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The ‘leader of the opposition’

He came out fighting and expressing readiness to slug it out with the “administration” and the “ruling party” in the runup to the 2016 elections. But after speaking, Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay slunk away, refusing to take questions and belatedly letting his many spokespersons explain his words.

Critics have pointed out that this is all of a piece with the general attitude the now self-defined “leader of the opposition” has adopted since questions about his public service record emerged. Jojo Binay has yet to say a word directly addressing the allegations of corruption against him and his son, current Makati Mayor Junjun. Besides their sweeping declarations that the public hearings and testimonies were “politically motivated,” the Binays, their lawyers and spokespersons have not offered any evidence, contrary witnesses or answers in their defense.

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So, what are we to make of his public statement the other day? To my mind, it would have been the perfect opportunity for Binay to face head-on the issues being raised against him—from the alleged overpricing of the Makati parking building, the city hospital and even the city science high school; to the reportedly anomalous sale of a lot donated to the Boy Scouts of the Philippines (of which Binay seems to be president-for-life) which the then mayor turned around and sold to a developer.

Instead, what we got was a sweeping accusation of ineptness and indifference against the Aquino administration. It would have been a legitimate, reasonable argument from the newly-designated opposition figurehead, but it lost any credibility since in the years preceding the

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announcement of his break from P-Noy, he remained largely quiet and enjoyed all the perks of being part of the administration.

In fairness, P-Noy had given Binay a not-so-minor platform from which to launch his putative candidacy: czar of the housing sector (which would cement his claim to being champion of the poor), as well as special ambassador for OFW concerns. This latter post he used cannily to prove his “soft heart” for overseas workers. But when almost the entire government machinery worked successfully to save Mary Jane Veloso from a firing squad, Binay was surprisingly quiet. True, he did his part to intercede on Mary Jane’s behalf, but would it have been too much to acknowledge similar efforts by both government and nongovernment groups to save Mary Jane?

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Now presumably freed from the burden of having to attend Cabinet meetings and sparing the President’s (and the Aquino family’s) feelings, Binay is free to devote all his time to campaigning around the country, as he has been doing all this time.

Only now, he no longer has to pretend to be a “friend” of the President, or even a team player. Indeed, he came out swinging against the many “sins” of the Liberal Party, which he did not mention specifically, as well as the many failings of the administration.

What I found particularly amusing, though, was the posture the Vice President adopted: of being an “underdog,” much put-upon and persecuted, certainly an attempt at gaining sympathy from Filipinos who naturally identify with losers.

But what is he NOT saying? That because he had been loyal to a certain extent he did not deserve to be investigated nor made to answer for all the anomalies he has been accused of? Does loyalty confer immunity?

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The stab at gaining public sympathy may also have been an attempt to grab the “title” of sweetheart of the masa from Sen. Grace Poe. Being the daughter of the late king of Philippine movies, Fernando Poe Jr., whose hold on the hearts and loyalty of common Filipinos endures to this day, the senator can count on her father’s memory to sustain her appeal to voters.

Binay has been making much of his own humble origins (an orphan much like Grace who was a foundling) to worm his way into the Filipino public’s sympathies. Indeed, there is even speculation that the use of the put-down “Nog-nog,” referring to Binay’s dark complexion, came not from his political opponents but from Binay’s camp. After all, many Filipinos are just as dark and diminutive as him, even if we have this fixation for fair skin and stature. Presumably, many voters would feel insulted by the reference to Binay’s skin color, which they naturally would blame on his political enemies.

Fortunately, “Nog-nog” didn’t gain any traction, since pointing out someone’s dark skin is no biggie in a country where kayumanggi (warm brown) skin is also a desired trait, alongside a milky-white complexion (we’re complicated that way).

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So what did Binay gain in breaking away from his friend, the President, and his friend’s administration party?

P-Noy reputedly felt “hurt” by the Binay broadside, asking if, after years of friendship shared with the Vice President, he deserved the diatribe.

But I would advise P-Noy to drop the paawa gambit. He has far more important things to attend to, foremost of which is addressing the many valid points raised by Binay in his speech, particularly the transportation woes that ruin the day of many commuters in the metropolis.

Watching footage of the Binay address, I couldn’t help being reminded of the 1995 movie “The American President,” where Richard Dreyfuss played a senator raring at the bit for a White House run, occupied by the president played by Michael Douglas.

As the putative “leader of the opposition,” Dreyfuss always ended his speeches with the declaration: “I am… and I am running for President.” That’s what Binay’s closing statement about being the “leader of the opposition” reminded me of: a politician declaring his intent, as if it conferred on him a special title and entitlement.

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TAGS: 2016 Elections, column, Jejomar Binay, opposition, politics, Rina Jimenez-David
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