Do You Hear the People Sing?: The Political Opposition in the Philippines
As the 2019 senatorial elections loom ever closer, the issue of partisanship has taken center stage. Two major slates have emerged: the administration’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago and the Liberal Party’s Otso Diretso. Other opposition bets have appeared as well: the Makabayan bloc is fielding Neri Colmenares while endorsing other candidates, while labor groups have fielded their own Labor Win slate.
This combination of progressives and traditional politicians shows contradictions between a voting public that focuses on issues while still engaging in personality politics. Part of it is in how people perceive politics in general: On one hand, we call corrupt, unqualified politicians traditional because we’ve become so used to them; on the other hand, we deride any oppositionist as doing nothing to help the administration.
It’s time for us to sit down and have an honest discussion about our politics.
Political opposition is not treason
A lot of Filipinos are quick to call people who oppose government policies obstructionists, lumping them all as dilawan regardless of their actual affiliation. Conversations devolve to one side blaming the other for the country’s problems, sometimes forgetting what an opposition is in lieu of partisan politics. Oppositions exist to criticize an administration’s policies to ensure that they serve the people.
Oppositions are not simply political parties that didn’t win in the last election, and they are most certainly not there to undermine the democratic process. Simply put, the opposition is a group that fights against the interests of the people comprising the state; that is to say, they champion the interests of the people.
The first thing we have to realize is that we shouldn’t look at things as Hugpong versus Otso Diretso or one party against another. We have to look at politics as the contradiction between the state’s interests against the Filipino people’s interests.
Not all opposition groups are created equal
Once we understand that an opposition exists to further its interest at the expense of the administration’s own, we have to understand something else: not all opposition is created equal, because not all interests are equal.
We have to make a clear distinction between minority bloc parties, independent opposition groups, and the radical opposition that operate outside the legalities of state. These groups have different principles and interests and it would be dishonest, or even dangerous, to call them all the same.
1| Minority Bloc Opposition
Quite literally, the minority bloc in Congress is composed of parties and groups that do not have majority control in the House of Representatives and the Senate. As is usually the case, the administration’s party also wins the House majority, while the minority becomes the opposition. Currently, the majority bloc is held by the PDP-Laban coalition while the minority is led by the Liberal Party.
Here’s the thing, though: During the last presidency, the Liberal Party held the majority of seats in Congress while other parties such as UNA were the minority. In this sense, the parties which comprise the minority bloc opposition are only in that position by virtue of their lack of seats.
Also, beyond the fiery rhetoric of the administration, there’s really not a lot of difference between the political parties. Though they disagree on key issues like federalism and the TRAIN Law, they agree more often than not on economic deals (GATT-WTO, APEC, etc.), infrastructure projects (Kaliwa Dam was an Aquino project), and budget allocation, among others. Politically, most parties fall under the center-right of the political spectrum, though they disagree on key issues.
2| Independent Opposition
Independent opposition groups are those who fall outside the traditional political party system. These are labor groups who lobby for workers’ rights, farmers’ groups who seek genuine agrarian reform, students’ groups who condemn the system and its policies, and a multitude of other groups. These groups are usually labeled as “progressive” due to their left-leaning politics. More dangerously, these groups are usually the victims of red-tagging, often being lumped with the communist CPP-NPA-NDF.
Independent opposition groups, unlike traditional political parties, make their political stance known by getting citizens to participate. These can take the form of lobbying against government policies, negotiating with the powers that be, or shows of force like mobilizations and rallies. These groups, unlike the minority bloc, rail against the roots of social conflict instead of a particular administration’s policy.
3| Radical Opposition
Outside of the first two kinds of opposition, there are also extremist groups that openly antagonize the state by operating outside of it. These groups can have widely varying politics, from the extreme left Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, to ethnic self-determinists like the Moro National Liberation Front and its splinter groups.
Unlike the first two kinds of opposition who use legal means or work within the government to champion the peoples’ interests, these groups decidedly work outside of it, concluding that the state itself is the enemy. There is some overlap between the causes that these organizations and other groups fight for, such as agrarian reform, but it is in the way they conduct themselves that mark them as decidedly different.
True opposition comes from the masses
In the end though, you cannot hope for a single group or party to come and save Philippine politics. Real change must come from the Filipino people who actually live in the Philippines. If politics is a game of competing interests, then the Filipino people should stake theirs, seeing as governments are primarily meant to serve the people.
Opposition to a government official or to a policy is far from obstructing government. It is, in fact, one of the most democratic acts a citizen can do. People often forget that government officials are elected to advance the people’s interest and are instead caught up in personality politics or shades of ideology. As Eman Lacaba put it: “Awakened, the masses are Messiah.”
Events in history like the Philippine Revolution and EDSA weren’t fought and won by individual personalities, but by the collective action of the people. If we are to have true and lasting change in our country, we have to remember that opposition is just if what we’re fighting against is unjust; and that the people are the ones who can make this change happen.
In the end, the old adage holds true: The masses are the true makers of history.