The Long View: Face of the opposition

Face of the opposition
By Manuel L. Quezon III

IT HAS often been pointed out that while the administration has two clearly identifiable faces – the President and the Vice President – the opposition, up to now, doesn’t have one. While efforts have been made to bring the different opposition groups together and to project a more united and coordinated opposition front, much remains to be done. With no one clearly leading the fight, even opposition members themselves admit that their efforts aren’t as effective, because there’s “no clear alternative.”

I believe the alternatives are there. There are two individuals who can raise the banner of the opposition cause, in a manner that creates unity and establishes trust. If one assumes, as I do, that the end of the Fifth Republic is approaching, then the question is whether it will end in an orgy of violence, or in a Lakas-CMD Party-engineered and highly messy transitional system, or in some other transitional regime hopefully involving an election.

The administration has the President and Vice President representing the existing executive authority; and it has Speaker Jose de Venecia as the prime minister-in-waiting. For the same reason that the administration’s supporters generally don’t consider former President Ramos as the face of the future, the opposition as a whole cannot have former Presidents Corazon Aquino and Joseph Estrada as the faces of the future; just as Susan Roces isn’t that face either, even if various opposition camps look up to them as elder statesmen and for guidance.

If the administration relies on the Marcosian argument that “there’s no one else,” – incidentally a profoundly undemocratic argument – then it behooves the opposition to put forward faces that they perceive to be capable of assuming the leadership of the country at a moment’s notice, right here, right now.

In selecting those faces, the opposition must bear in mind that its traditional leaders can help but cannot put themselves forward as the solution; they belong too much to the past and are divisive. Rather, they can help by showing their confidence in leaders who can be trusted to give every other leader, and their followers, a fair deal; leaders who will not favor one group over another, and who can be relied on to be the opposite of what the administration offers. Ms Aquino put it famously in a repartee when Ferdinand Marcos and his daughter made fun of her: At least, she said, she didn’t have the experience Marcos had in lying, stealing and cheating.

Who can Aquino and her followers rely on to uphold democracy? Who can Estrada rely on to give him a fair trial, deal with him sincerely and rectify any wrongs that have been dealt him? Who can Roces rely on to honor her husband and restore hope in the country? Who can the middle class trust as a person who understands their needs and who will address their fears? Who can the groups feeling the brunt of official persecution today trust as a person who will deal with them justly and humanely? Who is the leader who understands all the classes and sectors of our society, finding the commonalities that can bring them together? Most of all, who can we look up to, to lead us with a strong sense of duty, rather than with insane and ruthless ambition; to wield power responsibly instead of robbing the country blind or unleashing a new, senseless cycle of revenge?

I believe that man is Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. I believe he enjoys the respect of those people looked up to by the various opposition groups. I am convinced that if what the country needs is a transitional leader capable of running the country during a transitional period (say, leading to, or resulting from, an extraordinary election), that man is him. He knows how government works but has avoided the abuses and temptations of power. He has shown himself capable of earning a national mandate. He has no burning desire to be president but, if called upon to restore the people’s faith in their country, will do so not only out of a sense of duty, but out of a desire to live up to the example given the country by his father. If the face of the administration is a presidential daughter, the face of the opposition might as well be a presidential son who represents everything the incumbent is not.

As a civilian with entrepreneurial achievements, Senator Magsaysay understands the needs of the country. He is also respected by the armed forces and can be relied upon to push for reforms in the military.

And then, considering that the three crucial tasks for any future government are: first, to put the economy — particularly the government’s finances – in order so that corruption is eliminated and public funds are spent for the public’s benefit; second, to clean up the electoral process so that the public’s verdict in every election is unquestionably clear; and third, to institute reforms in the armed forces to put an end to disaffection within its ranks — then the opposition’s compromise leader needs a “lieutenant” who will help carry out those objectives.

A danger facing a transitional leader is his becoming the target of adventurists who think that an extraordinary situation allows for even more adventurism than the public is willing to tolerate. One reason why the President feels more and more secure is that her constitutional successor doesn’t inspire confidence among her supporters; neither among her enemies. The Vice President, then, is really a negative asset, so to speak.

What the opposition needs is a leader with a deputy who is a positive asset. That person, I’d like to suggest, is Sen. Rodolfo Biazon. He is a man also armed with an existing national mandate. He has courage – and military experience, too.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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