Ides of March

By Artchil B. Fernandez

“Beware of the Ides of March,” a seer warned Julius Caesar, Roman general and dictator perpetuo. Ignoring the warning, Caesar went to the Senate hall on that date. Waiting for him were 60 senators led by Brutus and Cassius who stabbed him to death.

The assassination of Julius Caesar was a turning point in Roman history. It was the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic and ushered in imperial rule.

A similar drama played out in Philippine Senate this week. It also involves assassination albeit figuratively, treachery, backstabbing, and a plot hatched in darkness.

“Cosplay politics” was in full display in the incident. Cosplay politics is the politics of play-acting – “engagement in pretense in order to trick someone or gain an advantage,” practiced and deployed by both traditional politicians and street activists.

Senate President (former) Migs Zubiri had his ‘Ides of March’ moment last Monday when he entered the Senate Hall. Fifteen senators schemed and executed a plan to assassinate him as Senate President and dragged him down from his lofty position.  Except for the absence of real blood what happened in Philippine Senate 20 May 2024 AD had the elements of the ‘Ides of March’ but the execution was sloppy – a poor and cheap imitation of the original.

A visibly hurt and emotional Zubiri took to the Senate floor and announced his resignation from his post. He did it after reconciling with the reality that fifteen senators stabbed him in the back. Some were even pledging their allegiance to Zubiri while cavorting and conniving with his enemies. The betrayal caused Zubiri terrible pain, proving that in politics, selfish interest trumps everything.

“And I feel quite bad because some even texted me saying, ‘We are with you, we fully support you, we are 100 percent behind you,’ but in less than a day, they were gone,” a heartbroken Zubiri cried in the Senate. “I just felt heartbroken. I felt heartbroken not because of position…I’m heartbroken because of those who committed to be steadfast with us. We had the same ideals and all of a sudden biglang nawala po. Ganyan talaga ang buhay,” he lamented.

Among the scheming senators, none is the epitome of “cosplay politics” than Bato de la Rosa. While Zubiri was delivering his melodramatic speech, he was photographed openly weeping. Bato de la Rosa’s crying act was a good copy for news outlets and social media. Zubiri even complimented de la Rosa for his loyalty and being a true friend. Later, de la Rosa was seen consoling Zubiri’s wife with a hug.

But unknown to Zubiri, Bato de la Rosa was among the 15 senators who drew the dagger. His signature was in the resolution stripping Zubiri of his post. “Yes, even though my signature was already insignificant they approached me after the battle had been won,” he lamely justified his treachery. “They already have 14 signatures [for Escudero]. So, they approached me and talked to me,” de la Rosa added.

“I’m also heartbroken. My heart is really broken. He’s a very good leader, Senator Zubiri. I love him very much. I respect him very much. He’s a very good leader,” Bato de la Rosa had the gall to declare. Really Bato?  If Zubiri is a “very good leader” and you “love him very much” why remove him as Senate President.  With friends like Bato de la Rosa, who needs enemies?

Since he assumed the Senate presidency, Zubiri’s term had been hounded by coup rumors. He seems to be always in danger of losing the post which eventually came true.

Cryptically Zubiri hinted that he might have displeased the “powers-that-be” as the reason behind his removal. “Maybe we’re not an enemy of the powers that be, but maybe because we’re not following instructions that’s why” he lost his position Zubiri told the media. Asked if the Senate investigation on the leaked PDEA documents alleging the involvement of Bongbong Marcos (BBM) in illegal drugs had something to do with his ouster, Zubiri replied.  “That includes everything.”

“I fought the good fight. If I have ruffled some feathers in doing so, if I have upset the powers that be, then so be it,” Zubiri grimly told the nation.

If the Senate investigation on the leaked PDEA documents alleging BBM’s illegal drugs use was the last straw that broke the camel’s back, this is most hurtful and painful for Zubiri.  The investigation was led by Bato de la Rosa.  Zubiri was heavily criticized by defenders of BBM and the whole Team Tigre for allowing de la Rosa to put BBM in bad light using the Senate as platform.

It appears Zubiri paid a high political price for indulging the whims and caprices of his “good and trusted friend.” How did Bato de la Rosa pay back Zubiri for taking great political risk for him?  By stabbing him! “Et tu Bato?” Zubiri might have likely cried out upon seeing Bato de la Rosa’s signature in the resolution ousting him from the Senate presidency.  Julius Caesar also trusted Brutus. But unlike Brutus and Cassius, Bato de la Rosa has no honor only naked deceit.

Zubiri it seems is the latest victim in the raging “cocaine-fentanyl war” between House Duterte and House Marcos. BBM’s alleged involvement in illegal drugs is the major narrative of Team Agila. This issue hurts the Marcoses and Team Tigre the most. Using the Senate as a tool through Bato de la Rosa to firm up and solidify the allegation is Team Agila’s way of outflanking Team Tigre. It is also the issue used by the Dutertes to discredit BBM before the public.

Zubiri’s removal from the Senate presidency had the fingerprints of Team Tigre and Malacañang. It serves as a warning to everyone. Team Tigre will not sit down nor back down. Those who serve the interest and agenda of the” other side” will pay a heavy and terrible price.  “Quo vadis Zubiri?”

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