Read Part 1 on Binay here.
Tito Sotto, the RH Bill, and Paranoia
In 2012, Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Pia Cayetano sponsored the Reproductive Hill Bill. The passing of the Reproductive Health Bill into law represented a major victory, since the bill had been stalled in Congress for over a decade. Before the RH Bill became law, its opponents shared their objections. Most famously, the popular Senator Tito Sotto—a former record producer, a former daily noontime talk show host, a former comedian, and brother to one of the Philippines’ best-loved entertainers—objected to the bill by describing his own personal experience with contraceptives.
Sotto opposed the RH Bill by describing how contraceptives harmed his family. His wife, well-known actress Helen Gamboa, had become pregnant despite her use of contraceptives. The child she carried to term would die shortly, and Sotto blamed contraceptives for his son’s birth defects. Sotto’s objections to a bill that would make contraceptives more readily available to Filipino women would not stop with his moving personal narrative. In his privilege speech, he objected to the bill on the grounds that it was part of a conspiracy against the Filipino family, Filipino children, and Filipino culture.
Tito Sotto’s speech has since achieved a kind of infamy not usually accorded to speeches given on the Senate floor. Journalists and the public-at-large responded to the speech by exposing the Senator’s plagiarism. The controversy about plagiarism has obscured the way Sotto meticulously crafted his speech to provoke paranoia.
Sotto and Eugenics
Sotto described the Reproductive Health Bill as part of an international propaganda program—which led to his citation of Goebbels. He would continue to describe the use of contraceptives as part of a developed nations’ plan to limit population growth in the developing world. For the Senator, the foreign agencies that supported the legalization of contraceptives were hiding an agenda to legalize abortion. The “hidden” desire to legalize abortion was imagined as part of a larger eugenics program:
Ito na rin po iyong tinatawag na eugenics. (“This is what we call eugenics.”).
He would then suggest that Planned Parenthood’s international arm was attempting to eliminate Filipinos by limiting Filipino reproduction:
Here again we have the shades of Hitler’s ambition to create a super Aryan race that prompted his sick mind to eliminate all Jews in Germany and neighboring countries.
The secret propagandists promoting the bill behind the scenes were, for Sotto, like Goebbels. Their program was the decimation of the Filipino family and a holocaust of Filipino babies.
Like many paranoid persons, Tito Sotto imagined himself a prophet in a hostile environment. He opens the second part of his privilege speech (August 15, 2012) by describing his opponents’ aggression. He spoke of the people who were criticizing (“bumabatikos”) and taunting (“nanglalait”) him on Facebook and on Twitter. He said he had been threatened: “May mga nanakot pa” (“There are people threatening me.”). He spoke of the many expecting him to back down, and his refusal to back down:
Kung sa mga drug lords hindi ako natakot, sa kanila pa (“If I am not afraid of drug lords, why would I be afraid of them.”)
He spoke of the “callous” and “insensitive” response to the personal story he narrated, which he followed with suspicion and aggression against those who would question his position.
But Sotto’s paranoia truly made itself felt when he described the Reproductive Health bill—which would make contraceptives, but not abortion—part of an international conspiracy. While claiming that Senators Santiago and Cayetano had only noble intentions, Sotto would immediately say that the Philippines had been infiltrated by foreigners (“Kaso, napasukan tayo.”/ “We have been infiltrated.”). He would speak at length about a conspiracy by the USAID (the United States global human development arm that intends to eradicate global poverty), Henry Kissinger (National Security Advisor to former and dead US Presidents Nixon and Ford), the United Nations, and the International Planned Parenthood Organization.
Sotto accused these agencies of supporting Filipino use of contraception to underhandedly promote the legalization of abortion. He also accused them of profiteering—drawing links between USAID and the contraceptive manufacturing and distribution firm DKT. For Sotto, all support given to family planning initiatives had “ulterior motives” and a “hidden agenda” supported by “strong pressure and massive propaganda materials.”
For Sotto, the alleged “hidden agendas” of various foreign agencies were an attack on Filipino sovereignty (“Napasukan tayo”):
we should not be pushed over by any state or international organizations in determining what is best for our country
sino sila para magdikta sa atin (“Who are they to tell us what to do?”).
