A political opposition in crisis

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

A POLITICAL opposition is an important element of democracy. In parliamentary systems, the opposition forms a shadow government that watches over every move of the ruling party that is in control of parliament and the cabinet. Shadow ministers become the watchdogs of their counterparts in the cabinet, providing the constant checks especially during the question hour in parliament.

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In the United States, the minority party which at present are the Democrats assign a ranking member for each of the committees in the Senate and in the House who serves as the chief fiscalizer, and is the leader of the minority in the committee.

The assumption here is that the party is a stable political institution that aggregates political interests, and therefore represents a confluence of policy preferences that mirrors the sentiments of the electorate.

Unfortunately, our party system in the Philippines is one that is not based on policy platforms, but on personalistic affiliations and personal affinities. We are cursed with a political structure that has the rituals of democracy as an open competition of interests but is constrained by a political culture that looks at parties as personalistic institutions for political convenience and personal agendas.

Functioning political parties in the Philippines, in the sense of how we define it in our discipline of political science, are practically non-existent. Party discipline is a myth, seen when we have a Congress where there are Liberal Party members in both the minority and the majority, or when the main nemesis of the President is Senator Trillanes who comes from the same party as his vice-presidential candidate, now Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano.

What aggravates the situation, and which further retards the growth of our party system, is the prevailing culture of hate that found its beginnings in the aftermath of the 1986 EDSA people power uprising. This was a time when political divisions emerged not along policy lines, but in terms of political positioning vis-a-vis the Aquino-Marcos narrative of mutual hatred. This has created a kind of politics where political contestations are not driven by policy alternatives but by personal animosity.

Devoid of robust policy anchor, we therefore end up with an opposition that has no consistency in its political stance, and who would rather contradict its own record, and end up devoid of a coherent platform of governance. This is what you end up with when you have an opposition whose main political project is not to offer policy alternatives, but to bring down or depose a President that doesn’t come from their ranks.

This is nowhere more glaring than in the current predicament of the political opposition to President Duterte. The opposition appears to be devoid of a unifying alternative and is consumed by a deep-seated resentment of being denied a privilege which they feel they are entitled to.

This is deeply rooted in the fact that the political opposition and its cohorts in civil society and in the citizenry are children of the yellow movement that behaved as if they owned democracy and the writing and telling of history.

This position of privilege and entitlement stemmed from their successful appropriation of the power to direct the political narrative of the country since 1986. This is seen in how effective they are in reducing the complex historical trajectories into a dualism between the evil Marcos and the saintly Ninoy and Cory.

They were able to drive the Marcoses to exile and install a post-Marcos government that successfully entrenched a narrative of hate towards their political others. They removed or punished political leaders who crossed or challenged their agenda. They were able to oust Erap Estrada, impeach Renato Corona and jail Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

They were so confident that they would rule our national narrative for a long time, until they realized that the majority of the people would not allow them, and instead elected a President who stands for everything they detest.

This is precisely why they are seething with rage now that President Duterte has effectively reduced them to a noisy minority.

And they are unraveling with so much clarity that one has to wonder whether they have lost the ability to recuperate.

And they unravel even more with the explosive revelations by Patricia Bautista about her husband Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista. The manner by which they contradict themselves, or undermine their own political rationality, is so palpable that one can even feel pity for them and wonder at how the once mighty Liberal Party can be reduced to such a sorry state.

For example, Franklin Drilon parroted the line that the Senate should not investigate Andres Bautista because he is an impeachable official, a point which in fact I actually agree with. Except that Drilon forgot that he was the Senate President when the Senate subjected then Vice President Jojo Binay to what seemed to be an unending ordeal of investigations.

Social media personalities, including anonymous sites, identified with the opposition seem to be in a frenzy to defend Andres Bautista as if he is a member of the political opposition. They even accuse the Marcoses of masterminding the smear campaign. They treat Bautista like he is one of them without even being conscious of the implications this stance could have on him as head of a non-partisan and impartial body. Worse, they fuel the fire of linking Bautista’s woes to the allegations of electoral fraud in the 2016 elections by boldly saying that Leni Robredo is the real target of the smear campaign.

And then you have the silence of those who cried for Leila for being slut-shamed by the alleged misogynist Digong Duterte when Andy Bautista practically slut-shamed his wife by painting her as an extorting adulterer.

The political opposition is really in a crisis. They are imploding on the sheer weight of the irrationality of their politics founded not on policy but on hatred and self-entitlement.

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