Why having an opposition matters

Post World War II saw the United States granting independence and self-rule to the Philippines and Filipinos witnessed two national political parties (the Liberal Party and the Nacionalista Party) fielding candidates in national and local elections after 1946.

The U.S. was showcasing Philippine democratic institutions to the colonial masters in the South East Asian region, which included the French in Vietnam, the Dutch in Indonesia, and the British in the Malayan Peninsula, in a way as a “challenge” to them to relinquish their regimes and embrace democratic perspectives and principles.

It was not highlighted though that the U.S. supported an elite-type democracy in the Philippines.  The Americans propped-up the elite who were mostly rich and landed property owners.  Some of theseelites were even collaborators of the old colonial master (Spain) whoswitched to the American-side after Spain surrendered the Philippines to the U.S.

The so-called “two-party system” in the Philippines after World War II was never based on ideology, political perspectives, and causes.  The system that existed was more of a club in the fraternity of governance and the political parties were more of a “club of convenience and self-interest” than political parties in the European political tradition.

Post-war elections saw politicians switching party affiliations as switching became as normal and accepted as changing clothes— a politician switches to the other party when he or she finds it advantageous to do so.

Case in point— Ferdinand Marcos and Benigno Aquino Jr.

Marcos was a Liberal Party stalwart and was senate president when the Philippines was under the administration of President Diosdado Macapagal of the Liberal Party.

Aquino on the other hand was with the Nacionalista Party and was the elected governor of Tarlac, a political base of Macapagal.  The then president pursued his fellow Kapampangan (Aquino) to join the Liberal Party and Aquino did, together with the mayors from his province.

Marcos left the Liberal Party and joined the opposition Nacionalista Party and became the standard-bearer of the Nacionalistas against re-electionist Macapagal during the 1965 Philippine presidential election.

In 1967, Aquino was one of three Liberal Party members to win a seat in the senate in an election that saw the Nacionalista Party grab the majorityof the seats in senate.  Aquino then began his senate career opposing President Marcos.  He assumed the leadership of the opposition before and after the imposition of Martial Law until his assassination at the airport tarmac in Manila on August 21, 1983.

Fast forward to the 2019 May election in the Philippines.  Is there an extension of the old Marcos-Aquino rivalry?  On one side are the Duterte-Marcos-Arroyo candidates standing for the administration.  Then there’s the opposition Ocho-Direcho, mostly from the Liberal Party who have banded together to oppose the policies of the Duterte administration.

As expected, the administration ticket tends to magnify their accomplishments to make themselves look good to the voters, while candidates from the opposition are gaining ground by informing the people about the autocratic and Marcos-type governance of Duterte.

Ocho Diretso candidates are also telling the Filipino people about the evils of the drug war and the killing rampage that goes with it.  They also talk about how Duterte has allowed China to intrude on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines, including the administration turning a blind-eye on the entry of undocumented Chinese labor into the country.

Although the alliance of senatorial candidates under Ocho-Direcho is identified with former President Benigno C. Aquino III, it appears that the group is not an opposition in the mold of the old Marcos-Aquino or Liberal-Nacionalista Party rivalry.  Ocho Diretso is a progressive group that is against the looming autocratic rule and corrupt practices of elite democracy and corrupt politicians in the Philippines.

More than ever, there is a need for a strong opposition group in the Philippine Congress as we speak.  Only a vibrant opposition will save the Philippines and its democracy from autocratic rule.

Jojo Liangco is an attorney with the Law Offices of Amancio M. Liangco Jr. in San Francisco, California.  His practice is in the areas of immigration, family law, personal injury, civil litigation, business law, bankruptcy, DUI cases, criminal defense and traffic court cases.  Please send your comments to Jojo Liangco, c/o Law Offices of Amancio “Jojo” Liangco, 605 Market Street, Suite 605, San Francisco, CA 94105 or you can call him (415) 974-5336.  You can also visit Jojo Liangco’s website at www.liangcolaw.com.