Seares: Public issue in Councilor Mabatid’s private dance: Can public officials not behave like ordinary people?

·4 min read

A VIDEO of Cebu City Councilor Prisca Nina Mabatid dancing with an unidentified man in a party went viral last week, prompting mixed reactions from internet users, some of whom criticized the dancing as erotic, scandalous and unbecoming of a councilor -- who heads the Sanggunian committee on women and children and a would-be congresswoman – and the activity as breach of pandemic protocol.

ALLEGED THEFT, BRIBE. Last Thursday, May 13, Mabatid struck back in live video on her Facebook page: The dance video was “stolen,” she charged, by her secretary who was paid by BOPK, and posted by a chat group supporting that local party. She presented no evidence of the alleged theft and alleged bribe. Mabatid belongs to Barug, dominant party at City Hall and BOPK’s rival.

The councilor disclaimed any fault in the circulation of the video. It was for her and some friends, the way why many people record happy moments in their life. She charged that the video was stolen from her phone and leaked, intruding into her privacy and exposing a purely private affair (“a private activity in a private place”) just to embarrass and bring her down.

By itself, the posting of the video appears not to deserve much media scrutiny. But Mabatid went beyond the realm of social chatter and stepped into the conduct of government officials, a very public arena:

[1] The councilor questioned whether public officials like her and fellow councilors did not deserve to enjoy private moments from what she called their “toxic” world: Can they not dance to music the way the dance is danced? Can’t they gyrate, grind and shake to music like other people? “Di sila maka-uyab-uyab? Maka-public display of affection? Maka-inom og alcohol?” Mabatid insisted that public officials have rights like other people.

[2] She complained about being preyed on by critics while other public officials who steal and are corrupt are left alone. The question of “Why me?” or “Why only me?” and the smearing of some colleagues in government service raises the private-party-private-dance issue to a very public one.

Which also puts some doubt on her seriousness about corruption. While on one hand Mabatid said she couldn’t tolerate “dirty business” in government, on the other, she said she’d just like to be left alone in her public service work, she wouldn’t mind what others were doing. “Let them do theirs, bahala sila sa ilang diskarte,” which she alleged was going on during the pandemic, “kada supply, patong.”

PRIVATE, PUBLIC. Regarding the first question above: Even private acts of a public official arouse the interest of his or her constituents. Scrutiny may always be justified: public officials are not ordinary people.

And reactions are often mixed, depending upon how they see the behavior. A dance may scandalize some people while it may not jolt others. If Mabatid’s video were a sex tape, the result would’ve been hugely different.

That she didn’t upload or post the video herself or without her knowledge and permission reduces the amount of blame but doesn’t totally clear her. Mabatid may still be faulted for failure to set up safeguards on her private space and misplacing trust in key staff.

But was the video leak a disaster? How would it compare to that July 19, 2018 case when Mabatid, then the Mabolo barangay captain, was mistaken for an “escort” or, dropping euphemism, a “prostitute”? A video of the incident, from a CCTV camera, was not circulated, yet Mabatid being accosted by the hotel guard was also the talk of the town. Did it hurt her in the elections of 2019? She landed #2 in Cebu City north council winning column.

This time, Mabatid claimed, the attack has even increased the number of her supporters. Would some of her colleagues in Barug be as resentful in 2022 as she alleged they were in 2019 when she won (only she and Councilor Raymond Garcia among the Barug bets survived the BOPK sweep in the north)?

REFERENCE TO CORRUPTION. The second question, which alleged misconduct by the current administration is thornier. It may be seized by BOPK as additional evidence to its expected 2022 election charges of misspending of Covid-19 respond funds. Mabatid, a member of the Barug administration, n defending her dance, referred to corruption in the purchases of anti-pandemic supply.

CRYING ‘WITCH.’ That may lend weight to the apparent failure of the city mayor’s office to report to the City Council how about P3.5 billion anti-pandemic money was spent. Instead, the executive department cited closure of the books for 2020, which meant shifting the post-spending review to COA auditors. Technically, the Sanggunian didn’t get the liquidation that legislators had repeatedly asked for from executives who disbursed the funds.

People may also be tempted to fit that piece into the jigsaw of alleged corruption as it was Councilor Mabatid who cried witch ("ungo") who was supposed to be sucking blood of power and resources at City Hall. She has not identified the witch or offered evidence of corruption, which would’ve promptly shot down the accusation if she were not a member of Partido Barug and the north’s #2 councilor.

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