Do lawmakers have a sexual life? Presumably, they do, and they ought to know that this is a private matter. If so, why would they inquire into the details of another person’s sexual life in the course of the performance of their legislative function? I suppose the quick answer would be: Because if that person happens to be a public official, her sexual life could have a bearing on her behavior as an officer of the state, and therefore it becomes a valid subject of public inquiry.
This question, as the whole nation knows, pertains to the case being built against a sitting senator—Leila de Lima, a former justice secretary and a former head of the Commission on Human Rights.
It is usual to hear politicians denounce one another in congressional sessions. We could say it is part of the sport of politics. But, the other day, members of the House of Representatives crossed a line. I’m not sure what to call it; it’s not merely the boundary between the public and the private, or the decent and the indecent. It is more than that. I do not recall that any legislator has been so subjected to public humiliation with regard to his or her sexual life in the course of a congressional hearing that is being held supposedly in aid of legislation.
I sat transfixed before the TV set watching this 7-hour spectacle. In horror and disbelief, I turned off the set a couple of times, only to find myself switching it back on. I guess I was waiting for a sober voice, possibly that of a woman or of an enlightened man, to put a stop at some point to the carnival of unmasking that had taken hold of the predominantly male lawmakers in that hearing.
Since the lady senator has previously admitted that she did have an affair with her driver-bodyguard Ronnie Dayan—and the latter has confirmed this—was it still necessary for the committee to inquire, in aid of legislation, into the intensity of that relationship? Yet the salacious line of questioning went on unabated. “Did you sleep in the same room as the senator?” asked one wide-eyed congressman. “What did you call each other?” another lawmaker chimed in. “Would you say your love was true, pure, and strong?” inquired yet another in a melodramatic tone.
In his book titled “Defacement,” the anthropologist Michael Taussig uses the term “defacement” to refer to this transgressive act. He writes: “When the human body, a nation’s flag, money, or a public statue is defaced, a strange surplus of negative energy is likely to be aroused from within the defaced thing itself. It is now in a state of desecration, the closest many of us are going to get to the sacred in this modern world.” In the relentless unmasking that has been done to Sen. Leila de Lima, I would argue that what is being defaced is not just the person but also the entire institution to which she has been elected.
One may ask: What is to be gained from exposing the innermost private lives of our lawmakers? Don’t we all know that almost everyone of our leaders—those who make decisions in our name, and who speak in the name of the state—have secrets? How many of the honorable legislators who feasted on the private life that De Lima and Dayan shared can honestly claim to have had only pristine and legitimate sexual relationships? Furthermore, how many of them can honestly claim to know the exact provenance of every peso that comes their way during election time?
Indeed, this entire effort could backfire. As Taussig insightfully reminds us: “For are not shared secrets the basis of our social institutions, the workplace, the market, the family, and the state? Is not such public secrecy the most interesting, the most powerful, the most mischievous and ubiquitous form of socially active knowledge there is?”
To put it more bluntly, do we really want to know what goes on in the bedrooms of our lawmakers and government officials? Do we really care to know how, exactly, our politicians raise the money they need to finance our insanely expensive elections? I am quite certain that, even if expected, the revelations would horrify all of us, and would make us even more cynical than we already are about government, democracy, and the rule of law.
In the shadow of these public secrets, I was ready to believe the worst about Senator De Lima. But, having closely followed the testimonies of Dayan at the House and of the confessed drug “distributor” Kerwin Espinosa at the Senate, I can now say that I do not believe that Senator De Lima had knowingly used Dayan as her collector of campaign contributions from drug dealers. It looks more likely that Dayan had exploited and monetized his personal connection with her for his own selfish interests. I even doubt if this undeserving man ever had any real affection for the woman he is now sacrificing at the altar of her enemies.
Neither do I believe that Senator De Lima personally knew Kerwin Espinosa and that she would be crazy enough to have a souvenir photo taken with him if she knew he was a drug dealer. This fellow is an obvious criminal, and I am appalled that he is being allowed to freely defame the honor of a senator in what is clearly a public trial.
Someone is undoubtedly behind this badly written script, someone who seeks to destroy Senator De Lima because she has become emblematic of everything that the Aquino administration stood for. To destroy her is to deface the legacy of that administration.
Indeed, as Taussig tells us in a parting shot, so many instances of political defacement “only occur after the regime has, as we say, fallen, emerging from the vantage point of the security provided by another strong state.”