It’s the season of re-alignment

By Edmund Tayao

Will the recent resignation, or some would argue, replacement of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) as Senior Deputy House Speaker impact on the Presidency? Will it affect the passage of priority legislations? Will it result in the resignation of (supposedly) loyal followers of the former President? These were the barrage of questions asked soonest the news was out and with it a statement from her. She was replaced by someone I know to be very close to her, someone who could arguably be no less her lieutenant in her home province Pampanga.

A friend even messaged me saying that some onerous transactions triggered her being replaced. I replied saying simply that, if there indeed was something sinister that led to that political development, I could have already heard of it somehow or at least some indication of it. All I heard is that there were some political discussions and it was agreed that she gives up her number 2 position in the House of Representatives.

This recent development in the House and even say the bigger political equation is not unusual or unexpected. As we have seen in all previous administrations, it was just a matter of time.

How about the resignation of the Vice President as a member of Lakas-CMD party? Is it not in any way related to the developments in the House? That is of course likely, considering that the former president is a leading member of Lakas, and that she is a key supporter and ally of the Vice President. Does it suggest something more? Say perhaps a re-alignment of forces that could erode the President’s political strength? It definitely is an indication of re-alignment of forces, of alliances. But I don’t think it amounts to or even intended to erode the President’s political strength. Analyzing Philippine politics if quite easy actually in that everything and anything is dependent on political personalities. That however, is also what makes it difficult to hold firmly; as everything depends simply on personalities, there is so much volatility that it is not easy to have a full grasp.

That is why there’s truth in the saying that there are no permanent friends in politics, there are only permanent interests. The foregoing questions may be answered by making sense of their common and individual interests. This may be done in reference to their being part of the administration, of being allies with the President. To me, there is so far nothing that suggests anything amounting to any erosion of the President’s political capital. What is suggested in the preceding questions is that there is assumption that there could be a break in the overall alliance, the only thing that could amount to the weakening of the President’s political strength. For it to happen, the common and individual interests should have been severed. Let’s take a look at that proposition.

Has the President already lost his unprecedented popularity? One can always argue that well, he managed to get so much votes, more than 50%, the first time to be elected as a majority President under the 1987 Constitution, because he was supported by Duterte’s supporters. Yes, that is true, but he was still elected nonetheless by an absolute majority. The support that came his way may have been from the supporters of the previous President, but is it because they were told by their champion to support the current President? Didn’t the former President support someone else in the recent Presidential elections? Especially in the run-up to the recent elections?

It’s not the former President’s support that was crucial. It was and is the support of the Vice President that is crucial; the daughter of the former President and the one chosen by the people to pass on their support. This is what others will argue and that is true. But, it could have been different. If we assume for example that the Vice President chose to be with another candidate in the last elections, would it have worked? Would it reach such unprecedented proportions? I’m just asking questions here, and I’m sure there are so many possible answers as much as the number of possible tandem in the previous elections. It should also be noted that the DDS support did not amount to more than 50% of the total votes in the 2016 elections. The result of the recent elections could only be a combination of the core support of both in the tandem. VP Sara contributed to and benefited from the support of PBBM.

Could the Vice President have chosen a different running-mate? This can be answered only by the VP herself. There can be no doubt that she really gave significant thought as to who she will be running with then. This is of course a subject of a lengthier piece, looking at each of the other candidates as a possible tandem. The President was the one chosen however, and the Vice President would know best why. More than that, the vaunted DDS could not have just accepted such choice, consider again the choice of the older Duterte. If the DDS just follows what they are told, then we could have had a different political equation now entirely, a different administration. But no, the people actually have a way of weighing who is worthy of support. Cryout as much as they like, but the opposition had their chance before and they have shown to offer nothing different than what they have professed to opposed.

