Gutter politics: The worst catfights of 2013

MANILA, Philippines – What do battered wives, partying concubines, and old debts have to do with governance? Not much, but politicos went there anyway. 

An election year with the biggest corruption scandal and the world’s worst typhoon could have brought out the best in statesmen. But in 2013, politicians took black propaganda, congressional catfights, and disaster politicking to an all-time low.

Instead of rising above party politics and personal grudges, the so-called distinguished gentlemen and ladies slugged it out and dragged their rivals’ private lives, including dead parents and troubled children, into the fray. 

While petty feuds are nothing new in the circus that is Philippine politics, the level of mudslinging was unprecedented, coming from the biggest names, the highest ranks of government, and the brightest minds during the direst of crises. 

For voters past and future, we relive the cringe-worthy moments of the people who landed themselves in the Hall of Shame. It was an eventful year, but these newsmakers packed it with their own action, tragedy, and comedy. 

Here are the top catfights of 2013, from bad to worse. Move over, Jerry Springer, this is Philippine politics at its worst.

(Graphics by Mara Mercado)

 

6. Koko Pimentel vs Migz Zubiri: Bickering enters the bedroom 

Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri tried but failed to escape the ghost of the 2007 polls. Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III made it a campaign strategy to remind voters that he was “the face of dagdag-bawas” (vote padding and shaving) and a “fake senator” who cheated him of 4 years of his term. He even sang: “Imagine there’s no cheating. It isn’t hard to do.” 

So when the two had a face-off on TV in March, Zubiri unleashed his pent-up vitriol. “Eh pinsan ko po 'yung kanyang dating maybahay at talagang nilapitan niya ako at sinabihan niya ako that she is a battered wife.” (His ex-wife is my cousin and she approached me and told me that she is a battered wife.) 

Pimentel’s wife, ex-beauty queen Jewel May Lobaton, then cried foul that her marriage became fodder for campaign debate. She issued a statement denying Zubiri's revelation.

Zubiri said sorry, calling his outburst a “heat of the moment.” In the end, it was his candidacy that was battered. 

After the elections – after Koko was re-elected and Migz lost – Jewel filed for annulment and accused Koko of “psychological and emotional abuse.” 

 

5. Juan Ponce Enrile vs Alan Peter Cayetano: Digging up a dead man’s debt 

In one of the ugliest Senate exchanges, the former Senate President tore down Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, one of 4 critics he deprived of additional funds. Cayetano questioned the issue in a speech, but also attacked Enrile and chief of staff Gigi Reyes for their closeness to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and his wife’s political rivals in Taguig. 

Enrile’s response? Cayetano’s father, the late Senator Rene Cayetano, owed him P37 million in their Pecabar law firm that Enrile supposedly put up so Cayetano could feed his family. Enrile retorted that he even paid for the wood used in building the Cayetano home. 

Then calming down, Enrile said: “Let me address the budget. I won’t go down to the gutter.” Cayetano lashed back, “You already went to the gutter. Your chief of staff has already gone to the gutter. You're bringing up things where a person who's already dead cannot answer."

The fallout was evident: Reyes resigned after calling Cayetano a hypocrite on radio, Enrile's son lost in the senator polls, and the Senate chief stepped down right before a new majority could elect its leader.  

My critics cannot destroy me,” Enrile said. It was his words that did.

 

4. Joseph Estrada vs Alfredo Lim: Thrilla in Manila 

When Asiong Salonga challenges Dirty Harry’s hold on Manila, it’s bound to be a riot. The battle for the capital was the most heated and most watched local race, complete with the gripes of friends-turned-foes, a bingo game gone wrong, and mug shots as props

Former President Joseph Estrada promised to restore Manila from the decay it had become under Alfredo Lim’s leadership. But platforms were forgotten in debates and school fora

With his classic mischievous humor, Erap brought up how Lim, who was his interior secretary, betrayed him in EDSA 2, only to later cry and beg for forgiveness. Lim shot back, “Hindi ako iiyak sa isang kriminal, sa isang magnanakaw.” (I won’t cry before a criminal, before a thief.) 

Lim also took exception to Estrada’s mention of his son’s drug addiction to mock his anti-drugs campaign. Estrada was equally guilty, he said: “Eh 'yung anak niya, naaresto din. May binugbog pa na babae tungkol sa drugs.” (How about his son? He was also arrested. He even beat up a woman over drugs.) 

