MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – 1-Ang Edukasyon Representative Salvador Belaro Jr believes Rappler’s mood meter should be investigated after he received criticism for his questions to witness Ronnie Dayan during the House probe into the narcotics trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).
In a privilege speech on Monday, November 28, Belaro cited the Rappler story “Kailan kayo nag-climax?’: Nonsense questions at the Bilibid drugs hearing,” which listed the questions lawmakers asked Dayan as they pried into his 7-year love affair with Senator Leila de Lima.
Dayan, De Lima’s ex-security aide, was accused of collecting money from NBP drug lords to help fund De Lima’s 2016 senatorial bid, a charge he denied. (READ: A can of contradictions in Ronnie Dayan’s testimony)
“For the record, I wish to state that the said Rappler article and other similar media coverage which followed suit is unfair as they were taken out of context, selective in presentation, and slanted to suit pre-conceived biases and prejudices,” said Belaro in his speech.
He advised news organizations to be balanced and accountable for their stories.
“I am especially worried by certain features of some online news sites which have controlled mechanisms for feedback from the public as they are susceptible to manipulation by certain interest groups. Some of these online sites have portions for posting feedbacks, but when one tries to post one, they will only accept those which suit their agenda,” said Belaro.
“Or some of these online sites have features for mood meters – i.e. happy, sad, angry, but if you try to post any of your reaction, it remains unchanged. I believe a congressional investigation is in order to prevent these online sites from peddling opinions which only suit their interest,” he added.
Belaro was referring to the mood meter feature on the Rappler website, which allows readers to click the emotion a particular story makes them feel.
During the hearing on November 24, Belaro had asked Dayan questions like “Mahilig ka ba sa sili? (Are you fond of chili pepper?)” and “Kailan kayo nag-climax? (When did you climax?)” to establish how deep Dayan’s relationship was with De Lima, former justice secretary.
The lawmaker’s subsequent questions then focused on the activities Dayan did for De Lima from 2007 to 2014 – collecting and depositing money, meeting with people on behalf of De Lima, and recommending appointments to the Bureau of Corrections.
The full 14-minute video of Belaro’s interpellation was uploaded by Rappler on the same day of the hearing. The full clip was also embedded in all stories that mentioned Belaro’s interpellation.
Other congressmen, including Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, said questions on the De Lima-Dayan relationship were necessary to establish how deep their relationship was and if Dayan was a credible witness.
For Belaro, “there is nothing wrong” with the way the House justice committee members interpellated Dayan.
He cited Section 4, Rule 128 of the Rules of Court, which states: “Evidence must have such a relation to the fact in issue as to induce belief in its existence or non-existence.”
He said the Rules of Court has “persuasive influence” in a congressional investigation in aid of legislation.
“Given such a definition of what is relevant under our laws on evidence, it is easy to see that questions that tend to establish the degree of intimacy such as knowledge of the favorite food of one party by the other, awareness of an anniversary or even the predilection for sili (chilli) all tend to establish the limits of such intimacy, which are all legitimate jumping board questions to the logical implication that such intimacy translates to power over the decision making powers of the parties in relation to [the] drug trade,” said Belaro.
“Given that context, I would say that even the question of whether the parties share the same room is legitimate as it tests whether Dayan has seen receipt of such volume of received money which would naturally be kept in the bedroom or an area known only to persons with intimate relations,” he said.
‘Climax question is not sexual’
Belaro also defended his “climax” question to Dayan, explaining that the said query followed a set of questions that focused on what Dayan did for De Lima from 2007 to 2014.
“Clearly, the context of the ‘climax’ question is a specific year, not the sexual act which my detractors would like to make it appear. It is my detractors who are inputting malice in the word ‘climax’ as climax by itself is a neutral word,” said Belaro.
Still, he apologized if anyone was hurt by his line of questioning.
“The very purpose of summoning Dayan is to probe the limits of that intimacy [with De Lima] and how that intimacy was used in the drug trade. I would just also like to apologize kung meron mga taong nasaktan sa line of questioning (if there was anyone hurt by that line of questioning),” Belaro said.
He called it “unfortunate” that the Rappler article supposedly “slanted its presentation that we encourage sexism, disrespect for women, and display the most callous manifestation of gender insensitivity.”
“We are investigating the honorable Senator De Lima not because she is a woman but because she happens to be the sitting secretary of justice at the time when the drug trade is at its highest point,” said Belaro.
The lawmaker then apologized to his friends and supporters whom he said were “hurt” by the Rappler article as well as to readers who had reacted negatively to the story.
“To those who were hurt, I cannot blame them given the selective, myopic, and slanted presentation in the said article. Any person would indeed feel the same. I can feel your hurt. I can feel your pain, for which reason I am truly sorry,” said Belaro.
De Lima herself, however, had snubbed the probe, calling it a “spectacle” full of lies designed by President Rodrigo Duterte and his more than 250 allies in the House of Representatives to discredit her name.
Read the full text of Belaro’s privilege speech below: