The Long View: If your honors please


If your honors please

 / 05:07 AM September 13, 2017

Senator Richard Gordon is the Foghorn Leghorn of our public life. Every session day is made vivid by his presence, why if he were living out a Looney Tunes cartoon, his committee hearings might go like this.

Foghorn Leghorn: “What’s the big… I say, what’s the big idea chasin’ my worm? You’re a cat, son. Cats don’t eat worms. You’re takin’ the food right outta my mouth! I don’t go around chasin’ mice!” [knocks the cat down]

Foghorn Leghorn: “Stand up boy, you’re trippin’ over your own feet. Now you stay away from worms and I’ll stay away from mice. That’s fair and square, and if you’d stop all your arguin’ and jawin’, you’d see my side of it!” [pushes the cat up a ladder]

Foghorn Leghorn: “Yap-yap-yap, keep that mouth flappin’ and do no listenin’.” [the cat falls off the ladder]

Foghorn Leghorn: “There’s nothin’ worse than a blabbermouth cat!”

The above being as good a summation of a well-balanced debate as far as Dick is concerned.

Now this here Dick crows with pleasure whenever the President stomps around and cackles in anger every time Trillanes does his own stomping in the Senate, but now he’s an Angry Bird who wants his colleague to be punished for (borrowing the style of Foghorn Leghorn for a moment, “Demeanin’, I say, this here noooble institution of the Seh-nut. Demeanin’ I say, son, with this his puffery and I his jiggery-pokery, son!” (“puffery” referring to the seriousness of his complaint as being no mere paper-wrapped pile of pique; but an odd choice: The word means “exaggerated or false praise,” while “jiggery-pokery,” meaning “deceitful or dishonest behavior,” is a pious insistence that the Senate is not a forum for grandstanding by mere oppositionists).

To be sure, the President and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV both have about as much polish and decorum as two bull elephants in heat. That is why their trumpeting and headbutting is so much fun to watch. But some senators are better than others, and woe to anyone who thinks Dick can get the Duterte treatment—never mind if Dick is delighted when Duterte gives a thorough dousing to others. Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, I say—Ralph Waldo Emerson said that, son.

But, in all seriousness, even this here Dick can have a point. Wide latitude is given legislators to say practically anything they please, on the sound principle that as representatives of the people — and senators, nationally-elected, are representatives of all the people to an extent only the president of the Philippines can equally claim — they should be able to freely express opinions and ask questions in the public’s interest and for the common good. But they owe their colleagues courtesy because they’re all ostensibly in the same institution to achieve the same thing, and if they argue, it should be on the basis of principles and not personalities.

So is anything wrong with what Gordon wants, setting aside double standards?

Gordon’s press release ended with five examples of legislators suspended by either the House or Senate. None of the examples seems particularly supportive of what Gordon wants. Of the five mentioned, Jose Alejandrino was suspended from the Senate in 1924 for assaulting a fellow member, resulting in a case that established the internal rules and discipline of the legislature as a political institution beyond intervention by the Supreme Court. Jose Avelino was suspended from the Senate and ousted from the senate presidency in 1949 because — as Russell Fifield pointed out in a paper at the time — “he participated in the sale of United States Army surplus beer contrary to the prohibition of a member of the government engaging in such activity,” among other things. Sergio Osmeña Jr. was suspended by the House in 1960 for delivering a privilege speech against President Garcia — despite there being then, as now, a constitutional guarantee of immunity for speeches made on the floor or in committees. Juan Ponce Enrile’s suspension from the Senate in 2014 was upon orders of the Sandiganbayan, although he’d been censured (reminded and exhorted, as the ethics committee said at the time, to be more careful in the future) by the Senate in 1988, a slap on the wrist after he withdrew and apologized for remarks against Paul Aquino. Heherson Alvarez, for his part, was also censured in 1996 for writing a letter clearing a police official even as the Senate was investigating the policeman for possible complicity in a pyramid scam.

The only examples that seems relevant are Osmeña’s case — a political lynching if there ever was one — and Enrile’s slap on the wrist. Dick’s lip flappin’ suggests he isn’t bruisin’ for a mere slappin’. So yes, what’s wrong is that he wants Trillanes lynched.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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