[Pastilan] First, they made her look like a woman of ill-repute

Kagay-anon anthropologist and historian Antonio "Nono" Montalvan II has been avoiding the use of "EDSA" whenever he refers to the revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. He has raised a sound argument: "People Power was not geography-specific at EDSA."

Nono's argument is compelling, and I see where he is coming from. Cagayan de Oro, his home city, was the "premier bulwark of the political opposition in Mindanao" long before what he calls the "four incredibly momentous days of February 1986."

This city is where the anti-dictatorship Mindanao Alliance of the Bono Adaza-Reuben Canoy-Nene Pimentel triumvirate was born. Briefly, it pushed back and served as one of the fiercest voices in Mindanao against the dictatorship. The Alliance was the precursor of Pimentel's Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP) that played a role in the 1986 revolution, after a merger with the Lakas ng Bayan (Laban) of Ninoy Aquino.

Things are very different now in Cagayan de Oro, where many have become enablers of what the city stood against more than three decades ago. Politicians here are playing it safe – they either remain in silence or, on very rare occasions, throw calculated jabs, but they are always very careful not to catch the ire of the Palace.

And Cagayan de Oro's very own PDP? Well, the entire party, including its chapter here,  morphed into almost everything the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) was before the 1986 revolt. Many of its leaders and ardent followers now hate "yellow," the exact color they proudly associated with in the '80s and '90s, towards the turn of the century, and until its failed and unsightly metamorphosis in 2016. Bob Dylan puts it this way: "The times, they are a-changin.'"

Here, they blame what happened in February 1986 for almost every misdeed and wrong decision ever made from 1987 to 2021. And it's not even uncommon for a long-time PDP stalwart here to shut his mouth or join the cheering crowd as he watches the Palace do to Senator Leila de Lima exactly what the Marcos dictatorship did to his party's founder. It's like saying that it's People Power's fault that one has liver problems 35 years later. (Try blaming your drinking habit instead, stupid.)

Speaking of Senator De Lima, I have to state that I feel bad knowing full well from the very start that she continues to be a victim of a justice system and a democracy screwed up beyond recognition. I suppose that there are still many others, mostly ordinary and helpless citizens, who feel the same way. We were unable to do anything to stop what Justice Antonio Carpio described as "one of the grossest injustices ever perpetrated in recent memory in full view of the Filipino nation and the entire world."

We were helpless and merely watched while they arrested and locked De Lima up in 2017. We still watch – yes, merely watch – from afar to this day.

We knew that was the consummation of a threat made in public in 2016 that she should get ready for the cases. She was told at that time, "...tumahimik ka! I will investigate you. I will file charges against you. Do not pick a fight with me; you will lose." In short, the decision to bring De Lima to court and put her behind bars was made even before an investigation could begin. And, yes, the threat was made just months before she was charged, arrested, and jailed. It was premeditated.

And lost she did since February 24, 2017, when they brought her to Camp Crame for detention on drug charges, lawsuits grounded on the tall tales of prisoners who would do and say just about anything to save their necks. They are, after all, witnesses of an executive department controlled by a man-child with a score to settle. The inmates know that the department calls the shots in a corrections bureau capable of making their lives behind bars more hellish. They know the bureau can either swiftly act to prevent them from getting stabbed or look the other way and leave them bleeding to death during a prison riot.

What De Lima is going through offends every bit of bone in my body. No human being deserves to be treated that way without solid evidence of wrongdoing, and given that the whole world heard how she was threatened with charges barely a year before her arrest all because she opted to "pick a fight" with the pettiest leader this nation has ever known.

How could something like this happen in 21st century Philippines? For four years, De Lima has been held incommunicado for long periods, separated from her loved ones, restricted from accepting visitors, deprived of even the small communication luxuries electronic devices offer, and barred from exercising her duties as a senator of the Republic. It is also a loss for this nation, which has been deprived of one voice in the Senate, the upper chamber that is now suffering from poverty of great minds and balls, and where the black art of bootlickery replaced sound reasoning and critical thinking.

