A rock cries

VIRTUAL REALITY - Tony Lopez - The Philippine Star

Three basic principles of Philippine politics:

One, the President is the most powerful person in the Philippines. He and what he says or orders are the law of the land. His or her powers are good for six years, unless the CIA tells him/her it’s time to “cut and cut cleanly.”

Two, the Senate, after 1987, has not been an independent body, no matter the assertions of any or all of the 24 senators to the contrary. The President of the Philippines has an incredible sway over them, individually or collectively.

Three, all politicians have only one loyalty, themselves and their immediate family, alone.

Politicians are what James Freeman Clarke defined as: “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation.”

Now, for my narrative today.

I never dreamed I would see a rock cry. In one of the most hallowed places in the Philippine government, the Senate. And before prime time television.

The crying rock: Ronald Marapon “Bato” dela Rosa, 62, honorable senator.

The poor boy from Davao built a reputation as The Rock or Bato, in local parlance.

The future senator was a “dirt poor” son of a tricycle driver in Davao. The teener earned a living as a fish market porter and bus conductor before graduating from the Philippine Military Academy in 1986. He joined the now defunct Philippine Constabulary with the rank of a second lieutenant in Davao. PC later became what the Philippine National Police is today.

Google defines a “rock” as “the person you can always rely on. The person that you know will be strong when everyone else isn’t… Being the ‘rock’ means always doing what you say you will do. Being calm when the situation seems to be chaotic and panic the order of the day.”

The most famous “Rock” (Greek “Petros;” “Kepa” in Aramaic) is, of course, St. Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus three times after the Son of God was arrested, only to be honored by the Church naming Catholicism’s premier basilica and papal residence, after him, for being the first bishop of Rome, or Pope.

Our “Bato” refers more to Boy dela Rosa’s seemingly rigid body physique, a solid mass of body cells, and not necessarily to his intransigence or intractable principles. The senator also named his only son, Rock.

PC and later PNP officer Bato rose through the ranks in the Davao-Compostela Valley area, Mindanao. In 2012, he became the Davao City police chief. First, he served under mayor Sara Duterte, 2012-2013, and later, her tough-as-nails dad, Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte, 2013-June 2016.

As Davao City’s police chief, Bato oversaw the Duterte tandem’s controversial “Oplan Tokhang,” their vicious and deadly anti-illegal drugs war. Tokhang is a Cebuano portmanteau for tuktok, “knock,” and hangyo, “persuade.” The police knocked your head or simply killed you to persuade you against using or peddling drugs.

When Digong Duterte suddenly got elected president, he handpicked Bato to be his Philippine National Police chief, July 1, 2016 to April 2018, three months past his Jan. 21, 2018 retirement at age 56. Oplan Tokhang expanded nationwide, with between 6,000 to 30,000 casualties. The ravages from the illegal drugs war prompted concerned Filipinos to sue the Dutertes, Sara and Digong, as well as Bato, before the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is understood to be preparing arrest warrants.

In 2019, with president Digong’s backing, Bato was elected senator, placing fifth out of 12 winners, with amazing 19 million votes, banking on Tokhang’s claims of having reduced crime and eliminated hundreds of thousands of drug personalities.

In May this year, Senator Bato’s committee on dangerous drugs conducted four hearings whose purpose, it turns out, was to link President Marcos Jr. to drug use back in 2012, using as principal witness, a dismissed former policeman turned PDEA agent, described by no less than BBM himself as “a professional liar” and a “jukebox.”

Bato’s premeditated charade, of course, angered the powers-that-be. Senate President Migz Zubiri’s attention was called regarding the Bato zarzuela. Still, Migz backed his friend, his fellow Mindanaoan.

Poor Migz, poor judgement. In the afternoon of Monday, May 20, 2024, Migz was forced to resign as Senate president of two years. Sorsogon Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero was elected Senate president, by acclamation. Earlier, noon that day, Chiz showed Migz a resolution signed, initially, by 14 senators (later 15) seeking the latter’s removal.

Migz cited two principal reasons for his abrupt ouster from the third highest position in the land – first, his refusal to back the House proposal for a people’s initiative (PI) wherein the House and the Senate would convene jointly as one body, one man, one vote, to consider amendments to the Constitution; and two, Cha-cha, or the House attempt to amend economic provisions of the Constitution to encourage more investments.

On Tuesday, May 21, Migz was “dumbfounded” and “in shock” after learning “Bato” dela Rosa, before 3 p.m. Monday, surfaced as the 15th senator to vote for Chiz.

“I’ve seen strange things in my political career,” exclaimed an aghast Migz, normally unflappable, “this happens to be the strangest.” “Yesterday, I was heartbroken,” he whined, “today, I am dumbfounded.”

“Hindi ko magets, hindi ko talaga maisip, hindi ko talaga ma-grasp yung pangyayaring yun,” (“I really cannot comprehend it. I really cannot grasp the turn of events”), Zubiri wondered, speaking in Filipino.

Addressing Bato, “Niyakap mo pa yung asawa ko. (“You even embraced my wife.”). Wow, ba’t nyo pa niyakap ang asawa ko (“Why the need to embrace my wife?”).

“Alam nya na dinepensahan ko siya bilang isang chairman ng committee. At dahil dyan nagkaroon po ng sakripisyo, ako po ang sakripisyo dyan. Nawala po ako sa posisyon,” he said.

“I guess,” Migz lamented, “that’s how politics is… There are no permanent friends,  only permanent interests.”

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Email: [email protected]

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