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Siling Labuyo: Liberalism in retreat in the Philippines, Part 1

The defeat of Mar Roxas in the last presidential election hastened the downward decline of the Liberal Party of the Philippines. With diminished stature and political clout many incumbents, defeated and newly elected LP members from kagawads to congressional officials (young and old) bolted the party and joined the president’s ruling party, the PDP-Laban. The move was almost predictable by Philippine standards since it is a common occurrence for political butterflies to jump ship after an election for political expediency but the decimation of the LP ranks was complete and devastating. This tectonic development spells trouble for liberalism in the Philippines and could spell really badly for the future of the country. How the current LP leadership deals with the short term and long term effects will determine such outcome. Vice President Leni Robredo being the highest elected official holds the key being the de facto titular head of the party. Her job as VP is under electoral protest by defeated rival Bongbong Marcos and the ballot recount is underway. She has been fighting that front for over a year now. How she would effective steer her party towards defending much less reviving liberalism defends partly on the outcome of such protest or how incapacitated she is by it. On top of that, her inexperience in political combat became a liability early on as she badly stumbled in the national scene. Her popularity took a nose dive after a year of unrelenting attack against a much more popular president. Her understanding of the liberalism orthodoxy and its importance in the whole scheme of things is questionable and could be a big factor on how soon liberalism or the LP for that matter can recapture the Filipino mind. It is also questionable whether she (and the LP) could overcome these handicaps in the near term given the multi-pronged attack the Duterte administration has launched. Former president Benigno Aquino, Jr.’s persecution by the Duterte administration on the Mamasapano massacre, Dengvaxia mess, MRT mess, and etcetera adds to the malady as he is rendered ineffective by these in rebuilding the party image and will therefore be mostly on the sidelines. Too, many of his previous advisers or cabinet officials are themselves facing investigations or actual cases of corruption and could be spending enormous amounts of time and resources just trying to fight these charges and would be curtailed as well in actively helping resurrect the party. Regardless of the outcome of their legal woes would stain Aquino too. Mar Roxas on the other hand has been sidelined too and has kept a low profile after the election especially after his name had been tied to the illegal drug trade involving high ranking police officials close to him during the campaign. He too got spooked. With Sen. Leila de Lima incarcerated, her fiscalizing role has been severely diminished. The COMELEC has been vanquished given the resignation of Andy Bautista who is now facing money laundering investigation in the senate. Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno is under siege even from her own colleagues and it could just be a matter of time before she is ousted. Ombudsman Conchita Morales has been in the crosshairs for a while along with the Commission on Human Rights. Opposition Sen. Franklin Drillon is now under attack regarding his role in the pork barrel scam. Rappler, an online media publication has been shuttered by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and is now fighting for its survival as more harassment are coming their way courtesy of the Justice Department. The ascent of Rodrigo Duterte from city mayor to the presidency changed much political calculus in the country and overseas especially after he took his oath of office. Many attributed his landslide election to the people’s discontent with the status quo. While the former president was viewed as an honest broker, the widespread abuse of the pork barrel system that ironically erupted during the Aquino administration’s dogged pursuit for reform had become a rallying cry for change. It was also ironic that the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that the Aquino administration substituted for the discredited Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) became a lightning rod for staining the Daang Matuwid (Straight Path) thrust that the Aquino administration was pursuing and Roxas endorsed during his campaign. Duterte’s war on drugs has earned international rebuke but he is pretty much in the driver’s seat and extra judicial killings paused but is rearing its ugly head once more. Any effort to stop his campaign will be futile given his party’s supermajority in Congress and international support particularly from the big three: China, Russia and the United States. The remains of former president Ferdinand Marcos has been interred in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Martial Law (ML) was successfully declared in certain parts of Mindanao primarily due to the terrorist attacks in Marawi City. The order has been renewed after the mandatory period, again because of PDP-Laban’s supermajority. Congressman Edcel Lagman and company are fighting unwinnable wars and losing fights like the Marcos burial, ML declaration, are unable to defend the chief justice at the impeachment hearing, and have been denied their pork barrel. China is encroaching on Philippine territories with Duterte’s consent. Russia is making inroads in Philippine governance again courtesy of the president. The list goes on. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has been the chief architect/enforcer in Congress and has been at the forefront of all these skirmishes. His next stop is conversion of the country’s form of government or structure to Federalism or worse, a Revolutionary Government. His path to achieving his goals (and Duterte’s) will have bumps but the impeachment and cha-cha trains have left the station already despite the Senate’s non-participation as a joint body. Alvarez will get his three-fourths vote in the lower house, pass a referendum during the May barangay election and will let the senators petition the Duterte packed Supreme Court for relief. The Filipino people seem oblivious to these developments and have recently rewarded the president with excellent approval ratings that has emboldened him even more. VP Robredo’s popularity has rebounded and has gotten better approval ratings after she stopped being an attack dog to the president and has mostly focused on her pet projects. So, why is it important to defend liberalism (or the LP) for that matter when most Filipinos don’t even understand what liberalism is or what the party stands for? The nobility of “Daang Matuwid” was lost in the midst of an incomprehensible concept especially after allegations surfaced that senators were paid to find the late Chief Justice Renato Corona guilty during the impeachment trial. Some of the LP lawmakers were also implicated in the PDAF scandal but were perceived to be protected by the president and the LP. The long hospital arrest of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo without a guilty verdict along with the likes of Joc Joc Bolante, the PDAF queen herself Janet Napoles, etcetera made people lose faith in the Aquino government’s corruption campaign. Roxas being a technocrat was unable to make the Filipinos grab the concept of liberalism in simple terms and explain why the LP was carrying the baton for such concept. He tried to be Mr. Palengke but his and Aquino’s ties to the oligarchs made it doubly difficult to enlighten the people about their sincere efforts. The fact that the Philippines is predominantly a Catholic country made their job (and any liberal for that matter) even more difficult because of the conservatism it espouses. A classic example was the Reproductive Health Law that was signed into law by Aquino but never saw light during his tenure. (To be continued)

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