IF our political system is to survive, it needs to recast and reshape our political landscape. Well before the 2004 elections, surveys have consistently noted the people's worsening rate of disenchantment and cynicism about the system and the leaders it has been producing.
Regrettable the choice may have been, masa power commanded the 1998 victory of Joseph Estrada. This brought newfound realization that the masa had the numbers and the power to choose who they want - even nearly succeeding in installing another of their silver screen idols to the highest office of the land in the last elections. This unprecedented phenomenon all but manifests a rejection of traditional politicians, who they blame for their misery and for good reason.
The fact that neophytes filled 5 of the top 6 of the 12 newly elected senators sends a clear message of masa repudiation of traditional politicians. Political old-timers like Ernesto Maceda, Kit Tatad, Ernesto Herrera, John Osmena, Orly Mercado were roundly rejected. Only Nene Pimentel, who is perhaps perceived as a maverick, escaped a similar retribution and barged into the top 6.
It may be hoping too much to even think that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will deliver on her 10-point agenda. After all, she has been mouthing new politics since she took over from Joseph Estrada in 2001 even as she continues to personify the worst of old politics. The way she conducted herself in the last electoral campaign showcases the telltale signs of decadent politics - complete with double speak, accommodations, patronage, horse trading, and of course, cheating.
Macapagal-Arroyo got an extended six-year lease to Malacanang, thanks to the incompetence and bankruptcy of the political opposition. It was her lucky break indeed that the quibbling opposition happened to have a far worse credibility problem than her negative 5% satisfaction rating before the start of the campaign.
After the Estrada catastrophe, Fernando Poe Jr.'s entry only drove a chasm - believers that FPJ is messiah on one hand and on the other, believers that FPJ is doom. And there lies Macapagal-Arroyo's new, albeit reluctant, following.
Though imperfect it may be, a new and credible opposition must emerge if the system is to preserve itself. Obviously, the discredited old faces would be out of the question, else we be trapped again to make a choice between two evils. The situation is such that only a new breed of leadership from amongst the acceptable alternatives can restore people's trust in the system. Certainly, the country deserves better.
We must banish showbiztocracy (the use of popular showbiz personalities by the traditional politicians in order to capture the seat of political power) from our political mosaic. On hindsight, the selection of FPJ as the opposition standard bearer was just as well. Considering that no screen idol comes close to matching FPJ's popularity, let's hope that his defeat will have eradicated future wannabes from this breed.
From my vantage point, I have reason to be optimistic about some things that seem to be in the offing in the political landscape. There are hopeful signs that the new opposition will eventually emerge from the ranks of the Liberal Party. Shortly after the Edsa revolt in 1986, then executive secretary Joker Arroyo ridiculed the Liberal Party to be so small that they could fit in a Volkswagen. But now, the Liberal Party seems to have taken on a new life and vibrancy of its own which promises to bring hope to our youthful electorate. Always bolder to take on principled advocacies that traditional political parties avoid, the Liberal Party has managed to infuse young blood with fresh and forward-looking perspectives in its ranks.
Mar Roxas's outstanding performance in the senatorial elections gives the Liberal Party an inside track to the 2010 presidency. From the current opposition, Senators Serge Osmena and Nene Pimentel of the PDP-Laban may just feel more comfortable with the Liberal Party than the discredited remnants of the Estrada gang in the LDP and PMP. From the K-4 coalition, Senators Manny Villar, Kiko Pangilinan, Juan Flavier, Joker Arroyo may likewise feel a natural bonding with the Liberal Party than the Lakas-CMD. This is the type of an opposition the Party List representatives can also work with.
The current alliance of the Liberal Party with the rejuvenated Kampi - the party I helped form in 1997 for the then presidential bid of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo - is better viewed as a political maneuver against Lakas-CMD domination more than their announced support for the president's 10-point agenda. Not only that, the alliance is also an effective counter against the charter change that Joe de Venecia's Lakas-CMD is pushing. It is no coincidence that Liberal party president Frank Drilon has always been lukewarm to charter change. The shift to a parliamentary system of government will derail the Liberal Party's inside track to Malacanang in 2010 through Mar Roxas.
Only a credible, reform-oriented new opposition can move our stale democracy forward. The country will never get out of its rut if our choices of leadership are always between two evils, the way it has been in the last elections. When a sinking company searches for a new CEO and management team to reverse a serious slide and to bring about more robust prospects, the board will not select from among those who will do least harm. Rather, it will decide to select a strong, forward looking team who fits the true qualifications of one who can do the job.
A new and credible opposition must be able to attract the masa the way Estrada and Poe did. Not only that, they must be able to set new standards that they can sell to the masa -standards that relate to real, meaningful reforms in contrast to the fruitless exercise of peddling popular candidates and false messiahs.
An Ateneo study indicated that the masses are not the mindless voters that the middle and upper classes like to picture them to be. The masses do set criteria and deliberate on whom they will vote for. That they are attracted to false messiahs like Estrada and Poe is more a reflection of their desperation and the utter failure of the present leadership than their lack of discernment. To many of them, the need for change has become so imperative that trying out leaders the likes of Estrada and Poe was deemed worth the risk.
The reasons behind their flawed choices of "heroes" are traced to the fact that they have been neglected and deprived of quality education, something directly attributed to failure of leadership. But to say that they are mindless voters is not only wrong, it is also tantamount to blaming the victim for the crimes of the wrongdoer. They think that way because their leaders had deprived them of their right to a proper education.
The 1950's and the 1960's had proudly raised men and women of such probity and statesmanship that had helped create respectable leaders in the executive and legislative branches. The likes of Rectos, Aquinos, Dioknos, Tanadas, Rodrigos in the senate defined the standard then. If a clown happened to get elected in those days when the Philippines trailed only Japan in economic status in Asia, it would have been out of sheer luck. But today, if a good man is elected to the Senate, it will indeed be by pure uncanny luck!
Is the system up to the task? Can the system rise above the depths of its decay and corruption and produce new, real heroes? Is it too late for this system? Tough times, tough questions.