“WHO’S left in the Liberal Party? I don’t know. And I don’t care to know.”
These words by a former poster boy of LP loyalty, former Bataan congressman Tong Payumo, graphically illustrates the fall of the once influential party to one arousing indifference, even from a man like Tong who had been unflinching in his support for it.
I recall Tong’s apathy to the LP with the news that all party members in the Senate except one were ousted from key posts last Monday. So, LP Senators Franklin Drilon, Kiko Pangilinan, Bam Aquino and Risa Hontiveros are no longer with the Senate majority. Earlier, Sen. Leila de Lima was stripped of her chairmanship of the committee on justice. The once mighty party is now being kicked around, so what? Or, it could be more appropriate to exclaim “Buti nga!” It serves them right.
This party that once claimed to be charting a “tuwid na daan” or straight path under President BS Aquino The Last is turning irrelevant with its lack of direction. During the campaign, party candidates excoriated then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte for his alleged violations of human rights, misogyny and profanity. Yet, after the elections, many LPs joined Duterte’s party while those who remained coalesced with the administration-backed majority in the House and the Senate. They’re following a straight path? No, they go where the wind blows. Fittingly, last Monday, they got blown into virtual oblivion.
On several occasions, some senators, including JV Ejercito, questioned why the Liberals remained with the majority. They could have earned more brownie points had they abandoned the majority on those occasions, or better, even at the convening of the 17th Congress. Incomprehensibly, they waited until they got kicked out.
Now, they’re saying, notably Sen. Risa Hontiveros, that they’re most willing to accept their ouster if it’s the price they have to pay for opposing extra-judicial killings. Excuse me, but they’ve been singing this refrain since the election campaign. Why did they join the majority in the first place? To get key positions that could stymie any inquiry into scams during the Aquino (mis)administration?
Senate’s queer grouping
If there’s anything good coming out of last Monday’s reorganization, it’s the conversion, although with much hesitation, of the Liberal Party senators (except Senator Ralph Recto) into opposition. Recto had no qualms about relinquishing his post as Minority Leader to become once again Senate President Pro Tem vice Drilon.
For so long, the division in the Senate has been solely into minority and majority. In other legislatures, lawmakers are also distinguished as administration and opposition. Not so in the Philippines. In numerous columns, I decried this resistance of senators to be described as opposition, as if this word is a dirty one.
What makes this Senate division more quirky is that it’s not even based on party affiliation. Recto is with the majority while the rest of his fellow LPs are with the minority. Senator Antonio Trillanes is with the minority while fellow Nacionalistas Cynthia Villar and Alan Peter Cayetano are with the majority.
This queer division of the Senate has further weakened political parties as it has contributed to the erosion of party discipline and loyalty. I’ve always supported all calls to strengthen political parties but all bills seeking such have been ignored, mostly by legislators who have made it a habit to join the party of the newly elected President. Well, they don’t want to be left out of the gravy train.
A few principled ones, like Tong Payumo tried to stick it out with their party through thick and thin. A number, again like Tong, got shunted aside by the parties who didn’t give a hoot about party loyalty. Tong, it must be recalled, gave up his chairmanship of the powerful House committee on public works in the Eighth Congress when told that he could only retain it if he would leave the LP and join the newly organized Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino.
Tong recalled his decades-long association with the LP before it cast him aside in 2013: “We were small then with Jovy Salonga as our leader. We were referred to as the Volkswagen party because we could all fit in a Beetle. But we did not leave the LP even if it meant losing major committee chairmanships.
“Then came the election of PNoy. Everyone clambered aboard. The LP Beetle became a bus, then a train. Fast forward to the election of PDU30. Everyone once again boarded the winning train. Who’s left in the LP? I don’t know and I don’t care to know,” he says with a shrug.
Another missed chance under Cory
Our eminent columnist Bobi Tiglao said the country missed a chance to go parliamentary under President Cory. There was another missed chance under Cory, that of easing our foreign debt problem as rued by the late Senator Joker Arroyo, her first Executive Secretary.
“Before her state visit to the US, I proposed that she seek condonation of the foreign debts incurred by Marcos. Cory was much admired then and our creditors could have approved it had she asked,” Joker once told me.
Unfortunately, President Cory followed the advice of then Central Bank Governor Jobo Fernandez that she must pay all debts, including that on the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.