Seares: Cayetano should not have said, ‘Nabuang ka na, ‘Day.’ The senator should have asked himself, Binay, other senators, ‘Wa nabuang ning atong hearing?’

The Short of It.
Seares: Cayetano should not have said, ‘Nabuang ka na, ‘Day.’ The senator should have asked himself, Binay, other senators, ‘Wa nabuang ning atong hearing?’
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[] They didn’t resolve an issue of cost by doing simple math. Instead, Cayetano and Binay heatedly argued for their total estimate.

[] A fair-minded, less emotionally involved chairman could have quickly ended the squabble. At Cebu City Council, a recess is quickly ordered when threat of a quarrel comes up.

[] Recall Antonio Trillanes’s take in 2017 in defending himself against a complaint of colleague Richard Gordon whom Trillanes called “Durterte’s dick.”

“WALA ka mabuang,” or any variation of the expression, is not always defamatory. It is sometimes used to shoot down an idea, not necessarily to slander the creator of the idea. Senator Nancy Binay -- who clashed heatedly with Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, chairman of the Senate committee on accounts Wednesday, July 3, 2024 -- was reported the next day to have said she’d consult lawyers if she had legal basis to seek sanction against the senator from Taguig.

Cayetano in the exchange of words at the hearing on the increased cost of the construction of the Senate building told the senator from Makati (a) her first name was not Marites, implying she was behaving like a “Marites,” idiom for gossip-monger; (b) “Nabuang ka na, ‘Day” (roughly “You’ve gone crazy, Miss”). The first is hardly defamatory; the second could be, if the context signifies clear intent to hurt Binay’s reputation. Cayetano could argue he used it just as an expression, more of scorn over the turn of the discussion than ill-will against Binay.

Unparliamentary acts, language

Under the Senate rules, acts and language that “offend” a senator or public institution shall be deemed “unparliamentary” and may be struck from the record.

In a situation when sparks fly and harsh words are said, the Senate or, in this case, the committee may declare a recess. The City Council does that often. The presiding officer, by himself or at the instance of any councilor, orders a recess as quickly and easily as he bangs his gavel.

Obviously, Senator Binay may file a complaint with the Senate ethics committee or just move to have Cayetano’s remarks struck from the records or simply forget the incident. Already, in the same hearing Cayetano talked about him and Binay apologizing to each other.

‘Nabuang’ and past ‘bad’ language’

In past Senate terms, a number of senators called their colleagues names.

Cayetano called Noynoy Aquino, a former senator and ex-Senate president, "abnormal." Joker Arroyo called Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV a “mosquito.” Miriam Defensor-Santiago called many senators and resource persons ”fungus-faced” or “imbeciles.”

In those cases, the smear on reputation was forgotten or dropped because they were done off-session or outside the committee hearing or the Senate halls, although reported in the media. In 2017 alone, six senators faced ethics complaints filed by colleagues or pro-administration camps against opposition lawmakers.

‘If you can give it, you can take it.’

Then senator Trillanes, in a September 5, 2017 privilege speech on an ethics case filed against him by Senator Richard Gordon, said “We are all political figures… in the business of influencing, or being influenced by, public opinion to forge public policy or promote public interest.” Our primary weapons, Trillanes said, are words. “The unwritten rule is, If you can give it, then you should be able to take it.”

But there’s a line dividing what can or cannot be said or done, while in parliament or even in media and it’s clear to him, Trillanes said. “Even in this era of kabastosan or pagmumura under the Duterte administration…as long as I am not cursing, or using cuss words, and I am not physically hurting anybody, then I am not crossing that line.”

Trillanes thought he didn’t cross the line when he called at a December 7, 2016 Senate committee hearing Gordon’s committee on justice and human rights as “comite de absuelto.” Slamming Gordon’s alleged cover-up of evidence against then president Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial killings of illegal drug suspects, Trillanes branded Gordon as “Duterte’s dick,” a wordplay on Richard’s nickname.

Was slur on Binay an ethics case?

That will depend on how the committee will appreciate it, if ever the case reaches that stage. Trillanes recalled that in a heated debate, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile asked Cayetano, The lumber with which you built your house, where did that come from? It was offensive, Trillanes said, but Cayetanao “just sucked it all up because he knew then that Senator Enrile already lost the debate by resorting to ad hominem attacks… no ethics case.”

Trillanes then submitted to the “wisdom and judgment” of his colleagues in the ethics committee. At the same time, he stepped down as member of the ethics committee so as not to influence the case.

When Cayetano argued as chairman…

…of the Senate accounts committee, he already had brushes on the Senate building issue with Binay who headed the same committee before the recent revamp of committees. He should’ve not tackled Binay’s testimony himself. Another chairman would’ve been not as intensely involved as Cayetano. Binay also was not faultless as she latched on to her claim that the building would cost only P21 billion while Cayetano said the bill would total P23 billion, counting the cost of the land. As Cebu broadcaster Jun Arigo would put it, “Maayong pakongon ang mga ulo sa duha.”

Binay kept pushing P21 billion as Cayetano kept correcting her because of the land-cost add-on, in a near-nonstop stream of words from both senators. Hardly the way to conduct a meeting, much more a hearing. A chairman with the bare minimum knowledge about his/her role would’ve stepped in quickly and resolved the simple math issue. But wait, Cayetano is the chairman and he wasn’t acting like one at all; he was behaving like a combatant.

Instead of saying “Nabuang na ka, ‘Day,” Cayetano could’ve asked himself, Binay and fellow senators present, “Nabuang na ning atong hearing?” Crazy, yes.

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