Longest day 6

While watching the session from the media gallery (on the left side of the hall), I had a chance to update or revise my estimate of the so-called young guns of the opposition, at least as far as parliamentary eloquence was concerned.

Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, for example. I have said before that he comes on as whiny on television, an obviously smart man whose increasingly anxious attempts to explain what should be already apparent to anyone turns his tone of voice plaintive.

Last Monday, I found out that, as a presentor, a speaker with a prepared brief, he is not as effective as his speaking abilities would make us think. But as an interpellator, as a participant in the give and take of parliamentary exchange, he is engaging and even brilliant. My conclusion: His gift as a speaker is that of wit.

When session resumed at 6:05 pm, it was Cayetano’s turn at the lectern. He had with permission from the House leadership set up a projector screen, right beside the session hall’s left-side clock; after starting with a quote from Zechariah, he launched into a series of Kennedyesque inversions: "It’s not a majority rule; it’s a morality rule." And "not the rule of law, but the role of law." Etcetera.

Unfortunately, as my notes remind me, at this point there’s "too much noise, nobody’s listening." I meant nobody on the floor. Was he speaking over his colleagues’ heads? Was he presenting something already all-too-familiar? Or was he simply unable to command the attention of his fellow congressmen?

At 6:18 pm, with "Rep. Joel Villanueva at the laptop controls," he proceeded to present what he said was some of the evidence against President Arroyo that would have been heard if the amended complaint had been found sufficient in form and substance.

The presentation, at least inside the session hall, was a flop. The trance music that for some reason he thought made for an appropriate background added to the already considerable level of noise on the floor; the mixing of key clips from the Garcillano tapes, a la Max Headroom, could not have been decided on with Congress as the audience. And to top it all, at 6:23 pm, Speaker Jose de Venecia makes only his second appearance on the floor, to hustle to the VIP gallery and pay his respects to Cory Aquino and Susan Roces.

Except for Rep. Robert Jaworski Jr., who was seated on the first row and was only a meter or so away from Cayetano, I did not see anyone else pay continued attention to the presentation. More than half an hour after Cayetano took the lectern, he was still at it. But by then the privilege hour had already gone beyond the one-hour mark. (The clock said 1:11.) On a motion from Rep. Art Defensor, the presiding officer Emilio Espinosa extended the privilege hour for another hour.

During the extension, Cayetano finally wrapped it all up, ending the way he started, with a passage from the Bible, this time from 1st Timothy. But he could have quoted from a more appropriate source, the Gospels, especially that part about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, only to turn around and find his companions asleep. "Could you not watch one hour with me?"

But in the middle of the next morning, Cayetano finally rose to the occasion. He succeeded Minority Leader Francis Escudero at the lectern, to interpellate Rep. Luis Villafuerte on the justice committee’s report.

As this Inquirer report makes clear (well, I hope it does, having written part of it), Cayetano’s quickness of mind is best suited to exchanges of this kind. Without notes, without consulting with colleagues, and without skipping a beat, he always managed to say the right thing, to make the right reply.

When Villafuerte, using the example of gerrymandering, coined a new word, "Dinkification," to describe the charges against the President, Cayetano immediately replied with a new word for Malacanang’s attempts at cover-up: "Gloriafication."

For over an hour, Cayetano and Villafuerte tangled, and for the most part it was an even contest; it was tit for witty tat. But Cayetano’s last set of questions, about the committee’s inclusion of exculpatory language about two controversial projects, proved too much for Villafuerte. If I recall correctly, he never did answer the last questions directly.

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