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Casualty not only de Lima, but what’s left of the Yellow Cult

I don’t think anybody was expecting it, I didn’t: the Duterte camp’s quick and bold move to end Sen. Leila de Lima’s exploitation of hearings of her justice committee as a propaganda weapon to demonize the President. Killer Edgar Matobato had only one day of fame, unlike alleged whistleblowers of the past.

It was even a brilliant move to have Sen. Emmanuel Pacquiao propose that the posts of chair and members of the justice committee be declared vacant. The masses still idolize the world boxing champion, and he exudes such innocence that few would suspect he simply played a role in a well-executed operation to remove de Lima.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes had gleefully taunted President Duterte’s silence on Matobato’s accusations in the Senate hall when he was Davao City’s mayor, and that he, himself, as such killed a suspected criminal.

On Monday at the Senate, Duterte responded in action not words, and Trillanes then has been in shellshock, pulling his hair that he demonstrated in front of national TV his arrogance and lack of civility defending de Lima and her fake “witness.”

The Yellow Party senators were stunned, with only four voting against Pacquiao’s motion: President Aquino’s former factotum in the Senate, Franklin Drilon; his nephew Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th; Risa Hontiveros who owes her post entirely to the Liberal Party’s campaign war chest; and to the mostly invisible Francis Pangilinan. De Lima defaulted by foolishly walking out of the Senate during Senator Alan Cayetano’s privilege speech. Trillanes and Senator Ralph Recto abstained, a portent perhaps of at least the latter’s decision not to antagonize Duterte. (Offer him the NEDA post, Mr. President, for god’s sake!).

De Lima’s ouster was a clear demonstration of Duterte’s rock-solid base in the Senate: 16 out of the 24 senators. That should tell the Yellow Party not to waste its time plotting Duterte’s impeachment.

It shocked Drilon that even Joel Villanueva, who was an Aquino Cabinet official (“Tesdaman”) and who ran under the Liberal Party in this year’s elections, voted to oust de Lima. The voting demonstrated the strong multi-party support for Duterte:

• The LDP’s Sonny Angara, who had been an Aquino supporter;

• The Nationalist People’s Coalition’s Vicente Sotto, Win Gatchalian and Loren Legarda,

• UNA’s Nancy Binay, Gregorio Honasan, Manuel Pacquiao and JV Ejercito; and

• Independent senators Grace Poe, Richard Gordon, Panfilo Lacson and Miguel Zubiri.

That such overwhelming majority voted to remove de Lima as justice committee chair really was her undoing.

She rushed it: De Lima, right, with her poorly prepped “star witness.”
She rushed it: De Lima, right, with her poorly prepped “star witness.”

Perhaps she thought she was still in the Aquino regime when the Senate was a lethal political and propaganda weapon, which was used to remove the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, drive former Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes to commit suicide, and convict opposition senators by publicity through the pork-barrel scandal. That was during the Aquino regime when he had the support of the majority of senators.

But we are no longer living in the Aquino regime, and the majority of senators do have the natural proclivity to support an incumbent President, at least while his popularity is at its height.

Panicking to thwart Duterte’s moves through the House of Representatives to prove that she coddled drug lords when she was Justice secretary and that she even got money for her election campaign from these criminals, de Lima rushed her plot too much that its motive — to hit Duterte — became as obvious as it was clumsy. Even those who were not really core Duterte supporters moved to avoid getting used by her.

The hearings she called were on the basis of Senate Resolution No. 29, which she herself filed. This resolution explicitly called for the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which de Lima chaired, to investigate “recent rampant extrajudicial killings and summary executions,” starting May 10, 2016.

But de Lima, instead, used the hearings as a propaganda platform, to claim to the world in a sensational way — through the testimony of a “whistleblower,” a purportedly actual participant in the killings — that Duterte himself killed several suspected criminals. Her star “witness,” Edgar Matobato, also claimed that Duterte, as city mayor, organized a clandestine “Davao Death Squad,” which murdered more than 1,000 people in cold blood.

The problem, which most of the senators saw, was that even if these killings were true, they were undertaken ­— the “whistleblower” himself testified — in the 1990s, and way before Duterte became President in 2016. How could these help the Senate implement Senate Resolution No. 29, which asked the committee “to investigate in aid of legislation, the series of recent killings which were done extrajudicially”?

The 16 senators who voted against her most probably thought, why would they be a party to such a scheme, a clumsy one at that, by de Lima to save her skin, to stop Duterte from exposing her support of drug lords?

De Lima also rushed her plot — intended to steal the thunder from scheduled hearings in the House of Representatives on her coddling of illegal-drug dealers — that Matobato was not coached or “prepped” enough that he was obviously telling tall tales. Thirty people shot a poor resident, but who appeared to be still breathing after taking all the bullets, so that it was Duterte himself who finished him off with his Uzi? He, with five other killers, strangled another victim? Duterte ordered the killing of four bodyguards of then rival for the mayoralty race, now Davao City Rep. Prospero? And Prospero, upon hearing of the witness’ story, promptly responded that all his bodyguards are alive and kicking. Duterte whipped with his golf club and later ordered killed a suspected international terrorist, Salim Makdum, who turned out to be nonexistent?

The credibility of de Lima’s “star witness” was quickly shattered after senators grilled him, and the admitted killer’s arrogant comportment didn’t elicit any sympathy from the senators.

The casualty in this episode is not only de Lima. It is also the Yellow Cult, or what’s left of it.

It’s that easy
I’m glad Secretary Jose Ruperto Martin Andanar (his name in the updated Official Directory) moved fast to update the Official Gazette, which since 2010 has been published only in internet form as www.gov.ph. The site was closed down yesterday after I complained in my column that after nearly three months it hasn’t been updated, still showing BS Aquino as our President, with his gang still holding the various high posts in government.

By early evening, the new directory was posted, showing Duterte as President and the President’s own website president.gov.ph was put online after being “under construction” for two months. The directory, though, still isn’t a complete one as top officials of other state entities, such as the chair and board of government corporations, the Director General of the PNP, still don’t have their names in the directory.

Andanar has to instruct his staff to post all public documents signed by Duterte in the Official Gazette. He has to instruct all departments to post on their websites the names of their top officials, and their curriculum vitae, so we will be guided accordingly.

The department of transport, for instance, doesn’t even list who its secretary is, much less its top officials.

It would be very useful, for instance, to know that Rodolfo Salalima, Duterte’s secretary of Information and Communications Technology, was chief legal counsel and senior advisor of Singaporean-controlled Globe Telecoms. That saves us time, so that we don’t have to ask him what reforms he plans to undertake against the telecom monopoly.

It’s that easy when you know your job, isn’t it, Sec. Andanar?