Understanding the ‘5:30 Matrix’
For the past few weeks, the country has witnessed the clash of national leaders in an intensity the Filipino people had not seen in recent memory, featuring the President and a Senator of the Republic. The continuing saga of President Rody Duterte’s (PDU30) feud with Senator Leila De Lima (SD5) can give movie producers a run for their money. And like any issue in Philippine politics, the people’s takes on these unfolding events depend largely on which political fence one belongs; but the feud is starting to polarize the nation.
Before the strife between SD5 and PDU30 escalated, a majority of the Filipinos may only have associated the word “Matrix” to the 1999 Keanu Reeves movie that was best remembered for Reeves’ acrobatic acts and tricks. The word gained significant popularity in Filipino homes when PDU30 started showing diagrams depicting the link of some personalities to the illegal drug problem in the country during his early morning press conferences. If the ordinary “Juan” could not wait to see the next matrix, those with skeletons in their closet are surely praying for miracles that their name would not be mentioned by PDU30 or be included in a matrix.
Others are alarmed about the ongoing rift between SD5 and PDU30. And they have good reasons, as the words used in the exchanges and the issues thrown were biting. But who exactly SD5 and PDU30 are, and why are they so intense in their advocacies.
Contrasting ideological awakenings
PDU30 obtained his law degree in 1972, at a time when President Marcos declared martial law in the country. His father was a Governor of Davao and was once a cabinet secretary of the Marcos government. It would not be surprising if PDU30 unwittingly found wisdom in the need for a strong hand in running the country. SD5, on the other hand, obtained her law degree in 1985, when the civil rights movement directed against the Marcos government was at its crest. Her father was appointed COMELEC Commissioner during the administration of President Cory Aquino.
While law schools are not venues for shaping political ideologies and beliefs, the rationale of the law is inevitably discussed, and its application analyzed based on the prevailing issues of the society. And when these academic discussions of the law are validated during conversations at home, political views are slowly developed. When PDU30 and SD5 were studying the role of the law in society, the country was in two different and contrasting settings. True enough, we have a President who employs the full force of the law in fighting criminality, particularly drugs, and a Senator who strongly advocates for human rights.
Different legal career paths
The President pursued a career in law as a public prosecutor in his home province of Davao. PDU30’s early career was spent in the frontlines in the application of the law, directly dealing with the people. He had seen how the law and legal processes actually work and, unfortunately, how judicial processes are exploited by some. PDU30 knows the frustration of every ordinary Filipino in the country’s legal system–that the legal process is endless. He may be the President, but he is not naïve that, in this country, those who have more in life also have the law on their side.
SD5’s legal career was spent mostly in Urban Manila, starting as a staff of Justice Isagani Cruz, one of the country’s most notable constitutionalist and champion of civil liberties. She then worked at the House of Representative, at some prestigious law firms, and eventually set up her own firm handling mostly election cases. Thus, SD5’s early legal career did not directly engage with the ordinary Filipino.
Their differing professional orientations would cross paths when SD5 was appointed Chairman of the Commission of Human Rights, at a time when PDU30 was still Mayor of Davao City. The progress of the city was astonishing in this part of the world. While the Dabawenyos did not raise any issue on how their city was managed, those in Manila could simply not believe the city’s relative peace. The matrix would finally meet when SD5 investigated then-Mayor DU30 for alleged human rights abuses; allegations that PDU30 denied, claiming that his unorthodox leadership was all within the ambits of the law. Nothing came out of the investigations, but the start of a bitter feud between the two who were to become the President and a Senator.
Executive vs. Policy direction
The country should know by now that PDU30 is the leader who wants to get things done. He says what he means and he means what he says (unfortunately, he says it meanly, sometimes). He had done it for his city, and is even more determined to replicate the success of Davao to the entire country. PDU30 was a member of Congress once, but he detested that position solely because he wanted to be where the action was. He was a very effective chief executive, as he made sure that laws were followed and programs were implemented.
Until she was elected Senator, SD5 also worked with the executive department, most notably as the Secretary of the Department of Justice. Like PDU30’s, this position also involved the implementation of the law. There was a huge difference, however, in the nature of the positions they held. PDU30 was a local chief executive and, once again, in the frontline of government service, mingling directly with his constituents. SD5, on the other hand, held a national position, atop of a complex government organization, and whose functions involved largely policy direction of the department. Again, for a time, PDU30 and SD5 viewed government service from different perspectives.
SD5 is a member of one of the country’s oldest political organizations, the Liberal Party. She ran under LP, and won a Senate seat with the support of the previous administration. She was appointed by Noynoy Aquino to his cabinet, just as Noynoy’s mother appointed SD5’s father to the COMELEC. Apart from this personal relationship, SD5’s stance as fiscalizer should bode well in countries that have stronger political parties and where party loyalty is valued. Unfortunately, the Philippines has still to reach that level of political maturity. LP, the strongest party until a couple of months ago, was decimated, and SD5 is the lone voice confronting the sitting government.
PDU30, on the other hand, ran under PDP, a miniscule political organization during the last elections that won only two seats in Congress, before politicians switched party lines. He catapulted to the Presidency with the direct support of the Filipino people. PDU30 claimed in his pronouncements that he is accountable only to the Filipino people, and not to any vested group.
And the similarities
It is not all about stark differences in the 5:30 matrix. While PDU30 and SD5 trudged on different and contrasting professional lives, their personal lives have peculiar similarities. PDU30’s marriage to Ms. Zimmerman had been annulled, so was SD5’s marriage. They had children out of their marriages, and both are now grandparents. PDU30 is now living with his longtime partner with whom he has a child, and also publicly disclosed that he has other girlfriends.
And SD5 is not far behind. The President trumpeted that she had a close personal relationship with her former driver, an allegation that SD5 had impliedly admitted. If PDU30 has other girlfriends, SD5 has a new boyfriend, according to the President. It is certainly not for anyone to judge the personal lives and morality of PDU30 and SD5, but the personal life of a public servant is ultimately discussed and subjected to scrutiny especially when there are allegations that personal relationships intertwined with, and blurred the line that demarcates their public life.
Both PDU30 and SD5 obtained their law degree from San Beda College. While the silent, well-meaning segment of the society is hoping that the President and the Senator would patch up their differences, it may not come so fast. As Bedans molded to stand up for their ideals and principles, it may not be too easy for the two firebrand politicians to give up the advocacies they hold dear. No matter what the trials, hardships and challenges are, PDU30 and SD5, like any other Bedan, would try to win their battles, fearing neither fire nor blood. It is the Bedan credo, it is what PDU30 and SD5 live by.
The benefit of 5:30
Alarming it may seem, but the nation would eventually benefit from the 5:30 matrix. Both PDU30 and SD5 have good intentions for the country, albeit coming from different perspectives. The Filipino nation needs a strong leader who should not be easily swayed, lest the country lose direction again. And the society needs a fiscalizer to ensure that our government stays on its track. For sure, no one wants to live in a country satisfied with counting dead bodies. It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that the government created to protect its people is not a party to unlawful means.
It may be odd, but the country needs both PDU30 and SD5.
Eubert Marc T. Hilario, Esq., is admitted to the Philippine Bar and the New York State Bar. He obtained his law degree from the San Beda College of Law, and is currently pursuing a Master of Laws Program at the Villanova University School of Law in Pennsylvania, USA. He may be reached at [email protected]
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