COMMENT: Third Force: A Futility?

As matters stand today, the Filipinos have no hope of having a change for the better after the May election this year. The same survival-revival struggle will continue to haunt the country and destabilize government. Should the opposition win, it and the ruling coalition will only exchange roles.

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BY THE WAY: Portion of Article VI, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution, on the immunity of members of Congress, states: “No Member shall be questioned nor be held liable in any other place for any speech or debate in the Congress or in any committees thereof.”

Why was Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano suspended for 45 days by the House Ethics Committee for accusing, in a privilege speech, the Arroyos of laundering money in a German bank?

Many members of the Senate and the House had made similar privilege speeches against other persons. Their immunity held. But not Cayetano’s against the Arroyos.

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Mediocrity and moral bankruptcy best describe most Filipino politicians — both in power and aspiring for power. Like butterflies, they flit from coalition to coalition election after election seeking the best chance to win; like crabs, after elections, the winners pull one another down.

Dead

Since the 1990s, there have been more political parties in the Philippines than before 1972 when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos killed the two-party system. Yet, today, the party system is dead.

Political parties are no longer vehicles of governance but are only vehicles of coalition for election and, after — for the winners — to remain in the coalition in order to stay in power; and, for the losers, to form new coalitions in order to gain power by all means — the foul if necessary.

What we have now is a coalition system. Unlike in the party system where the platform of the ruling party is the basis of governance, in the coalition system it’s the will of the ruling head and leaders of the coalition that prevails — an ad hoc arrangement.

While the party system is characterized by permanence of platform and loyalty of members to the principles of the party, the coalition system is driven by the convenience of winning the election, remaining in power and promoting personal interests.

The party system, like in the United States, Great Britain and other long-established democracies, is the bedrock of political stability. The coalition system in the Philippines is the quagmire of instability and crisis.

Since 2001

The coalition system has turned worse and worse since 2001 when President Estrada was ousted and his vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was installed president – a take-over that, while legitimized by the Supreme Court, Congress, and the diplomatic world, has remained questionable to haunt Arroyo.

In the election of May 2001, Arroyo mustered the anti-Estrada forces into the People Power Coalition to stabilize her support in Congress and in the local governments. While the coalition won handily in the House of Representatives, it led only by a one-vote margin in the Senate.

Within the year, Arroyo alienated her People Power allies. Some senators under the coalition became critical of her and allied with the opposition. Sen. Joker Arroyo, for one, gradually became her most vocal critic. She lost control of the Senate as the coalition disintegrated.

In the May 2004 election, Arroyo ran for president under the 4-K Coalition, a hodgepodge of politicians who had remained loyal to her and of others who had been her bitter critics but had parted ways with Estrada and went to her fawning – clearly, a coalition of political convenience.

Estrada, while in detention, did not lose political power. Entrenched in the votes of his fanatical masa, Estrada preserved his coalition to be joined by disgruntled supporters of the defunct People Power Coalition and top breakaway officials of Lakas-MCD, the biggest party of the ruling coalition – like its president, the Philippine vice president.

Estrada’s Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) was more weird than 4-K Coalition. It picked for its standard bearer and titular leader, Fernando Poe Jr., a close friend of Estrada and a school drop-out like him, an actor and idol of the masa – even if not a member of any of the parties in coalition.

Election of May 2004 was the height of absurdity in the coalition system. The political crisis in the ensuing years could not be ruled out as an inevitable consequence. For, a leadership lodged in a quagmire can be expected only to sink deeper, not rise.

Moral Question

The absurdity tends to heighten in the May 2007 election. The coalescing forces and personalities are still gravitating around Arroyo and Estrada. Unfolding are casts of a political comedy that, with apologies to Shakespeare, “all’s ill that ends ill” – the people heaving the last sigh.

Arroyo’s senate slate, Team Unity, will be a coalition of reelectionist senators and fall outs from the opposition not critical of her, third-term congressmen loyal to her, and movie and other popular personalities. The underlying motive, Arroyo’s survival, must be true in the selection of local and congressional slates.

Estrada’s coalition, the United Opposition, also includes Arroyo critics, his political critics and enemies who have reconciled with him and, of course, movie and other popular personalities, among them one of his sons. The underlying motive: Estrada’s political revival.

 

What more can be absurd than these?

Arroyo is courting Sen. Edgardo Angara, president of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), the much bigger partner in the 1998 LDP-PMP (Partido ng Masang Pilipino) coalition supporting Estrada and the biggest in the KNP in 2004. Angara had a falling out with Estrada and looks inclined to join Arroyo.

Also being wooed for Team Unity are come-backing former Senators Vicente Sotto III, Tessie Aquino-Oreta and Anna Coseteng, staunch defenders of Estrada at his impeachment. They had left UNO. And, the Marcoses, too! They tartly declined.

Still with UNO is former Senator and Vice President Teofisto Guingona whose “I Accuse” privilege speech triggered Estrada’s impeachment. In the UNO senate slate is Rep. Francis Escudero, one of the sponsors of the impeachment resolution.

Invited to join the UNO slate are Sen. Manuel Villar, who as House speaker submitted to the Senate the impeachment resolution by technically by-passing the plenary; and Sen. Joker Arroyo, who as member of the House led the prosecution.

All the above elicit the question: Principles, moral and otherwise, quo vadis?

Only a strong “Third Force” can free the Filipinos from the vicious grip of the Estrada and the Arroyo political forces. Is there hope for such a force?

 

(To Be Continued)

("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You can reach him at [email protected])

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