Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa is prone to exaggerated statements and gestures during Senate hearings, but recently he bristled at allegations made by notorious US-based vlogger Maharlika that he was paid by First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos to conduct a hearing on the alleged document leak at the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). Oddly, he sounded sincere. And hurt.

In case you’ve been too busy crying over the final episode of “Queen of Tears” or listening to the latest Taylor Swift album to bother with DDS shenanigans, the so-called “PDEA Leak” refers to supposedly authentic agency documents naming President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as a subject of an anti-drug operation in 2013. The operation was allegedly cancelled on the orders of higher ups.

Maharlika, who posted the documents online, and the usual DDS suspects have cited the “leak” as proof that their lord and patron, former president Rodrigo Duterte, wasn’t high on fentanyl when he declared in a rally that the President was “bangag.”

As expected, the PDEA said the document was fake.

(PN file photo)

In calling the hearing, De la Rosa, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, said he only wanted to get to the bottom of the document leak.

But the allegations of receiving, uhm, financial incentive from the First Lady might force him to stop the hearings altogether, he said. Despite De la Rosa’s protestations, he is being cancelled by the DDS online army (This probably explains why, a day after the hearing, De la Rosa, in a radio interview, declared the alleged documents authentic, even saying he would bet his life on it. His basis? Punch holes. The photocopied documents had punch holes, which, he explained, can only mean they came from a thick folder, thus, authentic).

With the exception of Senator Bong Go, no other senator can lay claim to being a dyed in the wool Duterte man than De la Rosa.

Their political ascendance has always been intertwined. De la Rosa was Davao police chief when Duterte was mayor. He was named Philippine National Police (PNP) chief during Duterte’s presidency. And he was elected senator during the 2019 mid-term elections under Duterte’s party.

But here he is, loathed by the DDS online army because Maharlika had painted him as a Liza lover. For the re-electionist De la Rosa, perhaps his biggest fear is that the scarlet letter “L” could hurt him politically.

Red-tagging is so yesterday. Welcome to the era of Liza-tagging.

Punching Above their Weight
If you want to rile up the DDS cohort, just say something nice about the First Lady and watch them go bat-shit crazy in minutes.

And more than a week after the First Lady skewered Vice President Sara Duterte on a talk show, the DDS vloggers and personalities are still spewing online and offline hate against the presidential spouse.

The trashposting from these characters with outsized egos range from ridicule to misogynistic attacks, every tool in the DDS playbook. But they are obviously punching above their weight.

The First Lady has shown that she can stand her ground.
She’s articulate, quick on her feet, and doesn’t hold back. She’s fiercely protective of her husband and family. That much we learned from her interview with broadcaster Anthony Taberna.

And she’s a brawler.
More bashing? At one point during the interview, she taunted her and the President’s detractors, egging them to bring it on.

No one expected the First Lady to come out slugging, least of all the DDS vloggers who have been used to pouncing on their enemies like piranhas on dead carcass.

The DDS obsession with the First Lady began at the onset of the Marcos Jr. presidency, about the same time lawyer Vic Rodriguez was fired as executive secretary and an uncivil online war erupted among the ranks of vloggers and social media operators who claimed to have worked for the Bongbong-Sara Uniteam.

The First Lady has been described as both clueless and the real power in Malacañang, a so-so lawyer and the one with enough smarts to make key decisions. Contradictory, yes, but DDS trolls are not really known for logic or consistency.

Driving a Wedge
For the First Lady, a line has been crossed and she is not backing down from her self-appointed role as protector of her husband and family.

The First Lady has one ace up her sleeve. She doesn’t need to endear herself to everyone. There’s no incentive to play nice.

She doesn’t have an election to win. The Vice President does.

By 2028, unless her camp recalibrates, the Duterte strategy of insulting the President and undermining his presidency at every opportunity will drive a wedge among the voters, alienating the Solid North, Metro Manila, Southern Luzon and parts of the Visayas where the Marcoses are strong.

This would leave Vice President Duterte with Mindanao, and perhaps Cebu, as her base of support.

It is a path to certain defeat since she would be alienating over 60 per cent of voters nationwide.

At the Frontlines
Since the 1986 EDSA Revolution, presidential spouses have been consigned to performing largely non-political and boring functions like supporting arts and culture, promoting gardening, and the rehabilitation of the Pasig River. No government positions or titles, no meddling in government appointments, contracts, or transactions. Obviously, no one told Mike Arroyo.

This time, it’s different.
The First Lady has rolled up her sleeves and decided to engage her husband’s critics. She is at the frontlines and ready to rumble, what frat boys might call a starter.

Some have claimed her interview was a PR disaster, a miscalculation. They obviously don’t get it. The interview was the message.

Now, bring it on.

(Joey Salgado is a veteran journalist and communications specialist. This story also appeared on Rappler and Ourbrew.ph.)