In a two-part article last week, this column underscored the need to unseat the incumbent Administration as a first step in battling the unprecedented lawlessness unleashed on the nation.
Under President Benigno Aquino 3rd, crime, contraband and congressional largesse all tripled to all-time highs of 1 million incidents a year, $26.6 billion in untaxed imports in 2014, and more than P20 billion a year in pork barrel (see http://www.manilatimes.net/the-battle-we-face-and-the-president-we-need/237779/ and http://www.manilatimes.net/the-president-we-need-for-the-battle-we-face/238136/ ).
Reversing this legacy of lawlessness demands a new leader with no ties to the present regime and proven toughness in battling ruthless powers. Otherwise, the political establishment that perpetrated this assault on peace and order and good governance will get six more years of excesses.
But as this writer explained on Tuesday, there are mammoth obstacles to opposition victory, including the unprecedented Liberal Party war chest amassed since 2010, the lack of safeguards for the Precinct Count Optical Scan or PCOS vote tabulation system, and — perhaps most crucial — the divided opposition splitting anti-administration votes.
So while Roxas may stagnate at No. 3 or 4, especially with the Senate’s Mamasapano massacre hearings likely to hit him and Aquino, rivals Vice President Jejomar Binay, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Grace Poe may not build the wide lead that LP lucre and “hocus PCOS” cannot overcome.
To ensure victory for the opposition, its forces and factions must find a way to unite.
This is imperative not only to prevent another six years of lawlessness, which could very well drive the Philippines to Latin American-style narco-statehood. It would also threaten opposition presidentiables with the persecution visited on other Administration opponents since 2010.
But is opposition unity possible? Every election since the restoration of democracy has seen several candidates, even those way below in the surveys, campaigning to the very end, rather than yielding to a rival. Why should things be different now?
First unity step: Don’t hit each other
Well, for starters, there seem to be good relations between certain candidates. Poe said she would back Duterte if she is disqualified, while the latter expressed support for Binay in case his substitute candidacy is disallowed.
Another hopeful sign: the unflattering remarks by Binay and Poe subtly referring to each other several months ago have stopped. This seeming truce may be mainly due to Poe’s possible disqualification on citizenship and residency grounds, and frictions could resume if the Supreme Court reverses her DQ ruling by the Commission on Elections.
Still, opposition candidates are sparing one another from attacks — and that should continue as a first step toward unity against the Administration. Lambasting gross excesses and errors under Aquino should be the main campaign thrust, to keep his LP far from threatening rivals with massive campaign spending and PCOS manipulation.
To be sure, closer to election day, leading candidates may again hit one another, but not so soon as to give the Administration enough time to catch up in surveys, by eroding opposition ratings, while letting the LP rise amid reduced attacks on the Administration.
Next, explore coalition options
A further step toward opposition collaboration would involve exploratory talks among rival parties about possible coalition, if a candidate bows out in favor of another. These discussions must be kept secret, to avoid undercutting support for candidates.
Without signifying that any presidentiable may withdraw, the deliberations would explore areas of collaboration and policy agreement, as well as concessions that may be asked.
In this way, opposition parties are not starting from scratch if there should arise moves to join forces behind a combined ticket, once it is clear that certain candidates may have little chance of winning, but could still grab votes from the leading opposition hopeful, thus letting the administration get within striking distance of victory.
By coming together, candidates stand a far better chance of not only getting their policy objectives in a victorious coalition, but also avoiding the fate of losing to the incumbent Administration, which is notorious for its vindictiveness toward opponents.
Concessions may include specific Cabinet and other top-level appointments, Palace support for legislation, including constitutional amendments; and a say in major state decisions, initiatives, and expenditures. And a combined ticket may split the top two posts, as well as the senatorial slate.
Perhaps the biggest gain for the country and the coalition is that the task of unifying the nation and setting aside differences after election has already begun. Thus, the unified opposition, if it wins, can harness broader political support than without collaboration.
Step 3: Make the agreement public
If a coalition is agreed, how are the candidates and their parties assured that the pact would be honored? Answer: Make its key provisions public. Then the Filipino nation is witness to the accord, and anyone violating it are exposed to all and sundry.
The public agreement would also demonstrate to the candidates’ parties and supporters how the coalition would advance their respective policy objectives and political interests. This clarity is indispensable for all sides to back the merged ticket.
Of course, once election victory is secured, the winner might still tear up the pact on some pretext and despite public outcry. Still, it goes against sound politics to kick off a presidency by making enemies of one’s allies and trashing one’s word of honor before the nation.
Rather, the smart and prudent leader would harness the coalition to get widespread backing for their agreed agenda. His or her partners may also help allay public concerns over alleged past excesses and failings of the winner.
Smart too would be his or her coalition partners, getting front seats in power instead of dejectedly hearing the cheering from outside the victory stadium.
Bottom line: Only one presidentiable will win in May, and for the good of the nation and the opposition, it had better not be the one who would bring six more years of appalling crime, contraband, corruption and incompetence. To prevent that, there may need to be a principled collaboration for regime change.