New administration takes shape, so must the opposition

Published May 28, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Tonyo Cruz


Tonyo Cruz

The elections are now officially over, after Congress proclaimed the president-elect and the vice president-elect.

The incoming administration is apparently busy organizing the cabinet and putting in place a program of government ready for implementation starting on Day One. The new president takes his oath and formally assumes office at noon of June 30. There is no turning back.
For the opposition, or what remains of it, there’s still a lot do.

First, it must openly lead the painful evaluation of the people’s campaign. Vice President Leni Robredo and Senator Kiko Pangilinan should immediately do this, not just as a consolation to their supporters. Lessons must be learned, however painful or inconvenient. But that’s the mature and professional thing to do. The people must be given a chance to assess the people’s campaign.

Second, it must make sense of the many reports of fraud and other forms of election-related cheating. Citing her words at the Thanksgiving event held at the Ateneo de Manila, the vice president’s counsel declared before Congress that it would not interpose any objections to the national canvassing. Were the reports of fraud without merit, too miniscule or too inconsequential to deserve the attention of the opposition and to be put on record during the national canvassing?

Perhaps most importantly, what’s next for the opposition? Who will exercise the formal and thought-leadership of the opposition as a counterpoint to the Marcos-Duterte regime? Would the forces of the opposition just wait for the Marcos-Duterte regime to make serious errors, or would the opposition be ready to offer alternatives and take action inside and outside of government? Is disinformation the single-biggest national issue? What’s the call to action for the public? Is setting up the nation’s biggest volunteer network enough?

There are a lot of questions that need answers and the answers must come out soon. Without good thought-leadership, there are already many remarkably anti-democratic ideas taking hold like “letting voters suffer”. Others have called for the division of the country into Pink and Red states. Liberal democracy cannot possibly regain its prestige and restore public trust in it by simply waiting for illiberalism and populism to fail. That’s fatalistic, cynical and, to be frank, politically irresponsible. To let people suffer or die cannot possibly be a winning formula to regain their respect and to claim political leadership.

I don’t worry a lot about the first-time voters who feel disappointed by the outcome of the elections. History teaches they will always be the wellspring of rebellion and radicalism, especially when there’s fascism. They see “control” through the veil of “discipline,” and trust me they will resist, defy, and fight. I also don’t worry for workers and farmers as they would continue to strive to earn a living.

I worry more for the adults whose rising cynicism would push them either to apathy or right-wing politics. I also worry more for the middle class who can retreat to lives of privilege. If illiberal democracy and populism go unchallenged in terms of political acumen and ideas, history teaches that it is always adults and the middle class who fall prey to their temptations.

It is important to note that the activist and radical wing of the opposition survived the all-out state campaign to expel them from Congress. President Duterte himself campaigned against Makabayan, apart from the efforts of the NTF-ELCAC. No other political force faced such challenges, from the administration and ironically even from some of its opposition allies. Defying the odds, voters have reelected Kabataan, Gabriela Women’s Party, and ACT Teachers Party, and gave them a mandate to be opposition stalwarts in Congress.

The partylist race was arguably a missed opportunity for Robredo and Pangilinan who could have called on supporters to vote for a Pink list of partylists. The 15 million-strong vote of Robredo could be more than enough to elect partylist representatives that are genuinely from or for the marginalized and underrepresented, non-administration, and non-traditional politicians. That’s about 60 seats in Congress.
A new administration is rising. People are waking up to the reality of a terrible election loss. We must do everything to encourage a strong and viable opposition to rise as well. It might take a lot of effort and humility. But if we believe that Filipinos deserve better, and that human rights and democracy should be defended, we have to do it.