The birth of an opposition coalition

Andrew J. Masigan-125

I feel betrayed by the Liberal Party (LP). Don’t you? As the predominant opposition party, it is their duty to mitigate the policies, decisions, and actions of the executive branch and their allies in the legislature. But this has not been the case. Due to fear of persecution, fear of being investigated for past abuses, for turncoatism and downright spineless leadership, the LP have been rendered benign. The President and his allies have been allowed to carry out their agenda with practically no checks and balances and we have become a weaker nation for it.

Not only have the liberals become inconsequential, they have also allowed themselves to be abused by the dominant party. They are insulted, verbally attacked and vilified and it is only Vice-President Leni Robredo and Senator Frank Drilon who fight back. Under unremitting attacks, the Vice-President has displayed courage, focus, wit, and, above all, dignity. Mr. Drilon out-wits and out-smarts his detractors at every turn. As for the rest of the liberals, they cower in fear, afraid of meeting the same fate as Senator Leila de Lima. As an opposition party, the LP is a national shame. I have never seen an opposition party so weak.

The absence of a functioning opposition has led civil society to take things into their own hands. Last Thursday, a new political coalition called 1Sambayan was launched. I learned that the name is an amalgamation of three Filipino words — “isa” (one), “samba” (worship), and “bayan” (country), which, taken together, means a united country in prayer. The name is akin to a plea to God for a decent, competent leader.

1Sambayan is a coalition that unites all democratic forces spanning the extreme right (the Magdalo Party) to the extreme left (Bayan Muna Party) and all those in between. It counts among its members the Catholic church, Born Again groups, Muslim groups, the academe, the youth, the urban poor, medical frontliners, NGOs, women’s groups, and the LGBTQ+ sector, among others. 1Sambayan is the largest multi-sectoral coalition organized since the Laban movement of the 1980s. By default, it is now the dominant opposition group positioned to challenge the Duterte camp.

The personalities behind 1Sambayan are known oppositionists with stature. Its board of convenors consists of: former Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario, former Education Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro, former Commission on Audit (CoA) Chief Heidi Mendoza, lawyer Howard Calleja, Philippine Navy Admiral Rommel Ong (ret), Father Albert Alejo, former Congressman Nery Colmenares, former Governor Lito Coscolluela, labor advocate Rene Magtubo, and Rickie Xavier.

Mr. Carpio delivered the keynote address and explained the group’s purpose. At the heart of the 1Sambayan initiative is to restore good governance in the land. To this end, the group will embark on a consultative selection process to form a complete slate of presidential, vice-presidential, and senate candidates — all of whom represent good governance, honesty, competence, adherence to the rule of law, and fear of the Almighty. A big factor too is the candidate’s position on China’s creeping invasion. He/she must maintain a strong position opposing China’s advancing territorial grab.

To win the 2022 elections, there has to be only one opposition. Unity is key to defeat the “forces of tyranny,” said the former Chief Justice. This is what 1Sambayan is positioned to be. Everyone is welcome to join the coalition, including those from traditional political parties.

1Sambayan unequivocally rejects authoritarianism, dictatorships, extra-judicial killings, and political revenge since all these will backfire in the long-run. As it stands, the Philippines has already plunged in nearly all development indices under President Duterte’s watch, be it in economic competitiveness, corruption perception, press freedom, soft power, innovation index, educational standards and even in anti-COVID-19 response. There is no substitute for good governance, Carpio stressed. It is the only way we can put the country back on the path of high growth, to restore economic competitiveness, inclusiveness, and national pride.

Unlike traditional political parties where the bigwigs of the group handpick candidates based on winnability, 1Sambayan is taking an inclusive approach. It will embark on an online survey to find out who the choices of the people are and why. This will be complemented by surveys, polls, and analytics. The next phase is the screening of candidates. Those short-listed will be evaluated according to their body of work, record of honesty, leadership, stands on certain issues, reform agenda, and political platform. Based on the information gathered, the Board of Convenors will form its ticket of candidates.

During the open forum, an audience member asked if they already had some candidates in mind. The Chief Justice was candid enough to name those they had already interviewed. Among them is the opposition figurehead, VP Robredo. They also admitted to speaking to Isko Moreno, Grace Poe, Sonny Trillanes, and Nancy Binay. The vetting of candidates is still in its initial stage and the board expects to speak to more aspirants as we approach the official filing of candidacy in October.

As for the billions of pesos required to wage a decent campaign, 1Sambayan expressed confidence that the funding will come so long as a viable set of candidates are presented. Yes, 1Sambayan will take responsibility over fund-raising and forming a political machine to organize grassroots sorties and guard against electoral fraud. There is a clamor for change, said Mr. Carpio, and history shows that big business and private citizens can be counted to donate financial resources and time to ensure the victory of the good, the competent and the honest. To this, former CoA Chief Heidi Mendoza chimed-in to say that every centavo will be accounted for and transparency in spending will be assured.

Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales delivered a spirited speech that brought to light the worsening corruption in the country. She lamented how certain political “pets” have used the pandemic as an opportunity for self promotion and how Malacanang indulged in political revenge during a national crisis. She protested the bigotry against women and the LGBTQ+ community. She further said that all those who committed crimes in this administration will be made accountable according to the law, but all are assured of due process.

Poet and priest Albert Alejo, SJ, delivered a moving sonnet. He bellowed at how cussing invectives, cursing, and threats of murder are applauded by many. He wailed at how President Duterte ceded swaths of our territory in the West Philippine Sea to China, including Scarborough shoal, without much of a fight. He cried at how the nation’s Chief Executive has an unexplainable devotion to China, sometimes even at our own country’s expense.

The inaugural ceremony ended with much optimism and surge in patriotic sentiments.

Indeed, we are at a critical point in our country’s development. On the shoulders of the next President will be the task of rebuilding the economy following the blowback of the pandemic; solving unemployment which now stands at 17% of the workforce; solving poverty which is at an alarming 25% of the population; uplifting our decaying educational system whose standards have plummeted to be the second lowest in the world; solving malnutrition and healthcare; preparing our industries for the 4th industrial or digital revolution, among many more.

In all honesty, I cannot say that the present leadership nor its alter-egos are up for the job. Numbers don’t lie and, as mentioned earlier, we already dropped in most development indices under President Duterte’s watch. We need change.

Until last Thursday, I was worried that we did not have a credible opposition to challenge the incumbent. Now, there is hope that a viable candidate can emerge and will be backed by a coalition with gravitas.

Andrew J. Masigan is an economist

Twitter @aj_masigan

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