EDITORIAL | Fire up or fire the Liberal Party
The online news portal of TV5
That was not a massacre, it was a purge. The Majority in the Senate had every right, and its members had the duty, to keep their ranks in order. In much the same way that President Duterte had legitimate reason to kick Vice President Leni Robredo out of his Cabinet (as President Aquino did to Vice President Binay) legislators aligned along some general platform and principles - whether defining the Majority or the Minority - indeed have room, discretion, and need for timely housekeeping.
Such is parliamentary life in a democracy.
Give the Liberal Party senators this much: the civility with which they comported themselves as they were being stripped of their committee chairmanships on Monday signaled the maturity and decorum we can only wish upon our leaders, our government, and our politics.
But then again, what choice did they have? This day was inevitable. Worse, they had it coming.
As early as August 2016, when President Duterte first lifted the lid on his promised campaign against Sen. Leila De Lima, we wrote in an editorial that this was a warning to all who would criticize the recklessness of his war on drugs. Just as important, we said, then-Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon should say as much "right there on floor at the Senate, where the decimated LP had chosen to realign itself with the Majority rather than be any meaningful Minority."
People find irony in Sen. Manny Pacquiao - a boxer, unlettered, a rookie politician – knocking seasoned lawyers and career politicians out of their Senate leadership posts with one motion. But what was truly funny was the premise to the whole episode, that which people are forgiven to forget: Ongapala, the Liberal Party is part of the Majority.
LP senators were so dense that when they were finally confronted with the untenability of it all, they were clearly confused as to what comes next. Drilon could not even credibly say how many senators would now finally be (forced to be) counted with the Minority. He said six: Former Minority Leader Ralph Recto joins the Majority to replace the Senate President Pro Tempore; but Drilon himself, Bam Aquino, LP president Kiko Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, and Leila De Lima, now join the original and only consistent Minority member, Antonio Trillanes.
That was easy enough, but Senate President Koko Pimentel had to remind Drilon: But wait. De Lima, currently detained at the PNP Custodial Center, had yet to even be asked if she in fact wants to leave the Majority.
Of course, as of Tuesday Duterte’s nemesis had declared herself with the Minority. But as with the reality that hit fellow Liberal senators, this was not a move, it was a circumstance forced upon her.
The time for LP senators to take a stand had long and repeatedly passed. The opportunity to make a statement, to demonstrate principles, to flash some balls, has again and again and again been ignored like… like… well, like LP senators in a Majority coalition.
The Liberal Party could have/should have embraced the role of a REAL opposition from the start. Instead…
The LP denounced the firing of Leni Robredo from the Cabinet - and still they remained with the Majority.
They actually urged Robredo to lead the opposition - even as the senators remained with the Majority.
The LP called the arrest of De Lima a sham, political persecution, a threat to democracy - and still they remained with the Majority.
Through half a year of tokhang, 7,000 deaths, mounting evidence of EJKs, resurrected charges on DDS, confused foreign policy driven by a literal foreign secretary, the hero's burial of Ferdinand Marcos, and the anniversary of People Power to frame their principled concern over all of the above - the Liberal Party remained with the Senate majority.
Privately, LP senators held on not just to power - committee chairmanships and the prime post of Senate President Pro Tempore - but to sincere hopes of shepherding advocacies in education, agriculture, and health. But as outside the Senate they spoke of fears of a Marcos return, of threats to democracy, of the erosion of rule of law, of the thrashing of the Constitution, it was obvious that these concerns should have trumped even any promise for their pet bills, and should have dictated their actions and allegiances.
At the House of Representatives, a laughable number of Minority congressmen - counting party-listers led by Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza and bolstered, yes, by independent Liberals with no star on the national stage - have held the line for months to stop (at least stall) the railroading of the death-penalty revival bill. Delaying the inevitable, perhaps, but the street parliamentarian in Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, and the proud Ifugao warrior in Teddy Baguilat, at least gave face not just to a Super Minority, but to what is possible when the small and the outnumbered band together to just annoy the hell out of those with a taste for the politically expedient but no discipline or stamina for an actual fight. Atienza, who by the way, was a Liberal before he was treacherously eased out by the same politicos he had ironically recruited, has repeatedly raised questions of quorum, often forcing the adjournment of sessions. Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza has filibustered using the House's own rules, effectively defining the opposite of a railroad.
Still, these examples in the House are testament to individual integrity, not party character. Where Liberal senators officially aligned with Tito Sotto and Alan Cayetano, no less than 30 LPs in the Lower Chamber joined the Super Majority of Pantaleon Alvarez. For all the noise the Liberals are now making about the shakeup in the Senate, their congressmen have voted - reaching consensus - to remain with the Majority. This is not the Liberal Party of Jovito Salonga, of Lorenzo Tanada, Ambrosio Padilla, Soc Rodrigo, Ninoy Aquino, of Eva Estrada Kalaw, of oppositionists when Oppositionists were officially banned, militarily suppressed, and literally ambushed with grenades and bullets to the head.
So no, Congress has not been rendered irrelevant - yet. No institution has been killed - yet. There are unmistakable signs that we are sliding in that direction, but what is equally demonstrable is that in the face of fear and threats, the supposed leaders of the opposition have tried merely to survive by risking absolutely nothing.
There is a vacancy in our democracy that the Liberal Party is not only ignoring, the vacancy is there because it was they who abandoned the post. More basic than the LP needing Leni Robredo to lead the opposition, Filipinos need someone to first BE the Opposition.
In this, LP senators should not posture as martyrs, for nothing has been taken from them that they deserve to keep. They should simply wake up, stand up, and do what must be done. It's not much, but there you go. Not true - yet - that we are trapped. There is a way forward. Right now it involves pinning our hopes on the uninspiring and the uninspired.