Name-Calling at the Senate

Senators Enrile and Pimentel threw vicious personal barbs at each other yesterday at the Senate floor, getting one another’s goat by unseemly name-calling. I think Pimentel got the better of the mud-slinging as he touched a raw nerve by calling Enrile the principal administrator of Marcos’ martial law. Enrile admitted to faking his own ambush in order to provide an additional excuse for the imposition of dictatorial rule. He also had Pimentel arrested four times during his incumbency as Marcos’ right-hand man. Mere statements of fact, to be sure, but which cut deep as Mr. Enrile has tried hard to live down his past as a Marcos’ main enforcer.

Enrile could not respond in kind, and resorted to lame personal insults, calling Pimentel a “hypocrite” and a “spoiled brat” and said that he “will not waste a bullet on him”, thus reinforcing Enrile’s deserved reputation as a trigger-happy hothead. Na-pikon si JPE. In response to Enrile’s calling him a coward, Pimentel replied:

As Mr. Enrile knows –he ordered my arrest four times — did I run away?

The fracas stemmed from Pimentel’s having filed a petition before the Supreme Court last week to stop the investigation of the ethics complaint against Senator Manny Villar.

Enrile resigned the chairmanship of the Senate Committee of the Whole in a snit but his resignation was refused by his colleagues.

Why are parliamentary insults more challenging and intense than mere accusations and criticism ? Because they allow for the emotional force of the message to exceed its rational force and seriously undermine the addressee’s image, position and authority, according to the book Language and Ideology.

And distasteful as it may seem to observers, such conduct among parliamentarians has a long and revered history. Winston Churchill was a master of the genre. He once said of three-time British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin: “I wish Stanley Baldwin no ill, but it would have been much better if he had never lived”. Again of Baldwin: “He occasionally stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.”

Enrile and Pimentel are in good company, even if they are light years away from matching Churchill’s wit.

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