Manila’s voters had the tough task of choosing the lesser evil, but Lim’s jabs at Estrada’s plunder conviction did not connect. The popular movie star staged his political comeback, proudly declaring, “For the first time, Manila will have an ex-convict as your city mayor.” 

 

3. Korina Sanchez vs Anderson Cooper: Keeping her honest 

It took CNN poster boy Anderson Cooper to point out the obvious: Korina Sanchez’s conflict of interest. 

Mali-mali” (totally wrong) was how ABS-CBN’s chief correspondent described Cooper’s critical reporting of the relief effort in Yolanda-hit Tacloban City in a not so blind item on her radio show.

When the American anchor got wind of the criticism, he set the record straight and gave her global infamy: “Ms Sanchez is welcome to go there and I would urge her to go there. I don’t know if she has, but her husband’s the interior minister, I’m sure he can arrange a flight.” 

Then came silence, literally. Sanchez was gone from TV Patrol and DZMM, fuelling rumors she was suspended. She later gave an interview on her own radio program that she was just finishing a special for her magazine show. Still, it took weeks for her to get back on air. Her network made no explanation. 

This is not the first time Mrs Roxas’ commentary was called out. The camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay complained when she treated him like Voldemort and alluded to interior-secretary-wannabes who are “maiitim at maliliit na mga maligno” (dark, little evil spirits).

As for AC, he moved on to pay tribute to CNN Heroes and those in Tacloban’s rubble

 

2. Mar Roxas vs Alfred Romualdez: Walking disasters 

Who’s politicking and who’s incompetent? Interior Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II and Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez point to their own recordings of a now controversial 40- to 50-minute meeting in the aftermath of the world’s most powerful typhoon. The bone of contention? A piece of paper. 

In back-to-back press conferences, Roxas criticized Romualdez for supposedly releasing a “malicious video” that caught him saying: “You have to understand. You are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino.”

The secretary said his next statement was edited out: “So we are being very careful in just taking over because we do not want anything to be misconstrued.” 

Romualdez and cousin Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr asked why Roxas even brought up last names during a disaster. Crying before a congressional hearing, Romualdez accused the national government of slow and inadequate response. He also questioned the need for a document for the national government to step in. 

“Why is it illegal? As far as I know, the President is the president of the Philippines and he is also president of Tacloban City,” he said.  

One gaffe led to the next. Roxas offended netizens when he laughed while addressing Romualdez and posttraumatic stress disorder. “Siguro tatanungin ko siya, nagpa-stress debriefing ka na ba? Baka tumino at luminaw ang paningin mo.” (Maybe I will ask him: have you undergone stress debriefing? Maybe your vision will get better.)

Pundits pointed out their wrangling was a stark contrast to how US President Barack Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie set aside political colors and worked together after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 

In the Roxas-Romualdez case, it was a feud of disastrous proportions. 

 

1. Miriam Defensor Santiago vs Juan Ponce Enrile: Death by privilege speech 

She’s bitter and he’s maasim. Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Juan Ponce Enrile beat Katniss Everdeen’s Hunger Games with their verbal archery that made the Senate floor, live television, and social media catch fire. 

The Senate’s privilege hour turned into witching hour as the legal eagles gutted each other with the nastiest words. Santiago drew the first blood by accusing “Tanda” of masterminding the pork barrel scam in a hearing. What was expected to be Enrile’s rebuttal turned into an assault on her low bar exam grade and “deranged mind.”

As the classic truism goes, hell hath no fury like Miriam scorned. The dragon lady rose from her sickbed, summoned her student admirers, and stared a Bejeweled Enrile down. She charged him of being a smuggling and gambling king, and a “hypersexualized serial womanizer” who made his ex-chief of staff his “concubine.” 

“He looks like a female llama surprised in her bath. He reminds me of nothing so much as a dead fish, before it has time to stiffen. If he has the courage, he should switch places with me: he should be funny, and I’ll be the asshole,” she said.

So cutthroat was the aptly named clash of the titans that their peers were rendered immobilized. After allowing the exchange and conceding it was “great entertainment,” some senators finally found the voice to object to the name-calling, and to propose crossing it out of the Senate records.

The undisputed worst catfight of 2013 added another layer of muck to institutions mired in trauma and political drama. Observers point out no record-cleaning will raise the bar of leadership in a way voters can. 

May the odds be finally in your favor. – Rappler.com