The Volatilian™ View

A Senate allegory

Philippine Senate Chamber

We’d like to tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a school – a small kindergarten actually; just 23 pupils. It was an exclusive place, reserved mostly for the spoiled and pampered children of privileged families. However, the school prided itself on its rules of etiquette – it believed they were what set it apart from other schools.

Among those rules was one stating that each pupil, on his or her birthday, should personally invite the remaining 22 schoolmates to a celebration which would be held in the school hall. The rule stipulated that the invitations should be written out and handed personally by the birthday celebrant to each of the other children. The rule had two purposes: the first was to teach courtesy; the second was to promote inclusion – two difficult concepts for the precious offspring of the privileged.

Indeed, despite the small number of select pupils in that school – and despite that school’s emphasis on decorum – some possessed a proclivity for elitism. These particular children formed themselves into cliques with the intention of establishing their members’ superiority over the other children.

It was from one such clique that a particularly hubristic, spiteful child, on her birthday, decided that she’d exclude some of her fellow pupils from her party. These were kids she didn’t get along with; didn’t like. They were difficult. They were inferior in some way; yet they’d failed to acknowledge that fact.

Of course, she knew she couldn’t just flaunt the rule – if she did that she’d be reprimanded and stood the risk of being humiliated. And anyway, what she really wanted was for those she intended to exclude to be cast in a bad light; theirs should be the humiliation.

So she came up with a plan. She would write out the 22 invitations as the rule prescribed and the ones intended for those she wanted to attend she’d hand out personally and promptly, giving them plenty of time to respond. The other invitations – for the ones she’d chosen to exclude from the celebration – she’d place inside each of their desks, knowing they wouldn’t see them until the party was over.

At the party she’d express her sadness and disappointment that some of her fellow pupils had chosen not to turn up and join in. And if later, the shunned pupils claimed that the reason they hadn’t attended was because they hadn’t received their invitations by hand, she would say that she’d looked everywhere for them and as a last resort had placed them in their desks expecting that they’d find them in good time.

Indeed, she’d point out, she’d even passed the invitation to one child – a favourite of her clique – who was presently in the sick bay. She, of course couldn’t make it to the party in person, but at least she’d managed to respond by sending her best wishes. In short, she’d done all she could to make sure everyone was invited.

And so she executed her plan and gained the sympathy of those who’d attended for being shunned by those who hadn’t. But the girl had other child friends outside that school and when they learned how she’d been treated, they became angry and took that anger into cyberspace – vilifying those for not going to the party and portraying them in the darkest and vilest ways they could.

Naturally, the child denied all knowledge of that – in fact, she appeared concerned and upset that the children, her fellow pupils who’d slighted her by ignoring her birthday could be treated in such a way. But it was none of her doing and beyond her control. And for that she distinguished herself as a fine example of tolerance and understanding – two more qualities which the school prided itself on.

The story of a selfish child then? Maybe, but it could be more than that; a fable perhaps?

On Monday, 16 members of the 23-member Philippine Senate (photo) signed a resolution which drew attention to the “alarming spike” in the “senseless killings” of children. It was tagged to the recent deaths, at the hands of the police, of two teenagers caught up somehow in the administration’s War on Drugs – and senators took part to show that they stood square with the people by officially registering their condemnation.

They issued the innocuously sounding Senate Resolution 516 which pressed the government to conduct an investigation into the deaths of the teenagers, and other children who’ve been killed in the ongoing ant-narcotics campaign. Further, it urged the government to lay out the steps it’s taken to prevent further such killings.

These two teenage deaths, more than any other, had created a public backlash against both the police and the government’s anti-drugs campaign. And so it wasn’t surprising that public anger mounted when it became know that seven members of the Senate – Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, and senators, Richard Gordon, Cynthia Villar, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Manny Pacquiao and Gregorio Honasan – had not put their names to a resolution that criticised those killings.

Given the emotiveness of the issue, Resolution 516 was guaranteed to gain public support – admiration even. The converse was also practically guaranteed – that anyone not supporting such a motion would likely be demonised on the spot. And that’s what happened.

