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There’s the Rub

‘Dagdag-bawas’

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I looked at the pictures of the LP and UNA senatorial candidates that appeared in this newspaper last weekend and wondered if JV Ejercito wasn’t right. Why have two parties disputing the Senate at all? Why not just have one supraparty and let the voters choose from among its candidates whom they want to be there?

Except for one or two exceptions, there are really no basic differences between the candidates of the one and the other. Edwin Lacierda says there’s nothing wrong with LP’s own grab bag of candidates. “Politics is addition…. During the past two years they have been supportive of the programs of the President.”

Of course they have. That doesn’t owe to principle, that owes to convenience. There are no real parties in this country, only temporary arrangements or coalitions built around the winning president. After every presidential election, everybody flocks to the winning party and makes it the biggest one around. Until the next election, until the next president.

PDP-Laban, Lakas-NUCD, PMP (LAMMP), Lakas-Kampi: All have come and all have gone. And all had erstwhile friend and foe alike, however those terms are defined in Philippine politics, supporting the programs of the president. LP will come and go, too. All this must suggest there are no permanent loyalties, only permanent self-interests. Which raises all sorts of questions about what you mean by “supportive.”

In fact the only two people there that have a difference remotely related to principle are Koko Pimentel and Migz Zubiri. Pimentel bolted UNA because he didn’t want to be in the same party as the fellow who stole four years of his senatorial term, a mistake his father made in the past, running under Erap with Juan Ponce Enrile, the one person he accused of stealing his entire term in 1995 through “dagdag-bawas.” And the only reason Pimentel is with LP and not UNA is that Erap refused to give Zubiri up, finding nothing wrong with electoral fraud, forgive and forget  na lang, he said. Otherwise, Pimentel would still be with him.

Before this, last weekend I also looked at the pictures of those that gathered at Enrile’s book launch, and after being initially dismayed I wondered what was really so strange about them. Of course P-Noy’s family had suffered grievously under the Marcoses. Of course P-Noy’s mother had been the object of a series of coup attempts by Enrile. Of course the Marcoses had been overthrown by the people in a grand act of People Power. Of course Erap had been overthrown as well by the people in yet another grand act of People Power. But what of it? Worse things have happened to this country, and always the oppressors have managed to come back. Always the scoundrels have managed to turn themselves into heroes in the final, or at least latest, reel. Always erstwhile enemies have turned into friends and become supportive of whoever was the president’s agenda.

I saw these things and realized that there is only one constant in our politics, or history. That is the incredible capacity of the elite, political and social, to survive. That is the incredible capacity of the elite to mend their differences, however those differences seem stark at one point, and find a new lease on life. That is the incredible capacity of the elite to come together and build a united front against a common enemy, which is change.

It was so then, it is so now.

You would imagine that the divisions created by the Japanese occupation were so wide the elite would never be able to come together again. Some had collaborated with the Japanese to put up the Japanese-sponsored government while the rest had remained loyal to the Americans to put up the American-sponsored government after “Liberation.” Feelings were raw, resentments were deep, relations were bitter. Yet a few years after Independence, the collaborators were running for office again. A decade later, few remembered what collaboration was.

You would imagine that the divisions created by martial law were so wide the elite would never be able to come together again. The politicians had flocked to the side of the victor while the rest had fled to the United States or worked with the underground to fight Marcos. Feelings were raw, resentments were deep, relations were bitter. Yet a few years later, the “collaborators” were back. Two and a half decades later, Enrile would be free to claim he is our savior—not just at Edsa but in the pit of martial law itself.

The other side of this, which is also the one constant in our politics, or history, is the incredible capacity of the elite to exclude everybody else from power, not least those who risked life and limb to fight the oppression. That was what happened to those who actually fought the Japanese, that was what happened to those who actually fought martial law. That was what happened to the people themselves who took the brunt of the oppression.

Every effort to give the poor and marginalized some representation in government has been thwarted. Look what has happened to the party-list system, which was supposed to do that. Mikey Arroyo represents the security guards, a fellow who lives in Corinthian Garden represents the squatters, and a Supreme Court justice’s wife represents the indigent blind.

That’s what makes it the hardest thing to reform this country. The people who are supposed to undertake reform are the very ones who are allergic to reform. The people who are best suited to undertake reform, who are the people themselves, are excluded from it.

Politics is addition? Depends on who you add, depends on who you subtract. In this country, that has always meant adding former oppressors and subtracting the still oppressed.

The heart of our politics is dagdag-bawas, in more ways than one.


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Tags: Conrado de Quiros , Elections , Liberal Party , politics , UNA



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