Because of the many comments generated by my last column (“The missing opposition,” 7 January 2014), I will tackle the subject again today, and also because of its timely relevance to great issues of the day.
Many readers lay the blame for the absence of a political opposition on President Aquino—this because he has bought them off with the pork barrel and his gigantic DAP funds.
The senators targeted for prosecution in the multibillion pork barrel scandal are leaders of the opposition—Senate minority leader Juan Ponce Enrile, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, and Sen. Bong Revilla. To Estrada’s credit, it was he who exposed the DAP to the shock of his fellow senators and Malacañang. He probably did not expect the controversy to become so big; he should be commended.
Some friends told me Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (and former Sen. Joker Arroyo) must not be overlooked because of their courageous and principled stand in the impeachment trial of former Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona. They did not accept sizable DAP allotments in exchange for a guilty verdict. But they are better called independents for now, because none of them has described himself/herself as a member of the opposition.
The running thread in all the comments and in discussions I’ve had with friends is that our politicians are totally fixated on their not having a pork barrel fund this year, and probably beyond. It’s reason enough to turn oppositionist, but most are hanging on to the hope that Congress joined by the President can reinvent the pork barrel before 2016.
One curious and interesting comment I received was the assertion that President Aquino is the sole conviction politician in the country today. Most pols do not live by principles, policies and programs. Aquino commands the spotlight only because of his obsessive policy of vengeance against political opponents.
Politicians as entrepreneurs
There’s a trend in political science today that says the use of the term “public servants” to describe politicians is no longer appropriate. At best, public servant is now a euphemism that pols like because of its self-effacing connotation.
In the book, The Logic of American Politics, the authors and political scientists Samuel Kernell, Gary C. Jacobson and Thad Kousser, trace the rise of politicians to the emergence of representative government in modern democracies. Representatives, as elected agents, were initially called public servants in the American tradition. These political professionals specialized in “discovering collective enterprises that unite citizens with different values and interests.”
The authors proceeded to develop a new line of analysis and wrote: “A much more apt term for a politician, however, is entrepreneur. Like entrepreneurs, politicians are dealmakers, but instead of putting together financial partnerships and other ventures, they assemble coalitions.
“A coalition is a combination of unlike-minded interests who nonetheless agree, for their own distinct reasons, to a common course of action. To win elections, politicians must succeed at building coalitions.
“Successful candidates persuade a plurality of voters to support them (a common action) by offering different constituencies their own reasons for doing so….Where numerous competing interests are well represented and governing power is widely shared, the public is better served by politicians dedicated to solving problems that satisfy the interests of their constituents than to pursuing their personal vision of the good society.”
Paradoxically, the authors aver that term limits are double-edged; they eliminate “the one real device that democracy provides citizens for keeping their agents responsive.”
With so many entrepreneurs operating in Congress, it is not surprising why so many of them are looking to make a deal with the administration and with each other, and why they have so little time to devote to lawmaking and to debating issues of national moment.
I should mention here that Filipino political observers started calling politicians “entrepreneurs” long before American political analysts stumbled on the idea. I still remember when veteran editor-writer Juan T. Gatbonton (now Times consultant) first mentioned the term to me in one of our occasional discussions. But I do not know whether he ever used the term in print or his analytical pieces.
Watchdog press and party-list legislators
The absence of the political opposition is most apparent and regrettable in the ongoing battle over the Meralco power rate hike, which could use a few influential guns in Congress.
The battle is being carried mainly by the press and some energetic party-list representatives in the Lower House.
My colleague Rigoberto Tiglao’s series of columns and articles on the issue raise hope and confidence that the fight for sound policy and fair pricing will be won. His two-part series on the USaid study on the electricity pricing mechanism and the corporate elite’s capture of the legislature is exceptional journalism. If President Aquino will ignore this, as he swore to do in his New Year’s resolution, he could be courting a rebellion.
In Congress, the work of Congressmen Carlos Zarate and Neri Colmenares on the issue has been backed up by excellent research and persuasive argumentation.
Consequently, the work of the watchdog press and independent lawmakers lead me to conclude that the toothpaste is out of the tube. They can’t put the hike back in the tube.
The Supreme Court will see its way to a ruling that the hike is unconstitutional – to follow up on the TRO issued by Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno.
There appears to be definitive collusion between power generators and power distributors behind the Meralco power rate hike.
The cross-directorships in those companies’ boards raise the possibility of far more serious charges.
The energy regulatory commission (ERC) has failed completely on the job
Energy secretary Jericho Petilla is clueless on the energy industry and his advocacy of corporate interests compel his irrevocable resignation.
In sum, the rate hikes have to be rolled back totally.
President Aquino can no longer claim that he is powerless, or that he has no magic wand. He can fire people who are standing in the way.
In the Senate, Sen. Serge Osmeña, chairman of the Senate Energy committee, stands exposed now as having a conflict of interest on the issue because of his relationship with the Lopezes. He should resign or be stripped of his chairmanship, so someone more independent and caring can do the job.