Monday, May 11, 2009

Defining who are “opposition”

Last Friday, we analyzed the claims of three major “presidentiables” as oppositionists. Let us continue with the rest.

There is Mayor Jejomar Binay of Makati. From Day One of the Arroyo presidency, Binay steadfastly remained in the ranks of the opposition. When the storm troopers of Ronaldo Puno tried to arrest him on the basis of a suspension order for some graft charge hurled by his local nemesis, Bobby Brillante, Mayor Binay resisted, with residents and supporters surrounding his City Hall. Puno blinked, and the Court of Appeals later issued an injunction.

In successive elections from 2001 to 2007, Makati stood behind the national candidates of the opposition, and midway through the presidential run of FPJ, Binay was named campaign manager. Perhaps if the mayor had run the show earlier, opposition unity could have been achieved. When the Hello Garci controversy erupted in the middle of 2005, Makati became the open city for street protests; Manila, the previous capital of dissent then being under GMA supporter, Lito Atienza. Since then, Binay has become a respected leader within the splintered opposition.

The Hello Garci scandal was watershed that defined who were truly opposition and who would later masquerade as such.

During the Marcos era, there were very few who defied the strong arm of the dictatorship. Most of the resistance was waged in the hills, by the organized left as well as the Muslim secessionists in Mindanao. Politically, the first test of defiance was the Laban campaign of 1978, when Ninoy Aquino led the 21-man opposition slate for the Interim Batasang Pambansa from a prison cell. Just once during the campaign period was he interviewed by a gaggle of pro-Marcos media persons, and broadcast live. Ninoy’s performance electrified the metropolis both in the intensity of his defiance and the depths of his knowledge. Because of that singular interview, the electorate was sufficiently fired up such that on the eve of the farcical elections, thousands lined up the streets and banged pots and pans, while cars and jeepneys blared their horns in a noise barrage like no other. The dictatorship was shaken, but it still cheated the opposition, with Imelda Romualdez Marcos herself heading a clean sweep where virtual unknowns trumped even Ninoy.

But as fate would have it, the public slumped back into a mixture of fear and resignation after the May 1978 elections, and the real watershed came when Ninoy returned from exile on August 21, 1983. He was murdered on the tarmac, and the nation’s conscience was shocked, its spirit of resistance unleashed. Ninoy was brought to his mortal resting place in Paranaque after a 10-hour funeral procession that was accompanied by a million people, with millions more lining up the streets of the national capital region. From that point on, anyone who openly showed defiance by joining street protests and organizing groups demanding a return to democracy, was legitimately opposition. Signal victory came when a third of the regular Batasang Pambansa was won by the opposition, punctuated by an almost clean sweep of Metro Manila, where even members of the Marcos cabinet were roundly trounced by under-funded men and women running purely on grit.

Yet all these culminated only in the snap elections of 1986, where a Cory Aquino-Doy Laurel tandem won the hearts of the population, particularly in the urban areas where Marcos’ command votes held little sway. Marcos minions padded the votes in Northern Luzon, Mindanao, parts of the Visayas even, but Cory refused to accept electoral defeat. Days of February tension ended when Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Valdez Ramos led a mutiny that was to be memorialized in history as the first people power revolt.

I digress too much, though. I always find it difficult to stem the mental rush of history where I was an active participant. Back to the contemporary, I always mark the Hello Garci episode as the point where one drew the line between oppositionists to, and collaborators of --- the present regime. Anyone who could stomach a lying, cheating and stealing regime by keeping silent and “neutral” during the time Hello Garci’s revelations exploded into the national consciousness is an Arroyo collaborator. Those who drew the line, those who resigned, and those who demanded GMA’s resignation, I consider bona-fide opposition.

Thus do I view the Liberal Party led by Frank Drilon and Mar Roxas, who, when push came to shove, when conscience ought prevail, drew the line between continued collaboration and trenchant opposition. Recall that Drilon was Senate President in 2005, and Mar Roxas, who was Gloria’s secretary of trade between 2001 and 2004, won as first-term senator under her ticket. Similarly do we view the Hyatt Ten --- Dinky Soliman, Ging Deles, Emy Boncodin, Mely Nicolas, Butch Abad, Johnny Santos, Rene Villa, Cesar Purisima, Bert Lina and Willie Parayno. They drew the line, when enough was enough.

The call for GMA’s resignation in the wake of the cheating scandal also splintered the Liberal Party, between those who took Drilon’s lead, and those who remained loyal to their Dona Gloria, principally Lito Atienza of Manila, now DENR secretary, Mike Defensor, who lost miserably in 2007, and a gaggle of congressmen led by the quintessential wheeler-dealer, Danilo Suarez of Quezon’s poorest district. Given this line of distinction, the Roxas-Drilon wing of the Liberal Party are justifiably “oppositionist” while the Atienza-led wing is definitively administration.

The Nacionalista Party of Manny Villar is something else though. The Cayetano siblings present a queer case. Alan Peter, was re-elected as congressman of Taguig-Pateros under GMA’s banner, as was his elder sister, Pia, who won as senator also under her wings. When Hello Garci erupted, Alan joined the vociferous minority in the House who called for impeachment. But sister Pia remained with Lakas and claims now to be “independent”. Similarly, Manuel Villar never did call for GMA’s resignation, perhaps afraid that he might lose his chairmanship of the powerful Finance Committee, or that he might lose his chance at the Senate presidency she promised him under a term-sharing deal with Drilon. But Rep. Cynthia Villar of Las Pinas joined the signatories to the impeachment complaint against Gloria. Nimble brinkmanship indeed.

