Squabble in the Senate
Covering the Chaos in the Committee Hearing
Screengrab from CNNPhilippines.com.
Squabbling senators led the hearing into a sorry display of disorderly conduct, derailing the attention of the public as well as the media from relevant and salient points in the ongoing probe of a PHP6.4 billion drug shipment from China. These hearings demonstrated opposing positions of senators about the need to invite members of President’s family to clarify their alleged involvement in a group engaged in the business of releasing shipments through the Bureau of Customs (BOC). After the two made an appearance in the Senate in September, Senator Richard Gordon took time to say how he never opposed inviting the two.
A review of the chronology:
July 31: The Senate Blue Ribbon committee started its probe into the drug shipment. Mark Taguba, a customs broker, testifies as a witness, based on his experience as a customs broker.
August 7: Referring to various groups who he knew to facilitate shipment releases, Taguba mentioned the names of Paolo “Pulong” Duterte, the president’s son, and Mans Carpio, the president’s son-in-law, as part of a so-called “Davao Group” one of the groups facilitating shipment releases in the Bureau of Customs in Davao City.
August 31: After the questioning of Taguba, Gordon and Trillanes engaged in a verbal tussle, after Trillanes asked why the president’s son, Pulong and Carpio had not yet been summoned to the hearing given that Taguba had already provided enough information meriting further inquiry. Trillanes also commented on the badgering of the Taguba. Angered by the remark, Gordon suddenly suspended the session. Still on the air, the two senators argued, trading insults.
Primetime newscasts and online reports on the day reported the exchange as the broadsheets did the following day. Some online news sites headlined their August 31 stories: “Gordon rejects Trillanes bid to summon Paolo Duterte, Mans Carpio” (GMA News Online), “Gordon rejects motion to invite Duterte’s son, son-in-law to smuggling probe” (Rappler).
Most reports on primetime focused on the Gordon-Trillanes tussle. Stories by TV Patrol and 24 Oras also said that Gordon decided not to invite Duterte and Carpio. The Inquirer and Star’s reports on September 1 also described the fight. In a report on September 2, the Inquirer said that Gordon “rebuffed” Trillanes’ motion (“Trillanes dares Gordon: Go nahead, file your case”), while the Star’s “Broker clears Rody kin in Customs mess” said Gordon refused to act on Trillanes’ motion due to lack of evidence to support the claims against Duterte and Carpio.
CNN Philippines’ News Night anchor Pia Hontiveros did separate one-on-one interviews with Trillanes and Gordon where the latter set the record straight, clarifying that he did not object to motion.
A review of the footage of the August senate hearing shows Gordon’s hostile interrogation of Taguba, bringing up the entire background of the family, indeed badgering the witness. He said that the Senate was holding incriminating information on the wealth of the family, suggesting this was all ill-gotten, as Taguba’s father was only a member of the customs police, an obvious effort to question the credibility of the witness. Gordon demonstrated that he had a dossier not just of Taguba but of the entire family, detailing background, wealth and properties.
It was clear to anyone watching the session that Gordon did not think it was necessary to invite the two because Taguba, who mentioned their names, was not a credible witness. As Senator Vicente Sotto III had said as well, his (Taguba’s) testimony was all “hearsay.”
After the heated exchange, Trillanes said he would file a motion to invite the two, to which Gordon, in fact, said “you may do so,” which served as the committee’s ruling approving the invitation of the two.
Palace changes mind; Gordon follows suit
September 2: Palace issued a statement that there was no need to summon Duterte and Carpio.
September 3: President Duterte told reporters “Ang advice ko kay Pulong? Punta ka doon. And then pagdating mo, dun sa questions, sabihin mo: “I will not answer you.” (“Duterte: I would advise Pulong to remain silent at Senate hearing”)
September 7: The next session aired live on September 7 showed Paolo Duterte and Mans Carpio present in the Senate, sworn in and ready to say their piece. The two invoked their right to privacy and also claimed confidentially of bank information, refusing to sign a waiver so the Senate could examine their bank accounts.
Senator Trillanes referred to “ïntel” he was given about the triad, he asked Duterte if he was willing to show such a tattoo on his back. To which Duterte responded, “No way.” Trillianes said that the Triad, an Asian crime syndicate, requires the same sign to be tattooed on its members.
Sharper take in Op-Ed
Oftentimes, when covering senate hearings, the media become mere spectators and recorders, churning pieces summarizing questions and answers. In this issue, sharper take on what transpired are found in the Op-Ed pages:
In his The Manila Times column, former senator Francisco Tatad wrote “So neither of them punched the other. But the reputation of the Senate, which is currently observing its centennial, could not have sunk lower had the exchange degenerated into the use of the Queensberry rules.”(“Get the Senate some rest, and rest from the Senate”)
The Inquirer ran the editorial “Gordon’s unethical complaint,” which argued against Gordon’s complaint against his peer for misconduct: “This is nonsense. We’ve heard much more terrible insults exchanged in legislative debate before, and President Duterte is certainly no choir boy when it comes to the use of language that may be called unparliamentary. If anything, Gordon’s transparent lawyering for the President’s son and son-in-law was what damaged the Senate’s reputation. After all, it is supposed to be independent of the incumbent Malacañang occupant, is it not?”