JOSE “Jinggoy” Estrada is one of three senators of the Republic – the two others are former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr. – being investigated by the ombudsman for possible complicity in the vast conspiracy to defraud the Filipino people through the theft of billions in pork barrel funds.

The Department of Justice wants the passports of all three cancelled so they won’t leave the country to escape the plunder charges the ombudsman may eventually file against them. But because no such charges have been filed, Estrada is free to leave the country for any destination on the planet.

Estrada has alleged political persecution by the Aquino administration. Among his claims is that he and his friends are being singled out because they’re in the “opposition”.

The skeptical can be forgiven for wondering what the administration would be hounding them for. Nowadays any mention of “the opposition” has to be either in quotation marks or qualified with the description “so-called” – or even “alleged.” It’s not as if the “opposition” were so effective at the job of keeping the administration honest that it’s become a thorn on its side, or has even half succeeded in rousing Benigno Aquino III from his cocky self-assurance.

The Philippines has a supposedly multiparty system. But whether there’s an opposition in government to speak of other than some party list groups is another issue altogether. Before Estrada denounced what he said in a privilege speech was a conspiracy against the “opposition,” no one ever heard him say anything against any important act, policy or plan of the Aquino III administration, which is what a real opposition is supposed to be doing.

Neither have Filipinos ever heard anything critical of Aquino III’s acts, policies, plans, etc., from Juan Ponce Enrile. That goes double for Revilla Jr., who, just like Estrada, is also long in words whenever he speaks in public but usually short in sense.

That’s to mention only the more obvious as far as the behavior of the so-called oppositionists in Congress is concerned. Vice President Jejomar Binay is supposed to be an oppositionist too, but no one’s heard a single critical word from him when it comes to what Mr. Aquino is doing. Instead he’s kept his silence even in those instances when, judging from his acts, he doesn’t necessarily agree with the administration, such as with its response to the Zamboanga City crisis.

During the senatorial elections in May this year the Liberal Party coalition and Binay’s United Nationalist Opposition also fielded common candidates, in one of the surest signs since Marcos changed parties in the 1960s that the term “opposition” hardly means anything in these parts.

If the term has never meant anything in the past, it has significantly been much more meaningless in the present. The more obvious reason is Benigno Aquino III’s popularity. But the more crucial one is the opportunism of the politicians this country has been spawning since the Commonwealth era.

Despite the pork barrel scandal in which some administration officials have been implicated, and public outrage over the Disbursement Acceleration Program and the huge bonuses the executives of certain Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations have been awarding themselves during Mr. Aquino’s “daang matuwid” watch, his approval ratings have remained high, thanks to, among other reasons, the “opposition’s” determination to ride on the coat-tails of his popularity.

So persuasive have Mr. Aquino’s numbers been (up to 79 percent if one believes in the integrity of certain survey firms) – and so focused on self preservations and self aggrandizement is the “opposition,” that the latter has made it a policy not to be critical of anything he does or says, to the extent of even declaring during the May elections and on other occasions, that, in case the public hasn’t realized it yet, the “opposition” is not criticizing him but only some of his allies and officials.

That caveat consigns the principle of command responsibility into the trash bin. But if Mr. Aquino can’t be blamed for his choice of bad appointive officials and even worse advisers, it also implies that he doesn’t have sense enough to choose the right people to provide him with advice and/or to run government agencies.

No matter. Few care enough to look into that interesting possibility, anyway. The consequence of the “opposition’s” non-opposition is a self- fulfilling prophecy: the more the opposition keeps its mouth shut because of his popularity, the more Mr. Aquino becomes even more popular.

Another consequence is the glibness with which Mr, Aquino dismisses whatever criticism the more discerning among the citizenry levels against him, in the belief that whatever he does will not only meet public approval; it will also be meekly approved by the so-called “opposition”.

In the case of Estrada, Revilla and Enrile, the consequence has been the opposite. They’ve fallen so low in the people’s esteem that practically no one listens to whatever they say, among other reasons because they’re perceived to be even more mired in corruption than the worst administration allies in the House of Representatives. Few can even tell the difference between Estrada et al. and the latter.

But what’s far worse is that Mr. Aquino is getting away with, among others, a policy that will allow US troops the use of Philippine military bases.

Instead of being confined to the use of “their” military bases from 1946 to 1990, US troops will have access to hundreds of Philippine military bases, where, thanks to the colonial outlook rooted in the very marrow of the Philippine military elite, they will lord it over both Philippine troops as well as the areas surrounding those bases, from which they can interfere in Philippine internal affairs in the name of combating “terrorism”.

What passes for an opposition in this country mocks the concept, so necessary in a democracy, of a group of men and women dedicated to certain ideals who make it their business to hold the ruling party to account for its policies and decisions. In England the concept includes the idea that, as critical as the opposition may be, it is nevertheless loyal to the State and to its head, the queen (or king). Thus the term Her (or His) Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Mr. Aquino is no king, but he might as well be, given the alleged opposition’s policy of exempting him from criticism and accountability.

And yet an authentic opposition is more urgently needed when a politician is so popular he can ruin the country through public approval of whatever he proposes and does. But because they lack the ideals necessary to hold the administration to account, the creatures from the black lagoon of Philippine politics have failed to provide this country and its people an opposition that’s more into opposing rather than into being loyal.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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