Monday, May 11, 2009

Define “opposition”

A columnist in another paper recently raised the possibility that the “opposition” may have been corrupted by “secret double-agents” out to wreak havoc to the desiderata of opposition unity. He curiously suggests that Joseph Estrada may have cut a deal with GMA, and is bent on running precisely to prevent the “opposition” from uniting behind one of the others. At the end of his article, he suggests his favourite “presidentiable” and touts his dubious credentials. Even more curiously, he suggests that Ping Lacson may also be sleeping with the enemy, and is being used as a battering ram to destroy the chances of his “favourite”. Ping Lacson, who exposed Jose Pidal, and practically every major scandal of the administration led by one this columnist used to fawn over, and who has been at the receiving end of every bit of vile propaganda unleashed by the regime and its minions --- a “double agent”? C’mon, give us a break!

But seriously, who are the opposition among the current crop of presidential hopefuls? And seriously too, how do we define “opposition”?

Because the NP-LP alternating hegemony is two generations gone, it is fruitless to think in terms of political parties. As I keep saying, those we have now are mere flags of convenience. Look at the personalities using the parties, how they stand on issues, how they stand against corruption and bad governance, which are the distinctive hallmarks of the present regime. Inside her court, varying only in degrees of proximity, are her handpicked vice-president, Noli de Castro, her handpicked defense secretary, Gilbert Teodoro, her once-shafted, still retained MMDA chairperson, Bayani Fernando, three who are considered in the running.

Outside her court, but wouldn’t categorically eschew an endorsement that does not seem forthcoming, is Dick Gordon, who ran as her senatorial candidate when she went for election in 2004. Kick in the latest supposed kid on the block, billionaire Manny Pangilinan, long her supporter and a kabalen to boot. But both, I presume, would rather style themselves as “independent” --- neither here nor there.

So now let us take a look at the presidentiables from the “opposition” stable. There is Manuel B. Villar, Jr., who started his political career as congressman of the lone district of Las Pinas, when his wife’s family alternatingly held the mayorship. That was in 1992, running as Monching Mitra’s LDP candidate. After FVR won, Villar turned to Lakas. In 1995, Angara’s LDP was suborned by Lakas, the banner Villar used in his first re-election, which he won handily. In 1998, he ran under Lakas, the flag of Jose de Venecia, who lost miserably to Lammp coalition’s Erap. As soon as night became day, hounded by the Asian recession that hit his fortunes badly, Villar led 49 other Lakas stalwarts and swore to Erap’s high haven in Greenhills. Through a hefty transaction, he became “speaker” by grace of Erap, who disgraced word of commitment to Joker Arroyo. In November of 2000, he promptly cut the niceties of committee hearings and floor debates, and by stroke of nimble double-cross, sent the impeachment complaint with the requisite endorsers to the Senate for trial.

Having been one of the principal sponsors of Gloria’s ascent to the presidency, he was amply rewarded with a slot in her People Power Coalition for the senatorial elections of 2001. He won, and served a full first term, getting the supra-powerful Finance Committee with influence over the budget, and later, through a term-sharing deal, Senate President after Franklin Drilon. In 2004, he fully supported his Gloria’s election. Right after, he “bought” the franchise to the Nacionalista Party name, hollowed out of members its history had. In 2005, when the revelations of Hello Garci ripped wide open the underbelly of a massive cheating conspiracy against the people, he kept his mouth shut. Franklin Drilon did not, and joined others in asking for Gloria’s resignation. Not Manny Villar. Thus did he retain the senate presidency until re-election time in 2007. But because the fall-out over Hello Garci extended till 2007, with his president burdened by abysmally low trust and approval ratings, Manny Villar thought it was time to switch…again.

And a motley band of oppositionists who wanted a shut-out, never mind defining principles or issues, welcomed him with open arms, with Erap mismo negotiating still another transaction with Villar. He was supposed to bring in other “sure” winners, Ralph Recto, Joker Arroyo, and Francis Pangilinan. The first two also deserted Erap in the critical days of 2000, while the last was never for Erap. The first two opted to still bed with Gloria; Francis ran as an independent. At the start of the campaign, Villar also styled himself as an “independent”, as if testing the waters. That was fine with Erap, for what curious reasons I have yet to fathom. When the so-called “Genuine Opposition” won handily, oh, Villar was now considered a born-again “oppositionist”. By the imprimatur of Erap, and the nihil obstat of Alan Peter Cayetano, Chiz Escudero, and of course, Jinggoy Estrada who got the lofty sinecure of pro-tempore. There went the “genuine opposition”. Even usually critical and perceptive media glossed over this, and sang the hossanas for Manny Villar, once more the Senate President, and soon, the “president” of their dreams … and wallets.

