To oppose and propose
What, exactly, is an opposition supposed to do? Obstruct? Sometimes, when it has to—because there are some things worth obstructing. Make noise? That goes without saying. Without noise, there can be no attention, and without it, how can you get your point across? To plot? But one man’s plot is another’s strategy; it also goes without saying that in its simplest terms, the opposition is the party or coalition that had the misfortune of losing the last election, and which is thus compelled to ensure that it wins the next.
And there you have it—subject to the ground rules with which everyone is expected to abide, the opposition of today aspires to be the administration of tomorrow. By means that are in accordance with the rules, which include abiding by what is forbidden by those rules: revolution, terrorism, fraud and crime. If the administration, on the other hand, tears up the rules of the game—well, that’s a different dilemma altogether.
But back to the question. If you view an opposition as only a bunch of leaders who happened to be repudiated at the polls, then it would really be difficult to understand what the point of that opposition is. But there is more to an opposition than those who happen to lead it at any particular time.
Garry Wills in his marvelous book “Certain Trumpets: The Call of Leaders” observed: “It is time for a definition: the leader is one who mobilizes others toward a goal shared by leader and followers. In that brief definition, all these elements are present, and indispensable… Leaders, followers, and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership… The goal must be shared, no matter how many other motives are present that are not shared.”
When the leadership presents itself to the electorate at the polls, and loses, then in most parties and coalitions the price to pay is defeat not just in the election but also in the leadership of that party or coalition. The leaders having made the effort and failed, the followers deserve fresh leadership though old and new leaders and followers may—and should—continue to share the same goals. The approach failed; the message did not prosper. Time to study why, in the hope of doing better next time.
Here is where the shortcoming is quite clear at present. It begins with the way things are set up. There is only one party, really, in the Philippines: the administration party (it used to be said that the communists were the other, but that no longer applies, being at long last at the front of the line to the trough). Just as no administration, ever, has lost the House of Representatives even when it lost the presidency, so, too, does every new administration end up with a ruling coalition composed primarily of members of the old ruling party or coalition.
That is because much more so today than even in the past, political parties that survive elections are actually extensions of business conglomerates that subsidize them as insurance against too much government interference (the NPC and NUP come to mind—they are always in the ruling coalition to obtain maximum leverage).
Those left over are individuals who may have local networks, some financial backing, and individual national standing, but no political organization to speak of in the face of the feast-or-famine choice most administrations adopt when it comes to resources: Cooperate, or else. So they join the Hallelujah Chorus that praises the new Messiah until popularity dips and they line up to point and demand a crucifixion.
This isn’t leadership; it’s what Abraham Lincoln—idealist and pragmatist both—defined as the chief headache of the presidency: “too many piglets, too few teats.” Setting that aside, then, we return to goals. These are, when the conscientious try to define them at present, a series of “Nos”: to the death penalty; to lowering the age of criminal liability; to an ill-defined because ill-thought-out war on drugs; to constitutional change so broadly defined as to be undebatable because empty of detail.
But it is not enough to oppose. One must propose. And we are hearing hardly any alternatives. That’s the challenge.
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