FILIPINO politicians change political affiliations as fast as they change the color of their jackets. The word “turncoat” may be too forgiving a word to describe this cancer of Philippine politics. Soldiers in the American Civil War reversed their military jackets for survival. It was their life, man. Whereas, Filipino politicians shift loyalties for comfort, victory, convenience—and money. Theirs is not a fight for survival, but a bet on pure gain and profit.
Is there a case of opportunism worse than that?
Finally, Mr. Drilon has had enough of the cancer. In a draft law that failed to gain much attention, he sought penalties, from a temporary ban from seeking public office to fines, for turncoats. The intent is good but he should have sought much more brutal penalties and sanctions. Is it within the ambit of the law to mete out the guillotine for turncoats? Here is the general critique of Mr. Drilon’s bill. It is a “slap-on-the-wrist” and essentially spineless.
The law has to be brutal and harsh against turncoats, and spine was what the Drilon bill lacked. Because the sickness has bedeviled PH politics since the birth of the Republic. It should be dealt with now and harshly. Or else, all the lessons from decades of political opportunism, the cancer rather, will not find its cure.
Mr. Drilon did not mention the background, the context, that pushed him to file the bill. But it is there for all of us to see. It was his tragic experience with his own LP, the coalition that led the previous government of Mr. Aquino, of which Mr. Drilon was a principal actor. Mr. Drilon was probably left conscience-stricken by that experience.
You see, the ascent of the Aquino-led LP into political power in 2010 carried a lot of suppositions and expectations—all grand and lofty. Many were suckered into hoping that his campaign would, indeed, result in a fundamental change in the way we do politics. Principally, the expectation that Mr. Aquino would build a party with principles—plus a set of core beliefs—as the unwavering thread, the reason for existing. Universally, that is what political parties, the principals in a democracy, should be about.
He talked incessantly about the politics of “integrity,” remember. His mantra was the “Right Path.” That covered a lot of grounds, including using governance to build strong democratic institutions, principally the political parties.
How wrong were we.
The LP-led coalition never made any serious effort to seriously reform Philippine politics and strengthen the shaky, brittle, unstable political institutions. He used the LP-led majority to pursue acts of vendetta (just look at the case of ex-CJ Corona), eliminate the PDAF to put in place another budgetary monster, the DAP, to effectively take control of the entire budgetary process; and engage in serious under-spending to get hollow praises for his fiscal prudence.
Institution-building was in the talk of Mr. Aquino but was never pursued as a serious agenda. At some point, the LP’s “soul” was articulated by Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice. Jovy Salonga, the grand old man of the LP, was probably shaken by Erice’s capture of the LP’s soul. It turned out that Mr. Aquino’s verbal paeans to institution-building was a scam that turned off the few remaining idealists within the party.
Mr. Aquino’s administration even allowed some small-time LP operatives from Pangasinan to take over the maintenance of the MRT 3, the main component of Metro manila’s urban rail system. As expected, the minor LP players ran MRT to the ground.
Days after the results of the 2016 presidential elections were clear, Mr. Aquino reaped what he sowed. The LP crumbled faster than the Lakas-NUCD-CMD, of Mr. de Venecia, after de Venecia’s loss in the 1998 presidential elections. Mr. Alvarez easily formed a majority in the House and Mr. Pimentel had a grander version—a “ supermajority” under the PDP-Labnan. That must have tortured Mr. Drilon.
Enough is enough. Turncoats have been the longest-running narrative of Philippine politics. It came an odious feature of the early Republic. The LP that won the first presidential election after the 1946 proclamation of independence was a mere splinter of the original NP.
Mr. Magsaysay abandoned the LP and Mr. Quirino, and easily moved into the NP to pursue his presidential dream in 1957. Mr. Marcos bolted the LP in 1965 to be the NP standard-bearer. The post-martial law history of turncoats and shifting loyalties was the pinnacle of unprincipled politics.
That the Drilon bill that sought to expunge the political cancer got little media attention was expected. Media was just acting true to form, in line with its predisposition to ignore the real cancer of politics. Had they focused their attention on the cancer, Mr. Drilon would have been emboldened to amend his slap-on-the-wrist and spineless bill to do a Duterte and go for the kill.