When addition becomes subtraction
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-01-11
Eulogio "Amang" Rodriguez, the Grand Old Man of the pre-martial law Nacionalista Party (NP), popularized the saying that "Politics is addition." This dictum has since been used by politicians to rationalize the addition of rascals and crooks into their fold.

Amang Rodriguez was known for his "Carabao English" which gave comic relief now and then to many of his contemporaries and the press. What to Eat Bulaga’s Jimmy Santos is but part of a comedy act, Carabao English happens to be Amang Rodriguez’s best English. Born to a generation where Spanish was the medium of instruction, Amang was not a product of schools in the post 1900s when English took over as the teaching medium following the US takeover from Spain.

Most of those who knew Amang found it ironic that his most quotable statement – "Politics is addition" – had been delivered in grammatically proper English. A man known for his word-for-word Filipino to English translations, Amang’s amusing collection of awkward phrases include: "In the long of time, we will success."

When incumbent Carlos P. Garcia lost to Diosdado Macapagal of the Liberal Party in the 1961 presidential elections, the task of holding the Nacionalista Party together fell on Amang Rodriguez’s shoulders. Amang was Senate President until he was toppled by then Senator Ferdinand Marcos of the Liberal Party. It was the one vote from Amang’s party mate, NP Senator Alejandro Almendras, which tilted the result to favor Marcos.

Amang never forgave Marcos for that masterful job of poaching his winning vote from within the very ranks of the Nacionalista Party.

The late Jimmy Ferrer told me that when Marcos was seeking the Nacionalista Party Presidential Nomination for the 1965 showdown with Diosdado Macapagal, Marcos was forced to seek Amang’s support to be able to join the Nacionalista Party. Marcos knew that Jimmy Ferrer was held in high esteem by Amang and so Marcos asked Ferrer to accompany him to the meeting with the Grand Old Man of the NP at the Rodriguez residence.

The meeting was for lunch but instead of dining, Amang beckoned Marcos to join him in another room, leaving Ferrer alone in the well-provided dining table. The Amang and Marcos one-on-one took all of three hours, according to Ferrer. When Marcos came out of the room, he looked pale and exhausted. On the way home, Marcos told Ferrer that Amang did not even offer him a morsel to eat or a cup of water to drink. Not only that, Amang hardly said anything and left it to Marcos to talk himself hoarse.

In the end, Amang must have followed his own dictum and allowed Marcos to join the Nacionalista Party, paving the way for the Marcos presidency in 1965. Amang allowed Marcos to be an addition to the Nacionalista Party which Marcos later junked when he created his Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL). To this day, the NP has yet to recover its old glory.

But as they all say, there are exceptions to every rule and sometimes the exact opposite of the rule is better applied. In the present context of the opposition, subtraction, not addition, may be the better political move.

I refer of course to what I’ve discussed last Tuesday as the biggest millstone hung around the neck of the opposition – the association with disgraced former president Joseph "Erap" Estrada and his ilk.

If the objective of the opposition is to unite the majority of Filipinos who are seeking good governance, then Estrada and his ilk is subtraction and not addition. Joseph Estrada holds one of the most dismal track records of any Philippine president since the time of Emilio Aguinaldo. An opposition promise of good governance will ring hollow with Joseph Estrada and his ilk among their ranks.

If the objective of the opposition is to seek the people’s mandate for a platform of reform, then many will not believe them for so long as Estrada and his ilk are associated with them. Estrada was ousted by a People Power event that was bent on implementing reform. Insofar as reform is concerned, Estrada and his ilk is subtraction, not addition.

If the objective of the opposition is to excite the many who are poor and those who are living below the poverty line with a promise of economic salvation, then association with Estrada and his ilk is subtraction and not addition. It was during Estrada’s term that the Philippine peso and stock market crashed to an unprecedented low since 1986 when Cory Aquino restored democracy. Joseph Estrada and his ilk just do not match up with the prospects of a good economy.

If the objective of the opposition is to motivate the voters to support them because of the values that they promise to restore into our national soul, then Estrada and his ilk is again – subtraction and not addition. How can a disgraced president, who is known for propagating a culture of gambling and sleeping with several women, ever be credible with a crusade for values?

If the opposition objective is to get the active support of the middle class – the traditional agent of change in society – they should be able to offset the Arroyo regime’s advantage of political machinery. But they have only two chances of getting that support with Estrada and his ilk in their ranks. Those two chances are none and nil.

In 1986, the middle class launched EDSA I. Six years ago the same middle class launched EDSA II. The middle class has not forgotten what Estrada was like as president and that sentiment was evident with the way the middle class reacted to the presidential bid of Fernando Poe Jr. in 2004 – preferring Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to showbiztocracy.

If the opposition is bent on presenting themselves in sharp contrast to the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime, then they must take the moral high ground for it is in this arena where the Arroyo regime is most vulnerable. But how can an opposition that parades the likes of Estrada and his ilk presume to take the moral high ground?

Indeed, it makes me wonder why the opposition would want to revive the political standard of Joseph Estrada. I don’t see the so-called addition. Neither do I see the all-important taking of the moral high ground.

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