Ping Lacson is inarguably the biggest thorn that continually pricks at the Arroyos. He ran as senator after Edsa Dos and after resigning as PNP chief. He was incessantly vilified and politically framed-up by the agents of the Arroyos, from the late Wycoco of the NBI, to Victor Corpuz and his clowns --- Rosebud, Mawanay, what have you, and of late, by Raul Gonzalez and his jokers. But Lacson has withstood their barrage of black propaganda, and has dished out expose after expose against the culture of corruption that is the Arroyo regime personified.

He began with the Pacifico Marcelo telecoms case, then segued into the sensational discovery of the fictitious bank accounts of Jose Pidal. He brought out the gory details of the Hello Garci cheating conspiracy, the involvement of the Arroyo males in jueteng operations, and laid bare the use of bolantic fertilizers in the 2004 campaign. He delivered the privilege speech that opened wide the salacious details of the NBN-ZTE deal that was aborted as a result. No one can lay claim to being more of an oppositionist than the senator from Cavite.

But Erap and the FPJ loyalists cannot seem to forgive him for not giving way to the movie king when he wanted to become president in 2004. Yet all that Lacson needed from the high priests of the “opposition” in 2004 was to be treated with respect. They disdained his legitimate ambitions and treated him like dirt. Media floated a dream ticket of FPJ-Ping, but that was only in media. The LDP of Edong Angara pushed Lacson out and insisted on an FPJ-Loren tandem, and even Erap kept quiet, interested only in the “winnability” of his FPJ, never mind principles, never mind competence, never mind character.

In the five one-on-one meetings that FPJ and Ping had, and I was privy to all, FPJ never once offered the vice-presidency to Ping. At the second meeting, he said that it would be demeaning to both of them to talk about the vice-presidency because each had already launched their respective presidential campaigns. “Siguro mas mabuting magpatuloy na muna tayo, kanya-kanya, pero magpatuloy tayo sa pag-uusap”, FPJ suggested. The meeting before that, held on November 18, 2003 at the Poe residence and arranged by mutual friends, led to an agreement to have a convention, or at least some process of democratic choice, to determine who between them should be the standard-bearer of the opposition. That never materialized, because Poe was prevailed upon by his handlers to make a unilateral announcement of his quest at a Manila Hotel press conference a week later.

In their fourth meeting, arranged by businessmen-friends, the chief finance officer of FPJ made the mistake of first conveying to Ping the morning before the meeting that they were willing to commit the following: full reimbursement of expenses already spent by the Ping campaign group, plus a cabinet post of his choice and a few more for Ping’s recommendees, plus the assurance that he would be endorsed by President FPJ for the presidency in 2010. Ping resented the transactional approach. No talk about self-sacrifice, no talk about shared visions, just real politik. As I described Lacson in a previous article, he is an “atypical” politician. FPJ’s chief finance officer, businessman that he is, was in the mood to talk turkey and trimmings, not knowing the character of Lacson. In a text response, Lacson replied that he was not about to lose his self-respect and was not for sale. The decent FPJ, in the meeting which nevertheless pushed through, absent the rejected businessman, disclaimed knowledge of any transactional approach.

Only on April 28, twelve days before Election Day, did any headway in the unification talks materialize, and only because Jojo Binay, who as a crusading lawyer in the anti-Marcos efforts knew better parlance and better manners than pure transaction, and Ronny Zamora, who knew Ping Lacson better than the trapos who surrounded Poe, led the way to a solution. But that solution, agreed upon by both Poe and Ping, were sabotaged by the trapos allied with Poe. The whole story is enough to fill a book. Unfortunately, FPJ died of a broken heart, and only he, Zamora, Binay, Butz Aquino, myself and JV Ejercito in whose house that final meeting took place, know the real truth. I will not today mention the name of a trapo who also had personal knowledge of that meeting, as he is now in the employ of Gloria.

So there you are, as far as this writer judges: on the side of the administration --- Gilbert Teodoro, Noli de Castro, Bayani Fernando, possibly Richard Gordon. And for the opposition, in the order of their genuine credentials --- Ping Lacson, Jejomar Binay, Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Mar Roxas. As for Manny Villar, he is what his lawyer-friend, Nene Pimentel should know deep inside but could not publicly admitt, as “pseudo-opposition”. Which is why his recent trip to Spain with wife Cynthia was rumoured, and credibly posited, to be an attempted meeting with Dona Gloria somewhere close to the Mediterranean, north coast or south coast, only two businessmen knew, the ones who supposedly arranged what Senadora Jamby called “une rendezvous mauvais”.

How then should we view Erap Estrada, the “titular head of the opposition”, as Jojo Binay continually describes the former president. Ah! Erap deserves sui generis treatment.

* * *

Last weekend, in a friend’s house-warming fete, I met my Tagaytay neighbour, jolly fellow FVR, the president who like Cory served full elected terms after Marcos, and he admonished me to “keep writing about 2010”, as he is more into “thinking about the prospects of the next generation”. At age 81, the former president, still hale and hearty, tobacco and cognac (although he sipped red wine like the rest of us) notwithstanding, spoke with authority on a lot of developmental prospects.

We did not have occasion to talk politics. Perhaps, when cognac is served, and in the evening, s’il vous plais, with café a la barack.