The Volatilian™ knew Halloween was fast approaching when the Witch of the Senate, earlier this week, put her mouth into overdrive branding the Philippine president as an appeaser of China, and describing the head of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) as “a creepy clown with a horrible dark mask”. We’ll resist making any childish comparisons between his metaphorical mask and the Witch of the Senate’s actual physiognomy other than to say, coming from her that’s a very scary remark. But hey! It’s Halloween so let’s get into the spirit of it.
Senator (for the time being) Leila De Lima, launched into her latest denouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte over his new China policy – effectively, a warming to Beijing; a cooling-off with Washington. Central to her reprimand of him was that he’d squandered the advantage of an international arbitration court’s ruling that the disputed Scarborough Shoal, an outcrop of vulgar-looking rocks in the West Philippine Sea, are part of Philippine and not Chinese marine territory.
“We should now be in a period of enforcement and assertion of that ruling. If President PNoy (Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino) had still been president, he would be doing that right now; trying to seek the support of the international community; rallying the international community to put heavy pressure on China …” whispered the Witch of the Senate.
Yes he would; he’d have no choice. Let’s not forget that the reason Manila found itself plunged into a full-blown international incident over those rocks was because Aquino, her former boss and patron, decided to publically humiliate China to such a degree that Mainland trade and investment for the Philippines was under serious threat. That had to be repaired otherwise the Philippines would be at the back of a 10-nation Southeast Asian queue to get any of it. Now it’s at the front. By any economy’s standards that’s an impressive result.
But not for De Lima, who slips effortlessly along a mood spectrum that travels from tears to temper, and who switches character like a shape-shifter. And that’s the problem, it’s hard to know who she is at any given time; which Halloween costume she’ll pull out of her skeleton-crammed cupboard next? First she’s Little Red Riding Hood; then she’s Leila De Kreuger, half-sister of Freddie.
In this episode, though, she wants blood. Warning the president that there could be “consequences” for his ‘appeasement of China,’ she explained: “He may be accountable under the Constitution”; that it could be grounds for impeachment. Seriously? He brings home a package of deals from Beijing worth US$13.5 billion and she’s going to get her Senate colleagues to impeach him? We’ll see vampires sun bathing at the beach first.
Now her jibe at the VACC Chairman, Dante Jimenez, one of three signatories of a Supreme Court disbarment case filed against her on grounds of gross immorality and of violating both the Lawyer’s Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility – all charges concerning her alleged adulterous affair with her former bodyguard-cum-driver.
Here, De Lima uses good old attack as her best form of defense. Totally ignoring the allegations and the ethics rules of the legal profession of which she’s a member, she switches to character-assassination mode and goes after Jimenez.
“This is all part of a circus. And just like in all circuses, clowns are part of the amusement,” said De Lima as she stirred her cauldron. “For the part of Dante Jimenez, I could only shrug my shoulders in utter dismay at how he brings down with him the integrity and credibility of the anti-crime group he heads. Mr. Jimenez is a creepy clown with a horrible dark mask, obsessed at being in the headlines instead of finding out the truth and justice for the thousands of victims of unresolved drug-related killings in our country”. Clown; headlines obsessed – qui?
But hold on a minute. In a wholly separate action, De Lima is also being threatened with disbarment over her alleged prospering from illegal-drugs enterprises, conducted inside New Bilibid Prison, the country’s largest jail, when she was the boss of the Justice Department. Tough to miss the irony of her remarks against Jimenez. But also, remember her karaoke gigs at the jail – entertaining convicted felons on fun nights – where was the “integrity and credibility of the anti-crime group” she headed? And who did she think she was anyway? Ma Baker? And what about her temper tantrums and hissy fits in the halls of Congress – the anger; the storming out? What happened to “integrity and credibility” there? This is the Philippine Senate – it’s not Bates Motel; not Bedlam. Its motto reads, Legis Servitae Pax Fiat, (Law Serves Peace, Let It Be Done). It doesn’t read “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”.
What’s evident from all this is that the Witch of the Senate is under considerable stress as she becomes increasingly isolated. A couple of weeks ago, the Justice Department issued an Immigration Lookout Bulletin Order which effectively means she can’t hop on her broomstick without first getting travel clearance. Earlier this week, when pressed by the media over talk that that De Lima might have received drug money, Aquino simply said all that was news to him.
“During my time (as president) there was never any gossip that Leila was involved in anything illegal,” he said, adding that they are not regularly in touch with each other these days. “Every now and then we may have texted,” he said. Hardly a ringing vote of confidence in his former Justice chief’s innocence then; not exactly a circling of the Liberal Party wagons to protect her either – though he did say he was “praying for her”.
In the past few weeks she has morphed from Emmeline Pankhurst to Joan of Arc. She referred to Duterte as “a flaming misogynist, sitting in the highest echelon of power,” (text message to reporters, 23 September), and said her cause is something she would “fight for, even die for, to prove that I am innocent. I cannot stop because the truth is on my side” (talking at St Scholastica’s College, Manila, 5 October).
Little Red Riding Hood, Leila De Kreuger, Ma Baker, Emmeline Parkhurst, Joan of Arc – is this what multiple personality disorder looks like? We’re not certain. What we are sure about though is that the sanity of the Senate along with the patience of the people has become more stretched than an overused bungee cord, and unless something’s done fairly soon something’s going to snap.