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Wanted: a credible minority

12:04 AM June 14, 2016

THERE are a number of significant messages and mandates which emanated from the recent elections. I will underscore two of them.

The first is the reality and import of the overwhelming victory of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, which is unprecedented. This commanding landslide gives Duterte the indubitable mandate to effect reforms, with prior popular support. The only constraints are the limitations imposed by the Constitution, like due process and the rigorous allocation of powers among the presidency, the Congress and the Supreme Court.

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This is so because Duterte won in a constitutional process, not by any upheaval outside of the fundamental law.

Consequently, Duterte’s reported pronouncement that if he “cannot get it the right way,” then he will “do it the wrong way” has no legitimate anchorage.

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Let us grant that Duterte has the best of intentions. But intention is not the test on the validity of official actions. It is fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law.

Corollary to the first message is the nagging realization that protest votes catapulted Duterte to the presidency. Those protesting the seemingly irremediable traffic mess, escalating drug menace, widespread criminality, continuing corruption, marginalization of the wretched poor, skewed distribution of wealth, unmitigated contractualization of workers, errant justice system and all other protestable concerns, found in Duterte a veritable problem-solver.

Duterte’s vow to implement change, articulated in an unorthodox style and even spiced by profanity, captivated the people’s imagination, but not necessarily their heart and cerebrum.

But protest voters are extremely difficult to please. They demand instant solution and immediate rectification. They even want miracles, which rarely happen, if these ever do.

It is Duterte’s response to the problems he promised to solve that we must be wary about.

Shortcuts are mere palliatives and could even be illegal. The reinstitution of the death penalty, instilling a culture of violence, condemnation of perceived offenders without due process, and even an experiment on federalism are neither viable options nor justified solutions.

It is in the context of Duterte’s seeming predisposition to violence and irreverence to constitutional institutions and precepts that the second electoral message or mandate assumes concrete relevance.

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The people’s second mandate is for the Congress to be the counterpoise to Duterte’s presidency and for it to discharge its duty to check and balance the Chief Executive.

This is manifest in the election results for members of the House of Representatives where only three in Duterte’s PDP-Laban won, while 116 candidates from the Liberal Party were elected. Additionally, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), which predominantly supported Grace Poe, has 44 elected representatives. Between the LP and NPC they had 161 representatives shortly after the elections, which constituted a majority of the House.

Unfortunately, this electoral mandate for an independent Congress has been eroded and defied by the formation of supermajorities both in the Senate and the House which are aligned with and supportive of the new administration.

The hegemony of the supermajorities is aggravated by an emerging ambivalent minority in the House.

One who aspires to become the minority leader must not encamp in Davao City and indirectly seek the anointment of the incoming administration or prostrate himself as the leader of a “cooperative” minority. He has no business recommending a colleague for a committee chairmanship or, much more, be the self-appointed spokesman of the President-elect.

All of these outlandish efforts would lead to a coopted minority, a eunuch of an opposition.

But all is not lost. I am certain there are members of the House who are desirous to be in the minority as they are fully conscious that:

  1. One of the hallmarks of a democratic legislature is the existence and preservation of a credible, vigilant, courageous and reasonable minority.
  1. The Congress is not an assembly of the majority only. It is a parliament of duly mandated representatives, including the minority.
  1. Consequently, a congressional district must not be deprived of its fair and equitable share in the budgetary allocations as a punishment for the party affiliation or political conviction of its representative.

The role of the minority is not to oppose the majority or delay legislation at all cost. That is obstructionism. The function of the minority is to put sense and restraint to a rampaging majority, offer differing views, expose the demerits of an administration bill, plug loopholes in a proposed measure, and propose perfecting amendments to a bill worth enacting. The minority is also the mouthpiece of a discerning citizenry.

A credible and vigilant minority could never be trampled on or shackled. At the end of the day, most of the time, it is only outvoted after a good fight.

Edcel C. Lagman is soon returning to the House of Representatives to represent the first district of Albay in the 17th Congress for a seventh term.

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TAGS: Commentary, Duterte, Edcel Lagman, minority, opinion, Rodrigo Duterte
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