I have tried to explain in so many writings and public discussion that however we’d like to think, the people actually weigh in and think when they vote or decide who to support. There is no such thing as “Bobotante”. Yes of course, popularity is a factor but it is not all that is considered by the public. There will always be issues, good or bad, that will stick to a person, that will spell the difference in his political career. However little the information, and given the kind of political setup we have, the available information will always be considerably little for the people to adequately weigh in, but weigh in they will. It is patently misguided to assume and more so accuse the people that they don’t think. On the contrary, the public always talk about and weigh in on political issues and of course political personalities.

With all these considerations then, do the recent resignations or replacement amount to anything more than a change at the political party level? Does it in any way impact on the President’s governing capacity and or political capital? If our supposition captures the key considerations rightly, the answer could only be that it’s nothing more than a change within the political alliance and does not amount to any change of support to the President. The pronouncements of the two women leaders say it all in the first place and it should be forthright declarations. The common interest shared by the political leaders could only be the administration of the President as its success will spell their future politically. They have differences among themselves, fine, and that is expected. But it does not change the fact that it is both in their interests to continue supporting the President.

The militant groups and the opposition seemed to have been tickled by the news that broke their long time silence, declaring it already is the start of the administration’s break. Another friend messaged me saying that there is no more opposition so it could not have been so. There may no longer be opposition in both halls of Congress, but it doesn’t mean there are no more opposition in the grander political equation. Those who have been in power before will always be inclined to punch on any opportunity to get back. Given what many thought impossible happened – the election of Marcos Jr. to the Presidency – it can only mean that it would be difficult for the opposing political groups to recover.

Yes there are those who are able to remain in government even though they were once identified with the previous leaderships, but only because they shed themselves of anything that could easily suggest they remain with their previous allegiances. For the previous political groupings to get back to power is a different story entirely. This can only be the reason why they hope there’s now a crack in the overall administration alliance and they’re using the issue to stir the issue to that end. The hope is that the public can be led to believe that the leadership has been effectively weakened.

We have seen similar developments in all previous political groupings as early as Presidents Quezon and Roxas. The same happened with the LDP during the time of former President Cory Aquino. Presidents Ramos, GMA, Noynoy Aquino and the last administration of Duterte had re-alignments in the early part of their administrations. After every election, re-alignments happen in preparation for the next coming election, whether midterm or presidential elections. Does every re-alignment necessarily amount to and immediate erosion of the incumbent President’s power? Not really. The only exception is that of former President Erap who was successfully and abruptly unseated.

Former President GMA endured before the most trying of political challenges. A number of her people publicly rebuked her and resigned. There were re-alignments that took place of course, but it didn’t necessarily amount to a withdrawal of support then. Those who left her belonged to another group it seemed, but those who remained re-aligned but remained supportive of her administration. The formula that was used to have Edsa 1 and 2 have been proven to be no longer effective. We have seen this in many attempts thereafter which fizzled out. It will take so much more for the leaders before to get back much needed public support.

All in all, this is again a case of a political setup defined only by political personalities. Unless we change the setup and put in place a real political system, we will always have the impression that our politics is nothing more than self-interest. Of course, there is always self-interest, but i think there is everywhere, even in the private sector, in fact even in the family. Does it necessarily mean it is only in the Philippines that such is the case? No! The only difference is, in the other countries, it is easier to understand as the people can actually substantially participate.

In countries where the political system actually work, and political institutions are significant and shape the decisions of political leaders and not the other way around, the dynamics of politics is fundamentally different. The people have enough access to necessary information to ably take part in the public discourse and effectively weigh in on issues and in the process decide who to support. And the public reaction could easily find its way in the official decision-making process as there are real political parties that are obliged to respond. Why? Because the system provides the mechanisms that lead to such dynamics. Sadly, we don’t have that in the Philippines.

There are much-needed adjustments needed to make the administration much more effective. Considering they managed to get where they are now, their capacity politically cannot be underrated. This re-alignment for all we know is among that much needed adjustment deemed necessary.