Senators face off at probe into killings: ‘Trash talk, out of order’

Camille Elemia

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Senators face off at probe into killings: ‘Trash talk, out of order’
Senator Leila De Lima declares Senator Alan Peter Cayetano 'out of order,' unparliamentary, while Cayetano calls out Senator Antonio Trillanes IV for 'trash talk'

MANILA, Philippines – Two of the strongest critics of President Rodrigo Duterte faced off with the Chief Executive’s staunchest ally in the Senate as a supposed key witness was presented at a Senate hearing on the spate of extrajudicial killings under the new administration.

Senators Leila De Lima and Antonio Trillanes IV took turns against Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte’s running mate in the last elections, at the third hearing of the Senate committee on justice and human rights on Thursday, September 15.

The exchanges happened as Cayetano grilled witness Edgar Matobato to check his credibility as a witness. He said he also wanted to “test” his theories on the motives behind the alleged former Davao Death Squad member’s decision to speak about the killings in Davao City when Duterte was still mayor.

The exposé of Matobato – which Malacañang denied – heated the atmosphere at the hearing, but the 3 senators made it more colorful as they, at times, spoke simultaneously, trying to put in the final word.

Cayetano took a swipe at the Liberal Party as he questioned Matobato, accusing De Lima’s political party of bringing the witness into the Senate. (READ: Cayetano: LP wants to ‘reclaim’ Palace through ‘Davao Death Squad’ witness)

He then clarified that he was just “testing the motives” of the witness, De Lima, and the LP. Cayetano theorized that it might just be part of the LP’s so-called “Plan B” – oust Duterte so Vice President Leni Robredo, an LP member, can assume the presidency. (READ: Robredo ‘offended’ by Cayetano’s LP ouster plot claim)

Cayetano and former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr had talked about this “Plan B” since the campaign, when they ran for vice president against Robredo.

De Lima, chair of the committee on justice and human rights, interjected and wanted some part of Cayetano’s question be put on record.

But Cayetano cut De Lima: “May I plead with you? You brought the witness here, I am testing his motives.”

De Lima cut him in return, saying, “I just feel there’s need for some clarification.”

“Can you do that after this?” Cayetano butted in.

Trillanes, for his part, sat between De Lima and Cayetano and asked, “Is there unli-questioning for one member?” Unli is the short version of unlimited.

“More than an hour for a non-member – that’s a luxury,” Trillanes added, noting that Cayetano, who was not a member of the committee holding the probe, had been speaking way past the 10-minute allotment per senator.

At this point, there was no order on the floor as both Nacionalista Party senators were talking at the same time. Trillanes moved that Cayetano be declared out of order.

De Lima was then urged to suspend the hearing “to clear the air.” But even while the session was on a break, Cayetano and Trillanes were seen having a heated exchange while seated. De Lima stood up between the two and appeared to signal that the two separate.

‘Trash talk’

After the resumption, De Lima apologized to Cayetano for butting in earlier. She, however, explained that the witness was finding it difficult to “appear in a proceeding like this.”

But while she was still speaking, Cayetano again butted in – something that De Lima did not take sitting down, this time.

“Let me finish please. I am the chair here. I am the chair here,” De Lima said while Cayetano kept on talking.

Referring to Trillanes, Cayetano said: “Madame chair, it’s on a different matter. My seatmate here is intimidating me.”

At this point, Trillanes turned off Cayetano’s microphone but the latter immediately turned it on to speak.

“Madame chair, I am trying to ask questions. [But] he told me here, ‘Di kita papapormahin,’ and then he tells me here, ‘Nabubuo pangarap mo, you are defending evil.’ So, Madame chair, I’m trying to get to the bottom of this at kung totoo sinasabi, tatabihan ‘nyo ko. ita-trash talk ‘nyo ko. I never did that to any of my colleagues,” he said.

(He told me here, “I won’t let you show off,” and then he tells me, “You’re reaching your dream, you are defending evil.” So, Madame chair, I’m trying to get to the bottom of this, then [he] would sit beside me and trash talk me. I never did that to any of my colleagues.)

De Lima suggested that Cayetano just transfer to another seat.

Cayetano responded, “I can move but can you make sure he doesn’t follow me?”

Cayetano continued his statements but suddenly stopped, accusing Trillanes of “intimidating” him once more.

He asked De Lima, while putting the plastic nameplate between him and Trillanes: “Can Senator Trillanes stop talking to me? I don’t want to talk to him but he keeps talking to me. I will put this (nameplate) between us.”

To this, De Lima said: “Senator Sonny can you please transfer? Lipat na lang po. ‘Wag na ho kayong magtabi (Please move. Don’t sit beside each other).”

In the end, it was Cayetano who transferred to another seat.

Trillanes then responded by hitting Cayetano’s continued questioning.

Masyado mahaba, ‘yung pasikot-pasikot, masyadong madaldal. Kumbaga it’s quite annoying and irritating already. Sana he gets to the point,” Trillanes said.

(It’s too long and winding; too talkative. In other words, quite annoying and irritating already. I hope he gets to the point.)

Cayetano said, “I thought it is my turn?”

To pacify both parties, De Lima intervened and proposed that they conduct an executive session so the witness would be comfortable in explaining why he left the Witness Protection Program.

‘Out of order’

De Lima had repeatedly reminded Cayetano that he had been using up too much time already, something that the latter denied.

He went on to speak and question the witness for another 20 minutes, saying it was the responsibility of the chairperson to vet the credibility of the witness. Cayetano also questioned the neutrality of De Lima to conduct the hearing, claiming that she had already judged the Duterte administration “guilty” even before the hearing began.

This triggered De Lima to reprimand Cayetano, calling his acts “unparliamentary.”

“It is unparliamentary to be imputing motives on the part of the standing committee, including the chair. You have been doing that, insinuating that, indicating bad faith on the part of the standing committee. I’m not going to allow it,” De Lima said.

Cayetano objected some more, prompting De Lima to declare him “out of order.”

But Cayetano continued to talk, prompting De Lima to ask the Sergeant-at-Arms to restrain Cayetano. At this point, he eventually stopped. –

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a former multimedia reporter for Rappler. She covered media and disinformation, the Senate, the Office of the President, and politics.