These agencies were imposing an alien culture upon the Philippines:
Hindi po porke ginagawa na nila sa kanilang bansa, ay dapat gawin din natin. (“Just because they are already doing it in their own country, doesn’t mean we should do this too.”).
He made it appear as if supporting the dissemination of contraceptives would threaten Filipino tradition:
Tandaan natin na may iba’t iba tayong kultura, kasaysayaan at tradisyon, at higit sa lahat pangangailangan. (“Let us remember that we all have different cultures, histories, and traditions, and, above all, different needs.”).
He insisted on prioritizing what he identified as Filipino values which, includes valuing the family and opposing abortion:
Hindi tayo gaya nila na iba ang pagpapahalaga sa pagbuklod-buklod ng pamilyang Pilipino at pagpapahalaga sa buhay ng tao (“We are not like them in the way we value familial bonds and human life”).
Although Sotto defended Filipino tradition, he also imported his own theories and opposition to what he alleges is the hidden agenda of the USAID and Planned Parenthood. He imported the fringe far right agenda of members of the American religious right, and borrowed their smear tactics against Planned Parenthood. The agency has been besieged by attack and accusation, and defunded across many American states.
In his opposition to these agencies, Sotto obsessed over foundational histories instead of with current practice. For example, when he discussed Planned Parenthood, he spoke almost exclusively of Margaret Sanger, its long-dead founder. In order to attack the agency, he fixated on her support of eugenics and restrictive immigration policies. He described a meeting between Mahatma Gandhi and Margaret Sanger, which did take place, and Gandhi’s refusal to promote Sanger’s agenda. When he spoke of USAID, he spoke of Kissinger—not John Kerry—and a National Security Memorandum that has been declassified. He debunked the statistics of the Allan Guttmacher Institute because they were an arm of Planned Parenthood (they were, but have not been affiliated for a long time). For Sotto, Kissinger’s horrific plan to control food supply and population growth across developing countries remains a sign of USAID’s continued nefariousness. Margaret Sanger’s limited support of eugenics—she believed the very ill and mentally unfit should not have children—continues to represent Planned Parenthood’s agenda. Sotto’s version of these agencies goals made it seem as if they have been stuck in a historical time warp.
For Sotto, foreign aid to local organizations that promote family planning shared the secret agenda of legalizing abortion. Tito Sotto does not believe that abortion should be legal, and his stance is popular in the very Catholic Philippines (and supported by the influential Catholic Bishops Council of the Philippines). He would describe abortion as the “lihim na hangarin” (“secret desire”) of all these organizations. For Sotto, contraceptives are not a means for preventing unwanted pregnancies (and, therefore, unnecessary abortions). Instead, contraceptives are presented as either a form of abortion in itself (Sotto takes a radical view of when human life begins) or an entry-level medication that will lead to abortion. For Sotto, they are also—as in his own personal story—harmful to both mothers and their infants.
Tito Sotto may feel that he is doing his duty (probably), and he may feel that he is telling the truth (he is not). But he is also thinking—like Goebbels—as a paranoid conspiracy theorist. Instead of Jews and a Jewish Agenda, Sotto describes a heroic research effort (“Sa aking pagsisayasat, pagsasaliksik, at magmamatayag”) that allowed him to uncover the hidden agenda or “lihim na hangarin” of foreign agencies who wish to attack the Filipino way of life. Like Goebbels who feared an international Jewry, he points to a hidden international enemy. The enemy is not the noble Senator Santiago or the noble Senator Pia Cayetano, but the secret machinations of Kissinger, Planned Parenthood, and the United Nations.
Sotto traffics in fear: the RH Bill will lead to the decimation of the Filipino race because, it is part of an international eugenic agenda to reduce the Filipino population. Sotto is right to say that many organizations—among them the USAID and Planned Parenthood—do support legal abortions elsewhere in the world. But he imagines these agencies as promoters of abortion rather than legal and safe providers of abortion.
Sotto’s privilege speech was widely-disseminated–in part because people were obsessed with what seemed like habitual plagiarism. But it is also an instructive moment in which the Senator modeled thinking like a conspiracy theorist. He made conspiratorial logic part of legal and political discourse. He normalized paranoia, and exposed himself as a paranoid political thinker. The citation of Goebbels–and his alleged theory that a lie told a thousand times assumes the status of truth–allowed subsequent politicians–including Jojo Binay–to engage the public in paranoid politics.