As news came out that seven senators had failed to sign the bill, social media went into overdrive castigating them with a barrage of defamatory slurs. One particularly vile blog described the seven as “Malacañang dogs in the Senate” – meaning they’d opted out of voting in some blind loyalty for the president’s drugs war. Malacañang is the name of the presidential palace.

The problem is, all that turned out to be spurious; for later it was revealed that the seven non-signing senators had not been given the opportunity to either read or study the resolution. Furthermore, they’d never been asked to sign it.

The motion had been prepared by Liberal Party stalwart, Francis Pangilinan – but he’d neglected to pass it to every member of the chamber. In the cases of the seven senators – who just happen to be supportive of the administration and, as such, regarded as political opponents as far as the Liberals and their political affiliates are concerned – it had simply been left on their desks. There had been, apparently, no urgency attached to it.

There’s no question that it was odd they hadn’t been encouraged to sign or even been made aware of the resolution’s content for that matter. But what’s even stranger is that Senator Leila De Lima – the Liberal Party’s top anti-Duterteist rottweiler – had managed to attach her signature to the resolution and she was 12 miles away from the Senate building. She was in custody for alleged drugs-profiteering and being held at the Philippine National Police headquarters of Camp Crame in Quezon City. Somehow though, Pangilinan had managed to bring it to her attention. It hadn’t been simply dropped on her desk.

Once it became clear to the seven senators what had happened – that effectively they’d been excluded from taking part in the resolution – they too became angry; for the omission of their signatures had alienated them from the people. They’d been made to look like they were insensitive to what’s become a very emotive issue. Furthermore, they’d been made a target of public anger and vilified across the Internet.

Majority Leader Sotto said this in remarks he directed to Senate President Pimentel, who was also among the seven non-signatories: “Somebody used this to put us in a bad light. I will request you to direct [the] Senate secretariat to investigate who’s behind prostituting this resolution”.

Meanwhile, claiming that he and the others were “not allowed to sign” the resolution, Senator Gordon said this: “It’s the failure of Pangilinan to take the time and address this very controversial [issue]. This is something we could have all signed”. And while Sotto stated that he’s “never seen the shadow of this resolution. It was not routed to me”, Senator Villar added: “I, together with other senators, were [sic] not asked to sign. We did not refuse”.

For his part, Pangilinan apologised for any hurt feelings that had resulted, but stipulated that there had been no intention to exclude the seven senators. “We did not intentionally exclude anyone,” he said.

The fact that they all happened to be close allies of Duterte, apparently, was nothing more than a coincidence. Just the showing up of incredibly long odds. No longer however than all six members of the minority bloc – exclusively the Liberals and their allies; among them De Lima – being put in the loop to receive the petition.

But anyway, as Pangilinan pointed out, “the need to re-route to everyone is not covered in our rules. As long as we get the majority it would be fine”. He even mentioned precedents where this had happened before in the Senate. So, as far as Pangilinan was concerned it was no big deal.

Well, perhaps it would be fine as far as the paperwork is concerned, but that leaves the matter of the optics. Would it have been equally fine if this resolution had been tabled by Gordon or Sotto and they’d failed to route it to the six members of the oppositionist minority bloc comprising Liberal Party members and their fellow travellers?

And if some nutter on the Internet had picked up on that and lambasted them as rapists and lapdogs – the thrust of accusations leveled against the seven by anti-Duterte hate-blog, ‘Silent No More PH’ – presumably they would just take that in their stride.

As Pangilinan explained in the current debacle, social media – in this case, anti-Duterte bloggers – are beyond their control. That’s senate-speak for saying ‘our hands are clean’. In other words, he accepts no responsibility for the invidious position he had placed his colleagues in.

The Liberals apparently have zero influence over their soc-med supporters; no way of reining them in. Maybe they don’t but they do have the power to publicly condemn them for making false and defamatory statements about their fellow senators – though we reckon we’ll be waiting some time before we see them issuing something like that.

Meanwhile, as the rumpus starts to subside – as it becomes more apparent that this coin has two sides – separately, the seven excluded senators filed their own resolution echoing precisely the same sentiments of Resolution 516. That new resolution, however, fared better than its predecessor gaining 17 signatures in its favour. The six who didn’t put their names to it were – not so oddly – the six members of the minority bloc who this time found themselves excluded from contributing.

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