Senator Leila De Lima is holding a piece of raw steak to her bruised ego today. Her Senate tag mate, the regularly pugnacious Antonio Trillanes IV, is also licking his wounds. Both were KO’d yesterday by a devastating punch from boxing superstar and now Philippine senator, Manny Pacquiao. It happened in a short unscheduled bout on the Senate floor at the end of a privileged speech delivered to the upper chamber of the Philippine Congress by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano.
The result of Cayetano’s speech was the complete reversal of the contest that had been staged in that venue the previous day. De Lima and Trillanes then had sprung around the canvas as if they were unbeatable. They owned the ring. Jabs from opponents were parried and blocked. A swing from Cayetano caused De Lima to ask the Sergeant of Arms to remind him that an infringement of fight rules could result in his disqualification and his removal from the ring. No question about it, on ring presence, Round 1 had been theirs.
But Round 2 of the contest – or the continuance of the hearing of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, to give it its proper billing – never happened. Cayetano’s privileged speech – a rebuttal of De Lima’s attempts to link President Rodrigo Duterte to the extrajudicial killings of the Davao Death Squad – had upstaged it. And in just 40 minutes, in an impassioned delivery, he successfully counter punched the previous day’s onslaught.
He took the fight to De Lima, not just over her seemingly vindictive attack on the president himself, but for bringing the Senate into disrepute by “destroying [its] integrity and reputation”, and for casting a shadow over the nation as a whole. The fact, he pointed out, that Duterte’s 92% popularity rating shows that the country is fully behind his war on drugs, in the light of De Lima’s claims would suggest to the international community that the Philippines is largely populated by barbarians.
Rather than support the president’s efforts to cleanse the country of a drugs pandemic, De Lima’s efforts, he said, had helped to fuel international government and media criticism of him and the anti-drugs campaign.
For De Lima it was too much. She got up from her ringside seat part way through Cayetano’s delivery and later vowed to present her own privileged speech to the Senate in which she would respond to the points he had made. Presumably, she’ll catch the points she missed at home on Youtube.
But then came the crunching body blow. No sooner had Cayetano returned to his seat than Pacquiao took to the rostrum and entered a motion that De Lima’s committee be declared vacant – in effect, that the current chairmanship and membership should be disbanded. No one saw it coming.
Senators scrambled to understand what they should do. A minor rules-transgression objection by Senate President Pro Tempore and De Lima Liberal Party colleague, Franklin Drilon, was swiftly brushed aside. A vote was called for, the motion was carried and the result wasn’t even close: 16 supported it, four were against and two abstained.
When Round 2 is eventually staged, political heavyweight, Senator Richard Gordon will be in the chair and De Lima will just be one of the committee members. And among her colleagues there will be Manny Pacquiao.