Starting on 18 February 2021 Rep. Edcel C. Lagman's column "No Holds Barred" appears every Thursday in The Manila Times.
The phrase “No holds barred” originated from wrestling bouts billed as “No Ring. No Referees. No Rules.” Similarly, this column will have no boundaries, no censors, and no rules, except for the liberal and expansive limits of free speech and free press.
Although this column is not exclusively an opposition corner, I will start this series by underscoring the salutary role of the political opposition in a democratic government, more particularly in the legislature.
The renowned French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville said that “the majority not only makes the laws, but can break them as well.” It is for this reason that the minority, perforce, must exist and flourish.
The avowed mission and indispensable role of a responsible and independent opposition or minority principally encompass the following:
1. The constant critic of flawed administration policies and a serious sentinel against the majority’s importuning.
2. The zealous guardian of constitutionalism and the rule of law.
Resistance to the Duterte administration’s continuing enforcement of repressive policies necessitates concrete action from a true opposition. The challenges come from the unabated extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders and drug suspects; red-tagging of government critics in the legislature, civil society, and entertainment industry; and odious acts of state terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA).
The foregoing transgressions debase fundamental rights enshrined and safeguarded under the Constitution like due process of law, freedom of expression, right to organize and join organizations, right to peaceably assemble for redress of grievances, and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, among many others.
The authentic opposition must fearlessly move to forestall and forbid these desecrations of the Bill of Rights. But how many of the so-called “oppositionists” in Congress are among the numerous petitioners challenging the constitutionality of the ATA before the Supreme Court?
3. A sounding board of the people’s dissent, desolation and discontent.
The multitude of our people need a conduit as a channel for their demands and a spokesperson to articulate their grievances because their subdued voices are not heard in the towers of power. A credible opposition takes up the cudgels for them as their advocate and protector.
4. A vettor of administration policy initiatives and a purger of constitutional transgressions or infirmities overtly or covertly afflicting some of the majority’s legislative proposals.
5. A conscientious and consensus-seeking partner of the majority in the enactment of laws which are concretely designed for national development and those truly beneficial to the people, particularly the marginalized and disadvantaged.
A responsible opposition is not the barrel of explosive expletives and disruptive denunciations. Once necessary and justified, it must seek and reach a consensus with the majority in legislating meaningful reforms after free debates are held and perfecting amendments are accommodated.
6. A crusading advocate of alternative policies and programs which are more responsible and responsive than the agenda of the majority.
7. A party or coalition which fields competent and credible aspirants against the candidates of the administration in regular elections for the installation or rejection of transient leaders.
This role is crucial as the 2022 elections draw near. However, the opposition’s being an alternative to the administration becomes illusory if elections are farcical because voters are bought or intimidated by administration candidates and their henchmen, and votes are not correctly counted or tallied. These problems are compounded if those who are qualified do not register and those who are registered do not vote. Consequently, the unfit and perfidious get elected by the people’s default.
To be truly effective in the discharge of its mission and role, the political opposition must be credible and independent. It must not be an adjunct or an appendage of the majority, or worse, the latter’s creation.
The handpicking by the majority leadership of the “minority leader” was formalized in the 17th Congress and is perpetuated in the 18th Congress. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez anointed Rep. Danilo Suarez as Minority Leader despite the latter’s voting with the majority in the selection of Alvarez and his pronouncement that he would lead a “cooperative minority”, which he actually did during his tenure. Suarez succeeded himself as Minority Leader under Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for whom he vigorously campaigned to oust Alvarez, his former patron.
In the 18th Congress, both under the leadership of former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and incumbent Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, the pernicious practice has prevailed. Cayetano handpicked Rep. Bienvenido Abante as his minority leader and Velasco installed Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano as the leader of the conscripted minority.
The facts on the malevolent dalliance between the supermajority and the anointed minority are incontrovertible. The collusion is patent, the charade is obvious. There is not even any attempt at pretense. Dissent is token. Opposition is a mirage. The obliteration of an authentic opposition as an institution is fait accompli.
The eunuch may stand erect but his virility has been irretrievably lost. A spineless minority which succumbs in crucial issues upon the impositions of its patron, is a castrated aggrupation.
This is not to disparage a handful of Representatives, who despite having been co-opted to formally join the majority’s minority, still project independent stance on some issues. But absent are the coordination and consistency as well as the direction and dedication of an institutionalized opposition under a genuine minority leader who is not beholden to the majority.
It is earnestly hoped that the forthcoming 19th Congress will usher in the emergence of a less opportunistic and more tolerant majority, and the revival of a critical, credible, and crusading minority in the tradition of the lamented defunct and defanged institution known as the potent political opposition.