Yet our nation's version of the "witch purge" – or if you prefer to call it "slut purge" – happened right under our very noses, and many of us merely watched with indifference as they, figuratively speaking, burned her at the stake, something I attribute to cultural and even religious biases towards women. This fentanyl-popper of a man-child played well into this nation's biases by putting a scarlet letter around De Lima's neck first, before he turned the law and legal rules as a weapon to give her arrest and detention a semblance of legality. In doing so, he succeeded in inciting people, including the religious, into casting stones at De Lima's direction because, in their eyes, she is a "sinner" or a "woman of ill-repute" who deserves nothing but hellfire and everything that was coming her way.

Unfortunately, this nation has yet to rid itself of its biases towards women who suffered failed marriages just like De Lima. In this part of the world, a woman who re-marries is still frowned on, and any romantic relationship outside that failed marriage is seen as a "mortal sin." When a woman does that, she is "dirty" and "immoral." Yet that doesn't apply to the tough-talking man of a traditional politician who has succeeded in convincing himself that bragging about his conquests for everyone to hear makes him macho – not even when he holds hands with one of his younger trophies on a stage during a rally. Such a double standard we have there.

De Lima's only "fault" – if that was even a fault – was being honest about her affair with her ex-driver, which she attributed to a woman's "frailties." They feasted on that affair, summoned Ronnie Dayan, and made him speak about the romance so that everyone could mock and laugh at De Lima, and so that they could further weave incredible tales about her alleged links to the underworld. This nation turned a blind eye to the fact that the man-child, just months earlier, volunteered the information that at the time he was serving in another public office, he was among those who planted evidence and spread intrigues as a means to an end.

By that time, there was already a scarlet letter around De Lima's neck, aggravated by a sex video of the senator that never was. Sadly, many still take that as fact to this day.

But what was circulated were blurry screenshots, apparently doctored, of a bespectacled female with a built and facial contour like De Lima's. How is it possible for a sex video of a politician of De Lima's stature, a justice secretary turned senator, to be unavailable even in the darkest corners of the worldwide web when clips from an old Betamax tape recording involving one of her persecutors and an erstwhile famous actress are all over the internet to this day? Not even the hawkers of pirated DVDs in the streets of Cagayan de Oro could offer copies of this alleged sex video scandal. Yet the vendors have a surplus of copies of video recordings of former students of a Jesuit-run university, a mall executive, and a lowly worker in Cagayan de Oro doing intimate things within the confines of rooms. The pirated DVD hawkers in this city and elsewhere would have long made a killing out of De Lima's alleged sex video if it existed. But there is none.

I do not know how the systematic slut-shaming and muting of De Lima can escape the discerning mind. First, they demonized her, made her look like a "sinful woman," a "sexual predator," and a "good-for-nothing home-wrecker" who deserved everything that was about to happen, and then they threw her in jail. When that ugly image stuck, it became easier for them to do to De Lima whatever they wished, as they pleased, knowing she wouldn't win enough public support in a deeply religious country that abhors – and, at the same time, that's obsessed with – female promiscuity.

I asked Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez to tell me if he could cite any piece of legislation that was passed by Congress as a result of the House investigation into De Lima's alleged drug links four years ago. He said he would do some research and get back to me. That's the only time in my recollection that the seasoned politician had no ready and straight answer to a very simple question. And for the record, he never got back to me with that information.

Rufus, one of the most brilliant lawyers to ever represent Cagayan de Oro in Congress, is the type of politician who never runs out of answers. And so, it is unthinkable that a new law that sprang from the House investigation done "in aid of legislation" would escape his mind. But in this case, he says he needs to do some research first. Such response suggests that he could not think of anything significant that's worth mentioning.

Another congressman from a neighboring Mindanao region, who requested anonymity, put it bluntly: "None."  Everything that happened in the House, he added, was "in aid of persecution."

And the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino, the same party that once upon a time fought to oust a dictator who jailed his critics, enabled this. I've long been wanting to ask Nene Pimentel's senator-son Koko this: how do the heels on a man-child's boots taste? Pastilan. – Rappler.com

Herbie Gomez has been a journalist based in Cagayan de Oro for over 30 years. He edits the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.