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The Philippine Opposition Needs a Strategic Thinker, Part 2

The opposition’s strategic mistakes or political miscalculations in the recent elections were so colossal that these probably altered the political landscape of the Philippines for many years to come. So huge that we’re seeing more turncoats jumping ship but at the same time, we are also seeing upheavals taking place even among administration allies.

Some realities have emerged such as the selection of highly partisan Alan Cayetano as the Speaker of the House, Sen. Tito Sotto holding on to the senate presidency, and Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr.’s giving up on the leadership role for the administration’s official party, the PDP-Laban to Sen. Manny Pacquiao, means that for the near term, happy days are here again for the president, legislatively.

This reality makes it much harder for the opposition to reverse the course of history. But this does not mean the opposition has totally mangled the game. It can still recover in time but they have to be strategic. To be strategic, they will need a strategic leader that will recognize that the president’s legislative wins can involve those they too support.

What exactly does a strategic leader would look like in this day and age for the opposition? Does it have to be a man or a woman? Well, the short answer is it is gender neutral. Strategic leadership involves a person, the strategist, who crafts a vision for the group or the cause and provides direction to achieve such vision. It is a tall order but it is doable. Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits for Highly Effective People” provides a starting point: “Begin with the end in mind.”

The leader identifies the end in mind. In this particular case, the singular vision will be winning the presidency in 2022. Corollary to such vision are short term and long term goals and objectives. Short term goals involve those with current events but with an eye for the long term impact. For example, the issue of the Chinese incursion at the West Philippine Sea. Looking at the opposition’s focus on the issue, it is unclear what the objectives are other than demonizing the administration’s missteps through fake news posted on opposition-friendly sites. Thus you see a torrent of criticisms from the opposition that focus on personalities.

The long term goal seems to be discrediting the Duterte administration by attacking Duterte’s fascination with China’s President Xi Jinping and Duterte’s perceived capitulation to the Chinese on various issues: not insisting on the arbitral ruling, influx of more Chinese tourists and illegal workers, POGO workers being allowed in the country despite gambling being banned in China, security threat of Chinese incursions, Chinese plans to develop resorts in Northern Luzon that are near strategic locations, and dredging/illegal mining in Northern Luzon.

Individually, each of these issues appears to be by themselves strategic goals hoping to achieve a particular objective. Is the objective to deter Chinese investment in the country or to kick China out and resume the romance with the United States? We really don’t know because whatever is the objective of the opposition is not being shared with the people directly or indirectly – which is a mistake. If you want the people to join your crusade, you must let them visualize your vision.

So, what do you do with the China issue? A strategic thinker would consider several things. First is the president’s foreign policy pivot to China a bad thing or is it within the powers of the executive to pursue an independent foreign policy? Many pro-Western politicians are uncomfortable with such pivot because they have gotten used to the American brand of democracy and shifting to the East through the Silk and Road Diplomacy brings uncertainties. Duterte’s unorthodox method on the drug war has spooked the opposition and thus consider Duterte’s methods as a departure from democratic norms.

Here’s a reality check on this. The country has a huge illegal drugs problem that has been festering for years. There are three aspects to this. One, smuggling illegal drugs into the country through corrupt employees at the Bureau of Customs. Two, is the widespread illegal drug use throughout the country. And three, the government did a band aid approach to a huge gaping wound for years including when the opposition was in power. Consequently, drug money produced narco-politicians that virtually kept them entrenched in power including successors to their dynasties.

President Benigno Aquino III focused on corruption in the Bureau of Customs with minimal success and without really fully articulated the depth of the issue. The people knew but were resigned to the idea that it was too big for a president, no matter how well natured, to tackle the problem. Duterte’s cleansing gave people hope despite the attendant extra-judicial killing, that things will get better and free the society once and for all, from the tentacles of drug lords. This is where the opposition’s thinking diverges from the people. They offered criticisms but not solutions.

There was a post in one of the opposition sites that demagogues the dredging issue off Cagayan waters as an example of why federalism is bad. The point being made was that the environmental malfeasance will be worse with federalism. This is a classic example of a bad strategy focusing on the wrong thing because one, it admits that the current democratic system is already bad and that by demonizing federalism, it is encouraging patronizing the same corrupt system. With federalism, the opposite is true because permitting will be through the regional state versus a national system that caters to Malacañang.

The nation just successfully held an automated election. There’s been succession at the Supreme Court Chief Justice position. The legislature conducts unimpeded congressional investigations and passed important bills (and signed into law by Duterte) with far-reaching implications for the people such as Universal healthcare, free college tuition, extending maternity leave, among others with some measures sponsored or co-sponsored by opposition legislators. Strategically, the opposition should stop making democracy an issue because the people cannot really relate to the majesty of democracy other than getting paid for voting during elections.

To demonstrate the point, ask anyone on the street the repercussion of having a strong presidency and you might get many supporting the president’s handling of the state’s business despite his vulgarity. To them, democracy is letting those elected do their jobs with or without the opposition’s support. They love a fighter and the president has personified such fighting spirit by showing political will in many things including the closure of Boracay for months, stopping the STL temporarily for alleged corruption and started reclamation work at the Manila Bay.

Duterte has also embarked on an ambitious infrastructure program with the help of the Chinese. The people does not understand the gargantuan burden Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” will saddle future generations but they only see the now, the improved travel time because of newly concreted roads and modernized bridges, better infrastructure from airports to sea ports. He is obviously making the right moves. How can the opposition trip him?

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