Reacting to the surreptitious insertion of a ‘no election’ proviso in the proposal for Charter Change, former president Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) promptly called it a monumental blunder. What came after proved to be the unraveling of more monumental blunders—one after another—culminating in what could be the mother of all blunders, PP 1017.
How else should we describe the attempt to muzzle media, harass political opponents and steal the Liberal Party other than monumental blunders?
Why monumental blunders?
These actions that were intended to preserve the status quo for Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo have produced the contrary effect. Just consider the following results of all these acts:
1. The overkill, as PP 1017 has been perceived, created an image of a regime that survives only through police state tactics. Madame Arroyo’s claims to have been democratically elected in 2004 were demolished by the fresh images of intolerance and repression that not so long ago had driven the People Power of 1986 to bring back the freedom and democracy that the nation so highly valued.
2. Likewise, the overkill convinced both the national as well as the international publics that Madame Arroyo has a serious problem with the military. Her claims of enjoying the full support of the chain of command now ring hollow.
3. Her iron-fist policy had neither dispersed opposition to her regime nor silenced her critics in media. On the contrary, it had even welded loosely organized adversaries against her while pushing even those media who had been friendly to stand their ground against attempts to define guidelines for media coverage and reporting. PNP top general Arturo Lomibao was roundly rejected when he tried to impose himself as the editor-in-chief of Philippine media.
4. PP 1017 also exposed how weak Madame Arroyo’s support in Washington is. Ferdinand Marcos was able to impose martial law in 1972 because the US was willing to go along with it. In the case of PP 1017, the US asked Madame Arroyo to lift it immediately and she complied.
5. Madame Arroyo benefited from the tainted image of the opposition from its association with the Marcos and Estrada regimes. By attempting to steal the Liberal Party, which hitherto had manifested a neither pro-administration nor opposition position, she unwittingly redefined the opposition landscape. It seemed like a tacit declaration that she feared the Liberal Party the most—such a fear that she now must steal it. Unlike the PMP-LDP-PDP alliance, the Liberal Party boasts of a lineup of presidential timbers and has among them the senate president who happens to be in the line of constitutional succession.
It is easy to understand why Madame Arroyo would have good reasons to fear the Liberal Party. Fools look at the numbers game. The perceptive political watcher will look at the credibility and attractiveness of the leaders and rising stars of the party.
In Philippine politics, personal interest and convenience decide party affiliations and numbers are illusory. When Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) was elected president in 1992, he hardly had any congressmen, governors, mayors and senators from his own Lakas Party. Going by the numbers game, the LDP remained the majority party.
Yet no sooner had he warmed his seat in Malacanang, FVR was able to assemble various allied parties into the rainbow coalition—thanks largely to the wheeling - dealing ability of Joe de Venecia. The Lakas coalition became the majority and the LDP was marginalized overnight. Thus, any political group who shows a winner in its ranks will always have the capability to acquire the majority position.
The Liberal Party charm
In previous columns, I had written that if there is a group that can grab the initiative and capture the public imagination during this period of confusion and uncertainty in our country, it is the Liberal Party. There are many positive factors going for the Liberal Party that the other political parties cannot claim, such as:
1. A glorious political tradition—the Liberal Party produced five of the six Philippine presidents from the 1946 to the 1969 presidential elections (1969 was the last presidential election before Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972). Presidents Manuel Roxas, Elpidio Quirino and Diosdado Macapagal were elected as Liberals. Presidents Ramon Magsaysay and Ferdinand Marcos were originally Liberals and were pirated by the Nacionalista Party. Carlos P. Garcia was the lone true blue Nacionalista who was elected president during that period.
2. The period when the Liberal Party provided the leadership of the country was also the period when the Philippines was second only to Japan in economic performance. That was also the time when we were regarded as the showcase of democracy in Asia.
3. Not a Philippine president, Ninoy Aquino is perhaps the most famous Liberal. His struggle against the Marcos regime epitomized the struggle against dictatorship, so much so that it was his widow who became the most fitting symbol to lead the nation in restoring democracy.
4. Ninoy Aquino, along with the rest of the Liberal Party had fought Martial Law. Thus, the Liberal party can rightly claim to have taken the heroic stand for freedom and democracy when the time called for it. The Liberals may have differed in their ways of bucking Marcos. Some chose to boycott elections rather than dignify the typically rigged Marcos electoral exercises. Ninoy Aquino preferred to fight the dictatorship in every arena, regardless of the odds or the rules. But the undeniable fact is—the Liberal Party took a stand and fought tyranny.
Other than the glorious past of the Liberal Party, it also boasts of having a dynamic, young group that would appeal to a very young Philippine population. Already, the party produced the senatorial election topnotcher—Senator Mar Roxas—who won with highest number of votes ever.
Gloria’s unwitting gift
By staging that ridiculous show that attempted to oust Senate President Franklin Drilon as helmsman of the Liberal Party, Gloria M. Arroyo may have delivered to the Liberal Party its defining moment in this crisis. Madame Arroyo must have thought she had scored a major political coup that she couldn’t resist joining the Mayor Lito Atienza-led renegade group after they went through the motions of crowning themselves. Madame Arroyo failed to realize that she attained the exact opposite of her political objective.
The attempted party coup only succeeded in establishing the following:
1. Who were Gloria M. Arroyo’s lackeys in the Liberal Party and
2. Who were those who followed Liberal Party tradition of opposing a regime with dictatorial tendencies
To begin with, few believed that Manila Mayor Lito Atienza and his coup plotters represented the Liberal Party. When it comes to national political parties, only people who are publicly recognized on the national level can enjoy credibility. Lito Atienza’s group cannot expect to match up with the national stature of Senate President Frank Drilon, Senator Mar Roxas, Senator Kiko Pangilinan, Representative Noynoy Aquino (as heir of Ninoy Aquino’s legacy), former senate president Jovy Salonga, former senator Wigberto Tanada, Senator Pong Biazon, former DepEd secretary Butch Abad et al on the other side.
Inquirer columnist Neal Cruz best summed up Lito Atienza’s pathetic attempt by asking why they don’t just join Kampi, the political party that was created for Gloria M. Arroyo. The only LP (as the Liberal Party is also called) Lito Atienza’s group can be credible with is an LP that stands for Lakas Pala, as Liberal Party official Chito Gascon called them.
By trying to steal the Liberal Party from its leaders who have taken an adversarial position since the controversy on the Garci tapes started, Madame Arroyo only manifested in no uncertain terms her fear of the Liberal Party. We all know that seizure or theft are the quick fix alternatives of the desperate who want to control something that is feared or valued. Instead of marginalizing the Liberal Party, she managed to render them the invaluable service of placing the party on center stage as her most feared nemesis.
Unlike the opposition alliance of the PMP, LDP and PDP-Laban which bears the stigma of their association with the Marcos and Estrada regimes, the Liberal Party carries no such baggage. On the contrary, their role in the restoration of democracy in 1986 gives the Liberals the edge and moral high ground to lead the fight against the Arroyo regime.
The Liberal Party brings a different and badly needed dimension to the fight against the excesses of the Arroyo regime—credibility from a glorious past, a consistently nationalist party ideology that can provide a road map for the future and young dynamic leaders that can attract and mobilize a nation that has long been seeking emancipation from poverty, lies and exploitation.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org