December 12, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Idiot box viewers elect people to the Senate

“Those against the imposition of martial law should be sent to Marawi City. Let them resolve the conflict,” Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto said in a text message when asked to comment on the statement of Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman (no relation, I am from Pampanga) before the Supreme Court that acts of terrorism “are not necessarily equivalent to actual rebellion” to justify the imposition of martial law in Mindanao.

Such obtuse remark impels me to repeatedly speak derisively of the senator, who was originally a slapstick comedian, like calling him a big joke of a senator. I called him that when he tried to crack a joke during the Commission on Appointments confirmation hearing on Secretary of Social Welfare and Development-designate Judy Taguiwalo by referring to her as “na ano lang.”

While that poor attempt to inject humor into the tense hearing was an unfortunate social gaffe, it was not of national import, unlike his contemptuous remark on the opposition to the imposition of martial law in Mindanao.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law and suspended the privilege of writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao because of:

1. the series of violent acts by the Maute terrorist group such as the attack on the military outpost in Butig in 2016 and the freeing of their comrades from the Marawi City jail, also in 2016;

2. the same Maute group taking over a Marawi City hospital, burning down certain government and private facilities, inflicting casualties on government forces, and starting to fly the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria;

3. the recent attack having shown the capacity of the Maute group to sow terror and cause death and damage in other parts of Mindanao.

The Constitution requires Congress to convene to review and validate the declaration. But Sen. Sotto and most of his colleagues in Congress shirked their Constitutional duty and instead summarily endorsed the declaration. So, a number of opposition lawmakers petitioned the Supreme Court to review and nullify Proclamation No. 216.

The petitioners do not oppose the sending of troops to Marawi, they oppose the imposition of martial law all over Mindanao. They claim that the proclamation has no sufficient factual basis. They say the alleged facts contained in the President’s report justifying the imposition of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus were mostly inaccurate, simulated, false, and/or hyperbolic and the list of terrorist acts or incidents of violence are either distant or have been earlier solved with the apprehension and prosecution of the suspected culprits.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo questioned Rep. Lagman on his basis for claiming that the situation in Marawi did not necessitate the proclamation of martial law in the whole of Mindanao considering that he did not visit Marawi City to know the actual situation there. Well, the President did not know the actual situation there either as he, the Defense secretary, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces, and the director-general of the Philippine National Police were all in faraway Moscow when he placed the whole of Mindanao under military rule.

Had Congress convened and examined the President’s declaration and report as required by the Constitution, which examination should have included observation on the ground by members of Congress like Tito Sotto, the dispute would have been resolved and the Supreme Court would not have been petitioned to review and nullify the proclamation. And yet Tito Sotto, the dodger of his constitutional duty, has the gall to suggest that those who object to the imposition of martial law be sent to Marawi to finish the job. What arrant nonsense!

It was wise of Rep. Lagman, the champion of the Reproductive Health law, not to counter with the suggestion that those opposed to the RH law like Sen. Sotto should be sent to the slums of Metro Manila to take care of the multitude of children who are living a life of extreme deprivation due to the inability of their parents to provide for their needs.

The former star of Iskul Bukol has been trying hard in the many years that he has been in the Senate to impress civil society that he is a wise and skilful lawmaker by actively participating in Senate deliberations. But as I have written so many times before, his participation has consisted of asking questions of little relevance to the issues at hand and making comments that require considerable mental exercise to make sense out of them.

In recent years, he has been trying to project the image of a profound, decisive, no-nonsense legislator by uttering curt and dismissive remarks. But his cavalier attitude only demonstrates his vacuity and flippancy.

During the Senate hearing on the comprehensive peace agreement between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, he walked out when he learned that Mohagher Iqbal is not the real name of the MILF chief negotiator. He said he does not talk to unknown personalities. He never refrained though from talking to Ramon Revilla in the 12 years they were in the Senate together when Ramon Revilla is not the real name of his fellow senator. Neither did he walk out of the joint session of Congress when President Joseph Estrada delivered his State of the Nation Address when Estrada is not the real name of the president.

During the Senate hearing on extrajudicial killings, he left the session hall after asking what the Commission on Human Rights representatives were doing about the violation of human rights of those raped and those forced to take drugs by their own fathers. He probably thought that he would shut up the CHR people, who are very earnest in investigating human rights violations, by asking that question in an angry and impatient tone, not knowing that the function of the CHR is investigating violations of civil and political rights, not crimes against private individuals. His question was more appropriate for PNP Director-General Ronald dela Rosa and his staff, who were all at the hearing, as their primary duty is to prevent crime and apprehend perpetrators of crime.

Idiot box was once a popular term in the United States for the television set. The term stemmed from the many inane shows and commercials shown on television. The term is still appropriate in this country. Local television shows have made many Filipinos idiot. That is evidenced by the repeated election of a toilet joke teller and slapstick comedian to the Senate.

Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.