The DeLimaNovela and getting national juices flowing

OF LATE the arrest and presentation to congress of drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and bodyguard Ronnie Dayan have opened a new chapter to the travails of Senator Leila De Lima, flooding social media with much discussion and vitriol.

The gameplan of this administration, apparently, is to expose De Lima as corrupt drug lord who used her power and office as justice secretary in the past administration by linking her directly with payoffs from known drug lords, some of which were convicted and allowed to continue their operations at the national penitentiary which was under her jurisdiction and command. And, allegedly her lover-bodyguard, Dayan, was the go-between, agent, and bagman in all these.

scared-shocked-people

Photo/ graphic depiction (not to be taken seriously) from Screen Junkies.

So it is no surprise that the Dayan-De Lima affair is part and parcel of the administration’s narrative of the whole crime, without which there would be no connecting the dots.

Perhaps sensing that this would be the sticky point of the narrative, De Lima decided (or was she professionally advised, as some have suggested) to quit denying the affair with Dayan and admitted on national television that she indeed had it, calling her act a “frailty of a woman” to downplay its importance and provide a shield by which she can defend herself from the more serious drug charge by claiming her womanhood had been used and her professional trust abused. (It also works the other way around, apparently.)

The overall reaction to the congressional action is livid, to say the least. On both sides of the fence people were glued to the television and internet livestreams covering the Senate as Espinosa detailed his financial dealings with Del Lima through Dayan and in the House of Representatives the next day with hours of sordid details of Dayan’s love story with De Lima.

It seems that this 17th Congress of the republic of the Philippines has its work cut out for it, with the Upper House tackling everything above the waist and the Lower House, everything below.

Social media had a flood of comments from all sides, from the pro-Duterte factions saluting the downfall of the nemesis, to the holdouts of the last administration closing ranks for their heroine, to the feminists who decried the trampling on the woman’s dignity, to the macho men whose wild imaginations were assaulted by the sickening imagery.

One thing’s for sure: all of them watched and listened intently – word for word, detail for detail – at the goings on in the 17th Congress.

So intently, in fact, that it reminded me of an event way back in the 1980s when a sex video – a Betamax scandal as it was known then – whose bootleg copies made it into upper middleclass households. It was one of a well known local politician and a popular movie bombshell in all their naked glory performing private acts.

Everybody knew about it and wanted to see it. In private viewings the titas gasped in shock, the titos grinned, the ates curiously asked what was going on while the kuyas pretended that is was no big deal. But make no mistake, all were intently watching the screen, soaking up every second of the visual feast.

Yes, the DeLimaNovela makes for captive viewing, and it has to do with the basest human behavior of arousal. It may be sexual, it may be intellectual, but whatever it is it awakens some primal instinct that gets our blood pumping and our juices gushing, whether up in our brains or down there, feeding the primeval regions.

One could say that the DeLimaNovela’s appeal is pornographic.

I am reminded of this thing in the late 1990s: I had a long discussion with top notch lawyer Regis Puno, then undersecretary of the Department of Justice, about pornography. I was helping run a publishing company that was deep into designing a new mass-market tabloid and we were studying how far we could push the envelope on the material without breaking the law.

It was difficult because, as our talk went, there is no specific law on pornography. The basic tenet then, as it is now, is that one is considered pornographic if it “appeals to the prurient interests of the average person based on community standards.”

As Puno explained to me that what turns on one may turn off another, and that “community standards” depend on what the world around you felt at that time. In the 1900s seeing women’s ankles would merit a scarlet letter for the hapless lass, while today short shorts – popularly known as “p*kp*k shorts”- are the norm.

And indeed even the United States Supreme Court they struggled with this issue. In the 1973 landmark case Miller v. California, where the state had arrested Marvin Miller for distributing mail-order catalogues for his sex products, the American High court had to carefully balance issues between what was considered obscene and the first amendment rights of people to free expression. They had to revisit that standard for pornography which is “obscenity” and redefined it from that of “utterly without socially redeeming value” to one that does not have “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Furthering the guidelines to pornography, the US SC formulated the “Miller Test,” a three-pronged standard to help guide one into defining it:

  • Whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards”, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
  • Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law,
  • Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

At about the same period of my foray into the limits of free expression and pornography, Eugenia Duran Apostol – my former boss in Philippine Daily Inquirer – and I were discussing her own ideas for a new tabloid she wanted to undertake in her retirement. We had that discussion on pornography, especially since it was my position that the way the tabloids always started with a bit of raunchiness in order to make a break into the tight market. I didn’t think she would like to have anything to do with that.

But Tita Eggie had that twinkle in her eyes and a mischievous smile and I knew from working with her for years that she was on to something: “What about political pornography?”

Thus Pinoy Times was born, chronicling the obscenities of the excesses of President Joseph Estrada.

And people lapped it all up, all the way to the daily dose of the impeachment trial and his eventual ouster.

Yes, some things never change.

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