[Newspoint] Secret talks

It shouldn’t be difficult to draw the battle lines in today’s politics. The battle is moral, between good and bad. It is also existential: In the words of Leni Robredo, the marginalized and defunded vice president, “We cannot afford another six years of this [Duterte regime].”

The portents in those words have become direr and direr with every indication that Duterte is intent on perpetuating himself in power, certainly not out of any principles – murder, corruption, and repression are, after all, the hallmarks of his regime – or any patriotic sense – hasn’t he given away our rich and strategic territorial western sea? Plainly, he would not be brought to account.

Given those stark and pressing realities, there would seem little space, if at all, for any decent compromise, and that’s precisely the reason furor has greeted Robredo’s meeting with Senators Ping Lacson and Dick Gordon. That the meeting took place on her initiative, as the senators have been quick to reveal, makes it even more rankling.

Making a big thing of that circumstance suits Lacson and Gordon for sure. They have been, as their voting records in the Senate show, staunch Duterte partisans, although, as Duterte’s unrenewable term draws to a close, they have become circumspect in their relationship with him. Their own electoral mandates due for renewal – Lacson has declared he’s running for president, but apparently more as bargaining tactic than anything else – they only stand to gain, as Robredo herself likely stands to lose, from whatever association they have with her.

Both have enough long-possessed qualities to make them, with little help from Duterte, an ill fit with Robredo. Lacson being a martial-law enforcer under Ferdinand Marcos, it’s not difficult to conceive his forceful sponsorship of a law that punishes, in draconian and arbitrary ways, a crime it cannot even define. Now the Anti-Terrorism Act serves as a pretext for tagging Duterte enemies as communists or plotters or both and for cracking down on them. Neither was it much of a surprise that, indicted once for murder, he ran and hid, resurfacing only after the coast had been cleared for him, 14 months later. That he has undertaken some bold reform effort, notably against the pork barrel, in fact putting his money where his mouth is by taking none of it for himself, may be a redeeming point. But does that make for enough saving grace?

As for Gordon, he has tried to ingratiate himself with just about every sitting president, but perhaps most obsequiously and profitably with Duterte. As chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, he acted as hatchet man in the implausible case of his fellow senator Leila de Lima, the hound Duterte had tried to shake off from his days as mayor of Davao City and hers as chair of the Commission on Human Rights.

A confessed hitman for Duterte testified that, if not for an unplanned rerouting of De Lima on one of her investigative visits to Davao, she would have been caught in an ambush and killed. But Gordon gave wider hearings to the testimonies of convicts herded to implicate her in the same drug trafficking for which they had been put in jail for life. Some of them have since retracted.

The one-sided proceedings foreshadowed the course of the case. De Lima was taken to court and denied bail, and has been in detention for more than five years now. She is let out only to be taken to court, but never to be confronted there with one single concrete piece of evidence against her. Yet she remains a prisoner – Gordon’s prisoner of conscience.

Meantime, Gordon himself carries on with his happy double life, as senator and chairman of the Red Cross, which, during the pandemic alone, got contracts in the billions of pesos with Philhealth, the state insurer. The convenience afforded him by that duality became wantonly manifest when he placed Philhealth under investigation for allegations of corruption: at the time, Philhealth owed Red Cross big for medical supplies and services, chiefly for testing for the deadly virus.

What the meeting with Lacson and Gordon was about, neither they nor Robredo is telling; in fact, she’s not saying anything at all. But, anxiously fixated on numbers, despite the doubtful reliability of polls taken in a climate of fear such as prevails under Duterte’s watch, presumably she is herself polling for the “united opposition” on which not only does she pin all hope of beating Duterte’s team in the May 2022 vote, but also predicate her own decision whether to run for president.

Her spokesman Barry Gutierrez says that, indeed, she plans to hold exploratory talks with other prospects. He laughs off suspicions and speculations provoked by the meeting with Lacson and Gordon, saying, “They [were] just talking.”  

Precisely, it is only reasonable to be suspicious, and fair to speculate, about secret talks between sides meant to cancel out each other. Pragmatism and compromise and some secrecy may have their constructive use in politics, but people like us, who in the end will take the repercussions of all the plotting done in the political stratosphere, deserve to be warned about them, somehow. For instance, we deserve to know the basic parameters of the bargaining: Where does political expediency end and moral conviction begin?

Anyway, as a base standard, any line that cuts across Leila de Lima, definitely, cannot be righteous. – Rappler.com