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Political realignments

It’s election time again, the season for exhibitions of tomfoolery, balderdash and high jinks by a special breed of creatures called politicians. The inane, once-every-three-years extravaganza would be fun but for the fact that the fun ends in dozens, if not scores, of very dead, casualties of election mayhem, and the ascent to power of a slew of nincompoops who would mess around with our otherwise peaceful life and destiny.

Politics, Philippine style is like no other in the world. The game is in constant flux, is personality-driven, and centers on two deathless issues (deathless because since the birth of the Republic, they have never been slain and remain the favorite mantra of politicians in election after election): graft/corruption and poverty.

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The political season begins with a frenzy of meetings and powwows and huddles and caucuses by political players, aimed at securing ties, forging alliances, marking out friends (read: financiers), isolating enemies, and upping visibility. The operative term for the goal sought by these exercises is political realignments.

William Safire, who made a living as political lexicographer, defined political realignments as the “convergence of like-minded political players in a common spot (party, coalition) to better and more effectively pursue their common ideals.”

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“Realignment,” he said, “simply means the old has been discarded because it has run out of its effectiveness, while the new is adopted because it offers richer opportunity and brighter potential for power.”

Safire’s view on political realignments runs into trouble when set side by side with reality in the Philippine setting. Homegrown politicians pursue disparate agendas and goals, not common ideals. In these parts, self-interest, not common good, is the motivating force behind political alignments, which is why we have realignments all the time. Self-interest does not remain constant; it keeps changing and morphing to conform with the convenience of the hour and with individual ambitions.

Thus, too, we see the spectacle of politicians switching parties and parties switching alliances at tactically appropriate times—all in the name of pragmatism, the principle that answers the question: Where and with whom would their interest today and tomorrow be better served?

This is not to say that political realignments are bad in themselves. All I am saying is that a realignment happening in the political arena is not something new. It is an indelible part of our political culture. And in any case, objectively speaking, in some cases realignments result in a more dynamic political mix that produces imaginative public service concepts, quick translation of these concepts into concrete, and their efficient delivery to the public.

My reservation about realignments is that you could get realigned to a group that harbors somebody you absolutely detest or are allergic to, as you are to your mother-in-law. For example, in 2013 Koko Pimentel was squeamish about running in the same senatorial slate with Migz Zubiri, who had aligned himself from the Party of GMA to UNA, then a coalition partner of Pimentel’s PDP-Laban. Loren Legarda was a staunch critic of Manny Villar, but she swallowed her pride and realigned herself to the Party of Villar to become his running mate in the 2010 presidential race.

There are many more other cases of realignments making strange bedfellows of personalities with irreconcilable traits, beliefs and political records.

And there will be more realignments as the May elections draw near. Husband and wife will align themselves to two separate parties, and their three politician-children will hitch their wagons to three other parties. In short, if there are five politicians in the family, they’ll be aligned to five different political parties.

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It’s more fun in the Philippines—if you are in politics.

As a final word, here’s a politician-general’s thought about realignments: “The ultimate objective of realignments is victory at the polls; the ultimate goal of poll victory is power; the ultimate aim of power is—share it with no one.”

Gualberto B. Lumauig ([email protected] com) is past president of the UST Philosophy and Letters Foundation and former governor/congressman of Ifugao.

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