So, from LDP (1992) to Lakas (1995), to Erap’s Lammp (1998) to Gloria’s PPC (2001), to Nacionalista in support of Gloria (2004), to Nacionalista as part of an “opposition” coalition in 2007, to Nacionalista, with questionable allegiances at present. That is the adroit and nimble political odyssey of Manuel B. Villar Jr., much like a hopping kangaroo, the man who would be president of the benighted land.

* * *

And then comes Loren Legarda. From top-rated broadcaster of ABS-CBN, she parlayed celebrity status to become the decoratif, and perhaps the only decently-perceived candidate, in trapo Joe de Venecia’s ill-fated run for president in 1998. She remained with Lakas, his party, and voted against Estrada in the second-envelope episode. In 2001, a grateful Gloria and her people-power coalition elected her to be the first female majority leader of the Senate. In 2004, a cabal of “oppositionists” proclaimed her along with the cinematic legend FPJ as their combination key towards Malacanang. Gloria and Garci and a cabal of generals thwarted their march to victory. For three years thereafter, she hibernated politically, while pursuing her electoral protest against Gloria’s handpicked vice-president, Noli de Castro.

In 2007, she ran once more for the Senate, and handily won election, emerging at the top. She was shunted off by Villar’s masterful stroke of transacting with the administration, into part of a minority in the first year and a half of the present Congress. Along with Ping Lacson, Mar Roxas, Jamby Madrigal, Noynoy Aquino, Pong Biazon and Nene Pimentel, the “opposition”, which had the greater numbers in the chamber, found themselves, the “minority”. Loren and her pals licked their wounds quietly until November of 2008, when, soliciting the votes of some of those who earlier transacted with Villar, they pushed him off his perch, and handed the senate leadership to 85-year old but mentally sharp Juan Ponce Enrile.

In 2007, just before she ran for senator once more, she joined the Nationalist People’s Coalition, a party founded and nurtured by Danding Cojuangco, former Marcos crony turned industrialist and power broker after Marcos fell from power. The NPC is a party composed of an overwhelming number of traditional politicians, masters of their respective fiefdoms, heads of their political dynasties, whose loyalty was always to every sitting president. Founded in 1992 in time for Danding’s ill-fated run for the presidency, it remained a “passive” opposition to FVR, shunned even by the man who became vice-president under their wings, Joseph Estrada. Fortunes changed when Estrada became president in 1998, but his short-lived stay in power meant that the NPC had to bed with the victor, GMA. Thus did the NPC become a political vassal of Dona Gloria’s coalition of trapos, while the economic fortunes of Cojuangco and his partner Ramon Ang multiplied several times over, using the flagship San Miguel Corporation. Of late, the grist is that the NPC overlords have become partners with the Arroyos in many a lucrative business deal, in electric power, in telecommunications, and heaven knows what else, or whatever else will be.

So will Loren carry the flags of Danding and the NPC in 2010? And where would those flags be flying with? The “opposition”, or Dona Gloria’s? Or, feigning independence, as Gloria’s “secret” protector of personal interest beyond June 30, 2010? To recap, Loren has been Lakas, thence NPC. But since 2004, when she allied herself with the opposition, she remained in the opposition. Curiously, the gods of her party do not take either-or stands. They just take advantage of every opportunity, political, business, and both.

Or should the NPC bosses favour young Escudero, whose family has been with their party from inception? He ought to be the sentimental favourite, especially now that Danding’s nephew Gilbert Teodoro seems to be paddling his own canoe, upstream and in opposite direction. But hey, blood is always thicker than water, and it ain’t over until wives and mothers shed their tears.

To be fair, Escudero was drafted by Erap’s JV as spokesman within the halls of Congress where Erap was getting beleaguered by Joker and his snipers, the “Spice Boys” led by Miguelito el Defensor. And after laying low as re-elected congressman in the wake of Erap’s humpty-dumpty denouement, he resurrected into the national consciousness as FPJ’s able and effective spokesperson during the campaign of 2004. He was the House minority leader when the main impeachment complaint was filed against Gloria in the aftermath of Hello Garci, and he ran, and handily won, with the coalition ticket of the GO last 2007. He has performed creditably as a senator, and has not been sparing against the present regime in his stand on various issues of corruption.

What gives many cause for worry is how he would be “used” by his NPC party bosses, and the financiers who have lined up behind him, many of whom are identified with the regime du jour. Will Escudero also “transact”?

So how then ought we define “opposition” in the context of today’s politics, assuming the elections of 2010, a year thence, will proceed as scheduled and under the present framework?