approval of all treaties also “implied” that the same approval was needed, if the Philippines wanted to get out of such agreements.
Not really, Pimentel countered, because if the framers of the 1987 Constitution wanted Senate approval whenever a president wanted to withdraw from an agreement like the Rome Statute, they would have said so specifically. In any case, Pimentel, a bar topnotcher, said that it was wrong to speculate on what the Constitution meant simply by guessing at what the framers implied.
Left unsaid by Pimentel, who probably didn’t want to shame his non-lawyer colleague too much, was the fact that if the ex-putschist really wanted to resolve a constitutional question, perhaps he should head to the Supreme Court instead of bothering the Senate with his legal musings. He didn’t even ask Trillanes to define “statutory construction.”
Robredo, Hontiveros and Trillanes could all have taken a lesson on how not to make a fool of yourself from yet another anti-Duterte senator, Francis Pangilinan. Pangilinan was a picture of stoicism after his famous wife, the acclaimed singer and actress Sharon Cuneta, had dinner with Duterte together with Cuneta’s brother. Sharon declared that her late father, longtime Pasay City Mayor Pablo Cuneta, was an old friend of Duterte’s and that her brother was a big fan of the president, as well.
Pangilinan, whom most pundits believe would not have made it this far in his political career without the help of “Ate Shawie,” probably decided that it was not the right time to be seen as contradicting his wife. It was a smart move by Kiko.
And so, the country heads into the Holy Week with Duterte still very much in control of the national conversation and his foes almost completely in retreat when they thought they were on a roll. There’s a lesson to be learned here – but I don’t think the opposition has the brains to learn it.