Who is, where is the political opposition?



In the May 9, 2016 elections, then mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte and his political partry, PDP-Laban, won a plurality in the presidential election.

Significantly, he and his party did not win a majority of the seats contested in the elections for the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives.

The party that won the largest share of congress seats was the Liberal Party, the administration party at the time as the party of then President Benigno Aquino III.

Duterte therefore did not have a congressional majority to govern with him in the new Congress.

That Cngress majority was for the Liberals to forge or form, if they could. But before Duterte could be sworn to office and the 17th Congress could be convened, many of the victorious Liberals quickly lined up to be counted as supporters and well-wishers of the president-elect. They hoped by this to land plum or leading positions in either house of Congress.

Becoming the House or Senate majority was beyond realization by the LP, because a Filipino president can always negotiate to ensure a supportive or cooperative leadership in Congress.

Liberals turned their coats

Before the dust could settle, however, the Liberals moved swiftly to embed themselves in the eventual pro-Duterte majorities in the House and Senate.

When the time came to identify who would become the minority parties in either house, the Liberals could have quickly laid claim to the honor because they clearly had the numbers. As early as then, they could have identified themselves as the party in opposition to the new administration.

But they did not.

I thought of this fateful choice before the Liberal Party, as I watched yesterday, the US Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren explain what would be the position of the Democratic Party vis-a- vis the incoming administration of Donald Trump come January 20.

Senator Warren forthrightly declared: “We are not a minority; we are a party in opposition.”

Gaping void in our democracy

Instead of clarity, there is a gaping void at the heart of our democracy today. There is no party, there is no leader, and there is no program of the political opposition in the Philippines today.

While President Duterte and his allies are out in front, claiming the power and privileges of the majority party and the administration, there is no one taking the role of the opposition with equal gusto.

It is correct to call the opposition “Missing in action,” because instead of eager faces and voices presenting the position of the opposition, we find a black hole as deep and empty as the hole in outer space.

No member of Congress or politician today wants to identify himself as a member, let alone a leader, of the opposition.

In a great irony, it is the burial of the late President Ferdinand Marcos that seems to galvanize the Liberals into action. But they stirred to life only after the Supreme Court had already ruled on the legality of President Duterte’s decision to allow the burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LMNB).

The opposition will materialize only if elected officials and political leaders claim the role of the opposition and formally discharge its functions in our democracy.

The Liberals were left without a leader when Mar Roxas lost in the presidential election, and President Aquino was termed out. Vice President Leni Robredo is plainly no leader.

Former Speaker Feliciano Belmonte declined to take the post of House Minority leader, preferring to embed himself in the majority coalition. Former Senate President Franklin Drilon took the junior role of Senate President Protempore, rather then lead the opposition in the Senate

Consequently, the Liberals are now wandering around without identity papers, looking for a horse to ride.
Is President Duterte so intimidating that no one dares to stand in opposition to him and his administration? Is the negative example of Senator Leila de Lima so discouraging, that everyone fears being included in DU30’s lists?

The indispensable opposition

And yet, and yet, the opposition is considered indispensable to every democracy.

More than anyone, the political thinker Walter Lippmann was instrumental in crystallizing the system of majority rule and the role of the opposition in a liberal democracy. To Lippmann, the opposition is as vital to democracy as the majority that governs: “The principle which distinguishes democracy from all other forms of government is that in a democracy the opposition not only is tolerated as constitutional but must be maintained because it is in fact indispensable.”

Elaborating on this point, he wrote: “The democratic system cannot be operated without effective opposition.
For in making the great experiment of governing people by consent rather than by coercion, it is not sufficient that the party in power should have a majority. It is just as necessary that the party in power should never outrage the minority. That means that it must listen to the minority and be moved by the criticisms of the minority….

“The opposition is indispensable. A good statesman, like any other sensible human being, always learns more from his opponents than from his fervent supporters…. So if he is wise he ought to pray never to be left without opponents, for they keep him on the path of reason and good sense.”

The same must be said for the whole society. As things stand in our politics today, we stand in danger of seeing our democracy and majority rule taken by President Duterte to absurd lengths and limits—contrary to the spirit of limited government and separated powers in our constitutional system.

We could wake up one day to discover we have a new constitution, and our country balkanized into several states.

Political discourse has sunk to an abysmal level. No one seems to be thinking very much. All the politicians do is issue press releases.

Conviction politics

Just as crucial as the absence of political leaders standing as the opposition, is the sheer absence of leaders who stand for something, for clear values and policy ideas. What is sorely missing from national politics today is the practice of what the British have called “conviction politics,” which was exemplified by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The essence of conviction politics is the profession by political leaders of a clear set of principles, policies and programs in public life. We don’t have such leaders in our country. Neither do we have political parties that articulate a clear agenda of governance, and provide an organized base of support.

President Duterte represents one end of the problem in embodying the authoritarian temptation. The yellow cult represents another in advocating the political heresy that if it can muster enough numbers in the streets, they can successfully overturn a High Court decision or force the president to reverse a policy decision.

