‘Dial M’ replay at Senate leaves Morato speechless
Red-faced and speechless, the usually feisty and voluble Manuel Morato invoked his right to remain silent after a video showing him badmouthing Senators Teofisto Guingona III and Francis Escudero was played at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.
Sen. Franklin Drilon retrieved a year-old footage of the “Dial M” talk show where Morato, as cohost, discouraged viewers from voting for Guingona, then a senatorial candidate of the Liberal Party, and called Escudero the son of a Marcos crony who must learn to be humble.
Drilon warned Morato at a previous hearing of the Senate blue ribbon committee that he could be charged with electioneering for using the talk show to campaign for Gilbert Teodoro, standard-bearer of the administration’s Lakas-Kampi party in the 2010 presidential election.
On the video, Morato and the program’s cohost, Maggie de la Riva, had stickers with the word “GIBO” (Teodoro’s nickname) stuck to the right side of their chests.
At one point in the video, Morato said: “This Chiz Escudero is a lethargic speaker (malamya). Pa-cute naman. Just recall the background of your father, Chiz. Sonny Escudero is my friend. He is a Marcos crony!”
The elder Escudero, now the Sorsogon representative, served as agriculture minister of the Marcos regime.
“Many people still remember that period … Be humble! Be yourself! Who were you a few years back? Nobody. It’s only now that you’re trying to be known,” Morato said in the video, apparently addressing father and son.
Turning his guns on Guingona, Morato said he once watched a forum aired on ANC cable TV where senatorial candidates were guests.
“This TG something (Guingona) spoke again. My God! This guy is a liar! Anyway, I won’t vote for him,” a fuming Morato said in the video.
“How can that guy lie just because he belongs to that party? He’s truly a liar. This Guingona. Oh my God, there are many people whom we should not vote for this month. They’re too conceited. We should not seat them in the Senate,” he added in the video.
He told viewers of “Dial M” that he would mention educated and humble candidates whom they could choose from.
“Not like Chiz Escudero who shouted and threw papers in Congress like a drug addict during debates on whether to impeach then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,” Morato said in the video.
“Is that proper? These people are not educated. They have no breeding unlike Gibo and Edu (Lakas-Kampi vice presidential candidate Edu Manzano),” he added.
In the video, Morato then enumerated the names of the eight Lakas-Kampi senatorial candidates, including eventual winners Lito Lapid and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., now the Lakas-Kampi president.
“And let’s not forget Edu and the eight (administration) senatorial candidates on your ballot,” he reminded viewers of “Dial M.”
Guffaws and snickers filled the Senate gallery as the video was played. Many of the senators’ staff squirmed in their seats or covered their mouths with their hands.
All the while, Morato sat still in his seat at the Senate session hall, his breathing narrow and his face tomato red. He managed to grin while his right hand propped his chin.
Since his stint as censors chief in 1986, Morato has been known to be vocal about his advocacies and highly critical of his enemies.
Morato appeared a number of times at hearings of the blue ribbon committee following his appointments in the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) as chair during the time of former President Fidel Ramos and as board director during the Arroyo administration.
Drilon’s office said the footage aired on IBC-13 on May 5, 2010—five days before the elections. (Teodoro and Manzano both placed fourth place behind opposition candidates.)
“This is an out-and-out election campaign,” Drilon later told Morato during the hearing. “You had the ribbon of Gibo! I do not know what else you call that if you do not call that campaigning. Yet you were part of the board that approved P5 million (in financial assistance) for IBC from PCSO funds to replay this ‘Dial M’ (episode) from Channel 4 to Channel 13!”
Drilon said he played the video in a public venue to show the extent of misuse of PCSO funds.
Funding from PCSO
Earlier hearings established that “Dial M” was funded with P27.2 million from the PCSO’s coffers during its five-year run from 2005 to 2010.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada questioned the use of PCSO funds to produce “Dial M” when the talk show did not even rate 1 percent in television viewership surveys.
So far, the Senate has uncovered the misuse of huge PCSO intelligence funds in the months leading to the May 2010 elections and the selective distribution of PCSO ambulances to favored areas.
Senators also cried foul over the lack of audit in remittances given to the local police and members of the House of Representatives whose districts host Small Town Lottery.
Under the Omnibus Election Code, acts considered electioneering include “making speeches, announcements or commentaries (and) holding interviews for or against candidate for public office. This is punishable by imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years,” said Drilon.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile took note of Morato’s obvious discomfort.
“Mr. Morato, are you not going to claim your right to remain silent so that you’ll not incriminate yourself?” Enrile asked.
“Yes, your honor,” a sheepish Morato replied. “I invoke my right against self-incrimination…”
“It is most difficult for Mr. Morato, Mr. President,” Drilon butted in. “To remain silent is one of the most difficult qualities.” The blue ribbon committee then went on to other matters concerning the PCSO.
Morato apologized to Guingona and Escudero before the blue ribbon committee chair suspended the hearing.
“I didn’t mean it. It was a comedy show … It was nothing personal,” he said.
Guingona, who placed 12th in the 2010 senatorial race, later told the Inquirer that he was not offended at all by the footage. “Life is full of surprises,” he said with a smile.
“I found it amusing. It’s very clear that during an election season, a lot of politics goes around. It’s nothing personal. It’s part of the game … I accept his apology,” the senator added in an ambush interview.
Morato still managed to keep his poise when he talked to reporters after the hearing.
“I think they will consider this case in aid of legislation. The senators would probably craft a bill,” Morato said when asked about Drilon’s threat to charge him with electioneering.
“I laugh at what I said. There was no malice. I didn’t mean to harm anyone. I’m glad to have been (forgiven). And Senator Escudero’s father was my childhood friend,” he added.
Escudero was sick and was unable to attend Tuesday’s roll call at the start of the session.
His staff said the senator was able to watch the footage on television. “He was amused,” a female staffer texted the Inquirer.
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