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The Inquisition revisited

Chinese Triad tattoo

In a legislature where breathtaking, fatuous argument has become too often the norm, leaving many to wonder about the IQ range of certain Philippine lawmakers, the world was entreated to yet another piece of sensational infantile reasoning this past week – that someone sporting a tattoo on their back is incontrovertibly a member of a Chinese triad.

Nothing even circumstantial about it apparently; for certain members of this less-than-perspicacious legislature, that’s proof positive of triad membership. Thankfully, such insights are confined to the legislative branch and not a resource of the country’s intelligence services – at least we hope they’re not.

So our question for this weekend’s Your Forum is this: Should anyone running for Congress first have to sit a simple IQ test before their candidacy can be approved? We’re not suggesting anything too cerebral, too mentally taxing – just something that measures the basic ability to apply simple logic. We don’t expect Mensa members to be running for the Philippine Congress – based on what we’ve seen recently, particularly in the Senate, there are several who’d fail to qualify for both anyway – so perhaps the sort of test a 10th-grader might be expected to pass would do.

In case you missed the story, which we doubt – it got bags of coverage for all the wrong and right reasons – the leader of pygmy politics in the Philippine Senate, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, in his obsession to tie every crime over the past several decades to President Rodrigo Duterte, sought to link the president’s son and son-in-law to a PHP6.4 billion shipment of illegal drugs from China which passed unhindered through the Port of Manila in May and ended up in a Valenzuela City warehouse.

On Thursday, at a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing into possible criminal acts at the Bureau of Customs which facilitated the shipment’s port clearance, Trillanes asked Duterte’s son – Davao City vice mayor, Paulo Duterte – to remove his clothes so that the assembled throng could closely inspect his back for a tattoo; evidently, the unmistakable mark of a Chinese triad. The fact that he declined to do so, for Antonio “Eliot Ness” Trillanes was further damning proof of the young Duterte’s links to Chinese organised crime.

The only thing we can think of that comes even remotely close to that extraordinary request is the witch trials of 16th century Europe, or the Salem Witch Trials in America a century later (photo), where the accused were made to expose their bodies to the scrutiny of inquisitors and judges. They were looking for the “Witches’ Mark” or the “Devil’s Mark” – irrefutable evidence of being a witch; proof positive of a sorcerer, as Trillanes believes a tattoo is of triad membership.

That’s about the level of investigation Trillanes is involved with here. He wants this hearing turned into a throwback to the Inquisition where mere accusation is sufficient proof of culpability. If a person was charged with being a witch invariably they’d be found guilty – ergo, the fact that he’s accused Paulo Duterte of being a triad member should be sufficient to expose him as such. And the alleged tattoo – the equivalent of the Witches’ Mark – to his thinking should be conclusive proof that the president’s son is a member of a China-based transnational narcotics cartel.

But in any event, as Inquisitor-General Trillanes says, he doesn’t actually need to convince his Senate colleagues of any of this – “I only need to convince the people,” he said. “Aren’t they interested to know definitively that the son of the president, who is the architect of the bloody war on drugs, is not a member of a drug-smuggling syndicate?” Spoken like a true Inquisitor – and yes, he’s doing it for the people yet again.

Meanwhile, his sidekick, Senator Leila De Lima, has transmitted her input from the Philippine National Police headquarters at Camp Crame where she’s presently being detained on serious drugs charges of her own. You can’t make this stuff up. Is there really no limit to which this pair holds the people’s intelligence in contempt?

Sadly, critical analysis is not particularly strong even within the political elites in the Philippines – emotional ‘analysis’ seems to be a more popular option. Presumably, they believe it’s far easier to win over the public with an emotional diatribe than it is by appealing to their intelligence. That may have worked with the peasant classes of Europe 500 years ago, but in this day and age, we find such tactics insulting to put it mildly.

The fact is the Filipino public is not as dumb as Trillanes and De Lima would like them to be. And when you peel away their emotional babblings all that’s left is hollow argument. Frankly, does any one really believe that a court anywhere in the free world in 2017 would convict anyone for a crime based on the fact that they have a tattoo?

The Philippine Senate is a deliberative assembly; its duty is to provide “a chamber of sober second thought” in considering proposed legislation passed to it by the House of Representatives. Sober second thought – not much of that of late. The work of senators, then, requires an intelligent, rational and dispassionate approach – which is why we’ve asked the question.

Unfortunately, however great the call is for senators to sit an IQ test before they can run for a senate seat, it will go unheard. Section 3, Article VI of the 1987 Philippine Constitution which deals with qualifications for membership of the Senate, contains the following Latin term – expression unius est exclusion alterius (express mention of one thing excludes all others). What that means is that no additional qualifications can be added to the three already in place which deal solely with the age and citizenship of would-be senators.

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