At the Senate: Some thoughts

My apologies for those, ah, crappy photos I took from my seat in the Senate gallery during last Thursday’s hearing. My phone’s Internet connection was far from robust, and I ended up posting the few pictures I took (more in the nature of a visual aide memoire) rather than the partial live-blogging commentary I had in mind.

But the senators’ questioning, taken as a whole, was similarly insipid. As I texted a few friends immediately after the hearing: Just spent seven hours in the Senate. Lousy connection, lousier questions. I can’t help thinking the Senate dropped the ball on this one.

Three quick reasons:

1. The senators failed to force the issue. The closest they came was when Sen. Nene Pimentel moved to have more Cabinet secretaries testify under oath. But that move (an “ambush,” Sen. Enrile said) fizzled out. Confronted with violently opposed testimonies, say about Sec. Mendoza’s meeting with Joey de Venecia’s father in Dasmarinas Village, and enjoying the opportunity to press the witnesses on the very point, the senators did exactly nothing.

2. The senators — and I think of Sen. Roxas in particular — treated the Cabinet members with an undeserved, an elaborate, courtesy. The contrast between the way they manhandled Assistant Sec. Formoso and tiptoed around Mendoza (Roxas, more or less: “And now I turn to Secretary Mendoza, whom I always greet with a smile, because we were together in the Cabinet …”) spoke eloquently about the privileges of power, and how they can hide, under the veneer of collegiality, abuses committed under that same power.

3. The senators failed to reach a consensus on the immoral, almost certainly illegal, conduct of Comelec chairman Abalos, who acted like a politician-broker instead of a constitutional officer with regards to the ZTE deal. Instead of laying the predicate, before an avid public, that would have allowed them to weigh Abalos’ forthcoming testimony with greater precision, they let opportunity after opportunity slide.

Yes, there were some senators who started important lines of questioning, but by and large it seemed to me that the hearing last Thursday was a promise unfulfilled.

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