For a political party that has the distinction of having elected three Presidents of the Republic – Manuel Roxas, Elpidio Quirino, Diosdado Macapagal – the Liberal Party of the Philippines today is, sadly, a shadow of its former self. It does not look like a political party with much conviction or confidence in itself.
The LP had, of course, also suffered crushing defeats in Philippine elections. But the party never looked more pathetic or weaker than it did this week when its nominal president, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, was compelled to announce the party’s retraction of a ringing statement for Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd to resign.
Retraction, or swallowing your words, is an act or characteristic that we do not normally associate or expect from a political party. We expect from it usually a firm declaration of the party’s stand or an assertion of its principles. This is so because a political party by definition vies for power on the basis of the strength of its political beliefs and policy agenda, which it hopes will find favor with the people. It aspires to gain control of government.
In the bizarre development this week, the incident involved a senator who is not even a true-blue member of the party, only an ally – Sen. Risa Hontiveros. She figured in a dust-up with the justice secretary over the handling of witnesses in connection with the ongoing drug war.
Hontiveros delivered a privilege speech at the Senate on Monday, wherein she accused Aguirre of plotting against her. As proof, she showed a photo that purportedly showed Aguirre exchanging text messages with former Negros Oriental representative Jacinto “Jing” Paras. In the exchange of text messages, Aguirre allegedly told Paras to expedite their case against Hontiveros.
Hearing this, Senator Pangilinan and the other minority senators closed ranks behind the lady and demanded that Aguirre should resign for plotting against Hontiveros.
The Liberals declared righteously: “His (Aguirre’s) actions signify a lack of competence for a man who holds the highest office on justice. His actions clearly violate the norms of conduct for public officials under the law.”
Showing that he knows his stuff as justice secretary, Aguirre quickly replied with his own two-fisted blast. He accused Hontiveros of the “unethical” and “unconstitutional” act of wiretapping by making public his private text messages.
Aguirre said he might file a complaint not only against Hontiveros, but also against the photographer who captured an image of his mobile phone screen showing his private correspondence.
“I am [keeping]my options open. I could file criminal, civil and administrative cases against all persons responsible,” Aguirre said. He explained that prying into an exchange of private text messages, without authorization, and making it public “is a flagrant violation of Republic Act No. 4200 or the Anti-Wire Tapping Act.”
The threat alarmed Pangilinan and the other Liberal senators. They realized that they had mud on their faces.
Hontiveros could face serious punitive action. It was in this light that the party decided to retract its words. Just two hours after issuing the resign call, Pangilinan sheepishly announced:
“We are recalling the statement of the minority senators on the ‘Resign Aguirre’ call of Senator Hontiveros…There has been a misunderstanding. We apologize for the mistake.”
The message of their revised statement later that day that still called for Aguirre’s resignation has been lost on its readers, if anybody cared to read it at all.
In fact, it is more than a misunderstanding. It is a serious failure of thought and probity by the party-in-oppostion, which spends nearly all of its time blasting the Duterte administration.
The Liberal Party could be a bigger victim of this incident than Hontiveros. The party has more at stake in its reputation and public standing. Hontiveros can always turn back to her party list origins.
When a political party takes back its own words of criticism against the political enemy, it is hardly the definition of competence, but more of inept, dull and obtuse.