The leadership of a political movement in a democracy hews along the dictates of hierarchy. The structure defines the leadership, even the leadership of the political opposition (such as the opposition we have now) that is at best marginal and overwhelmed by the forces of government in power. According to the natural order of things, the leadership of the current opposition to Mr. Duterte belongs to Vice President Leni Robredo, Mr. Aquino and Mr. Roxas, the triumvirate that are on top of the opposition’s hierarchy.
VP Robredo is the official with the highest political post among them – the Number 2 post in the country. Mr. Aquino is a former president. Mr. Roxas was the presidential candidate in the 2016 elections and Mr. Aquino’s co-president from 2010 to April 2016. But they are not leading.
Ms. Robredo appears timid and oftentimes clueless on how to react to the events of the hour. She is more worried about her low trust and appreciation ratings than being able to stand for what she believes is right and just. Somebody should tell her that nobody has adopted meandering as the surest route to the presidency. Filipinos, and this is true, abhor politicians who always talk as if the country would crack up the next day. But they have less respect for timidity, which is Ms. Robredo’s stock in trade.
The fact that she has neither natural gravitas nor a clue how to reach such state also hurts.
Mr. Aquino and Mr. Roxas are “bahag ang buntot.” Cockfighting aficionados have a better term for that state – “natyope.” It is clear they do not want to be at the receiving end of Mr. Duterte’s colorful words. While it is their moral duty to lead the opposition at the very time their leadership is badly needed, they have chosen to stay out of the political fray.
So, who leads the political opposition? Surprisingly, the current leaders do not even have official titles within the hierarchy of the political opposition.
The de facto leaders are Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th, who is not even officially affiliated with the political opposition. And Mr. Lagman, who was with Mrs. Arroyo when Mr. Aquino made a punching bag out of the former president. The reason they are leaders of the cowed opposition has nothing to do with having vital positions in the mainstream political opposition. The simple reason is this: they are undaunted and unafraid of Mr. Duterte.
Mr. Trillanes fights from his lonely corner at the Senate. Mr. Lagman fights from his lonely corner at the House of Representatives. It is worth noting that except for their willingness to oppose the administration of Mr. Duterte from their respective legislative chambers, no common ground binds the two. On paper, they are both Albay natives and were raised in Caloocan City, but there is a qualifier to that.
Mr. Lagman’s children are probably in the age range of Mr. Trillanes. He represents Albay in Congress but it is a fact that anybody surnamed Lagman has forefathers who came from the province of Pampanga. At some point in the life of Pampanga, and that was long ago, a surprise migration to the Bicol Region took place and among those who moved there was the famous poet Angela Manalang Gloria, the famous writer Bienvenido Santos and the family of journalist Sheila R. Ocampo. The forefathers of Edcel Lagman probably resettled in Bicol in that particular wave of migration.
While Trillanes trained at the Philippine Military Academy, taking the lead from his navy officer-father who also trained at the PMA, Mr. Lagman’s family turned out as dissidents. The late Popoy Lagman, a prominent figure of the Left, not only gained attention from his exploits in the underground movement. Inside the movement, he was regarded a heretic, the leader of the bloc that questioned the viability of Mao’s long game, that of a patient encircling the seat of power from the countryside. When the Rejectionists, the contrarians to the core planks of the mainstream Left, speak of the “Nicaraguan option” in gaining state power, they are merely echoing what Popoy Lagman had proposed before heated plenums of the Left.
Another brother, labor lawyer Harmon Lagman, disappeared during the Martial Law years. Harmon Lagman was one the first desaparecidos of Marcos’ martial rule. The mere mention of the name Harmon Lagman immediately debunks all claims that Marcos’ Martial Law did not summarily salvage political dissenters.
Edcel Lagman has worked within the system and not underground. Still, his social and economic justice themes are similar to what his dead brothers fought for – only the mode and strategies differed. Anti-authoritarianism, economic safety nets, the reversal of antediluvian population programs are his core policy planks, the planks of progressives working within the liberal democratic system.
Mr. Trillanes, with his military background, does not inhabit the political space of Mr. Lagman and his ‘sermon on the mount’ constituencies. His fights have centered on anti-corruption and abuse of official power, the exposure and censure of corrupt government officials, his disdain for governing with impunity.
By all means, Mr. Trillanes is not a political progressive.
The circumstance that made them leaders of the political opposition was the timidity of the opposition leaders and their refusal to be cowed and daunted. At the frontline of the opposition to Mr. Duterte are the unafraid.