The proper meeting point of the administration and the opposition is the Constitution and democratic politics.
By voicing strong opinions we push the public debate forward and promote a genuine discussion of political issues.

It’s not happening now, because a genuine political opposition is nowhere to be found.



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  1. The opposition is using guerilla tactics, using crowds of people, to push for their agenda such as the reclamation of power through the installation of Robredo as Presidenta. The excuses are anything they can throw against Duterte, like Marcos burial, reassignment of a Marcos general, ek ek ek. Even the Catholic Church prelates are divided now due to their political affiliations. The hidden opposition are calling on past favors and personal attachments to solicit sympathy for their cause, their power struggle. Opposition has no face because the politicians are watching their back, to make sure they can retreat anytime.

  2. Soon , with the seemingly unending influence of the “AQUINO MEDIA MEN” , a leader of the LP would soon emerge … a playmate of the past President Noynoy Simon Aquino III .

  3. Jaime Dela Cruz on

    Nicely put Mr. Macabenta.
    Conviction politics you say. We won’t find that among our politicians because it does not line their pockets with the much desired pork barrel. Yes sir, pork barrel, there I said it. No matter what they call it, it is still pork barrel for all the swines in politics to feast on.

  4. The real oppositionists are still gauging Duterte giving him six months to fulfill his brag of ending the drug menace in the country. I am hoping the opposition will consolidate in the first quarter of next year. Admittedly, new members for the opposition will be welcome although the current administration’s zero tolerance policy against admin critics will dissuade a lot to join ranks with Trillanes and the remaining LP members.

  5. All the yellow leaders who have been in power for 30 years are guilty of corruption and they know it, and in their hubris of believing that they were forever untouchable they did not care if they left hard evidence of their corruption that future avenging angels can use against them. Now that a potential avenging angel is in the saddle, they are all scrambling to get on his good side or just hiding in plain sight being careful not to provoke him. Under Martial Law, Marcos marginalized the opposition. Under Duterte, the yellow hypocrites marginalized themselves. God is Great !

  6. We have Conviction Politics in full play of course. It’s leaders nga lang of course hide their heads underneath the ground like frightened ostriches of course for fear of Conviction for their past crimes. And that is their Conviction – to avoid/prevent from their being Convicted by the Duterte government. But as sure as the sun will rise today in a few minutes, they will be convicted en masse !

  7. Correct ka Dylan Sir!

    But, who would like to lead the opposition when the masses you would like to represent are immature ? Only a very strong willed, principled with a morally upright character Filipino will do that, but, maybe thinking it is useless to come out because of disappointment and disgust over what is generally happening in the Phil polity today.

  8. The reason why Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr. ordered the throwing of two grenades at the rally of the Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda is to threaten the Senate not to investigate his killing of Hacienda Luisita labor leaders. Thus, when his wife and son came into power, all politicians were quiet about his killings of Hacienda Luisita labor leaders although these killings were already public knowledge. We are a very young democracy and our leaders are not very well experienced in politics. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo tried to reform the constitution in the old democratic way, but the people are too divided to come out with an effective constitutional reform. President Benigno C. Aquino III tried to end up the 50 year Moro insurgency by the passage of the BBL Law, but he made that crazy mistake of doing it alone. He was successful in bribing Smartmatic to rig the elections, but he did not trust Mar Roxas to become his successor. He wanted Leni Robredo to become Vice-President so he can easily outmaneuver her and reinstall himself again as President. He was hoping that his colleagues in the Liberal Party would impeach President Duterte, but LP politicians are afraid of Duterte just as they were afraid of his father who threw the grenade at the rally of the LP in Plaza Miranda. His last straw is to kick out Duterte through a coup d’tat but the coup d’tat would be very bloody if Duterte fights back. The only reason why Marcos and Estrada fell down from power is because they humbly stepped down from office without any fight. There was no way in which Marcos and Estrada could have been removed from office if they decided to fight back. Now Aquino realized his mistake of distrusting Mar Roxas to become his successor. He is in deep trouble because of the many cases filed against him. The only reason why Duterte does not put him in jail is to avert a bloodbath should Aquino desperately resort to a coup to save his neck. Although Filipino politicians are not so well versed in politics, they are becoming smarter every year. Happily I can rate President Duterte as one of those first-rate politicians of our country. Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr should have never bribed Rolando Galman to shoot him. He should have succeeded Marcos and see what he can do to move our country forward – instead of relying on his incompetent wife and son to carry out his reforms for him.

    • Thanks for your post and glaring absence of supporting, verfiable evidences. Next time, try a formal letter stating your wondrous claims to the editor of this paper. Probably you will gain better mileage. Oh, and lick Duterte’s a$$ a bit more to gain more traction for your politicking..

  9. Yonkers, New York
    02 November 2016

    The reason the opposition or the minority party in the Philippines has virtually vanished into thin air with the election of Rodrigo Duterte as President last May 9th, is that virtually all politicians in the country are unprincipled and are simply motivated by what is convenient.

    Erstwhile members of the Opposition are seen quickly to “turn coat” because that is the best way for them to share in the political spoils, rather than remain true to principle and suffer the fate of a loser which is the way to penury.