As this column was being written (Sunday, July 21), the administration bloc at the Senate already had Sen. Robert Jaworski’s vote in its pocket. Jaworski, in short, is likely to have broken as of yesterday, when Congress convened, the nearly two-month deadlock at the Senate, 11-13, in favor of the administration.

Jaworski’s crossover alone would not stabilize administration control over the Senate. However, the pending appointment of Blas Ople as secretary of foreign affairs, and Vicente Sotto III’s already announced appointment to “oversee” the creation of the Dangerous Drugs Board could lead to a more than fair assurance that there will be no immediate challenge either to Franklin Drilon’s leadership nor to the administration’s control of key Senate committees.

Ople’s appointment to the Department of Foreign Affairs will require him to resign from the Senate. On the other hand, the law seems equally applicable to Sotto, despite claims that he won’t have to resign. The resignations of both Ople and Sotto from the Senate–assuming Sotto doesn’t renege on his acceptance of his appointment as overseer of the Dangerous Drugs Board–will mean that the administration bloc will end up in control of 13 votes versus the opposition’s nine. Whatever these two worthies may say about staying with the opposition while serving the administration in an appointive capacity, their appointment will have the same result as if, like Jaworski, they had crossed over.

With Jaworski’s crossover and Ople and Sotto’s withdrawal from the Senate, the Senate opposition is less solid than its de facto head, Sen. Edgardo Angara, said only last Saturday.

Angara had made much of the pledge of Jaworski that he would stay with the opposition, as Angara had earlier affirmed Ople and Sotto’s continuing allegiance. Opposition ranks, he said Saturday, were “as solid as a rock.”

If that had seemed even then as so much wishful thinking, no one can blame Angara for putting on the bravest front possible, and quite possibly hoping that his upbeat statements about the state of the Senate opposition would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Angara, however, could not help lamenting on Saturday President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s “inducements” to his fellow senators, which he said constituted attempts “to destroy the minority.” As a result, he said, the Senate was “now mute with the administration senators having taken over.”

Those statements sound like statements of resignation. Indeed the Senate opposition is likely to end up in a worse state than before its takeover of the Senate committees as May ended, with its numbers diminished, and with the administration bloc firmly in control.

It is easy to attribute what has befallen the administration to individual failings. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. was saying last week that Jaworski would not cross over, because he had “given his word as a man,” which would imply that he is being less than one through his defection, although speculations were rife that he would bolt the opposition because of his financial difficulties, which supposedly include loans from the Government Service Insurance System. On the other hand, much has been made of Sotto’s limited reasons for accepting the Arroyo appointment, including his supposedly eyeing the vice-presidency for 2004. And then there’s Ople, the fulfillment of whose ambition for the post of secretary of foreign affairs does not preclude abandoning the opposition.

With equal vehemence can one condemn Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for her unprecedented efforts to persuade whoever can be won over to the administration side. The personal is of course also political, and personal characteristics do shape one’s responses as well as one’s initiative in resolving political issues.

In the Philippines, however, the personal ambitions and quirks and flaws of individual personalities tend to become the only factor that determines the political agendas of the political parties, as well as their leadership’s approach to resolving political conflict.

No issues of programs and platforms tempered the political confrontations in the Senate between the opposition and the administration, which began in 2001. During the long-running hearings on the supposed involvement of Sen. Panfilo Lacson in the drug trade, money laundering and other high crimes, for example, it wasn’t the politicians but AFP intelligence chief Victor Corpus who provided the perspective for it through his warning that a narco-state was in danger of emerging in the Philippines. The administration politicians evidently lacked this perspective, and seemed driven only by the need to demolish a potential Arroyo rival in 2004.

The opposition was not any better, itself driven by transparent efforts to discredit the Arroyo administration not because of any differences with it on issues of policy, but because of its leading members’ personal animosities, and their desire to return to power, period. This much was evident in the opposition’s effort to turn certain committee hearings into anti-Arroyo sessions and not much else, despite those hearings’ supposed necessity in aid of legislation.

More than evident was the opposition’s seizing the littlest opportunity to take Mrs. Arroyo, her family and her government to task–and later, its failure to subject to any criticism her government’s total commitment to the US “war on terrorism,” its subsequent involvement of US troops in the anti-Abu Sayyaf campaign, and its apparent commitment to some kind of long-term US military presence in the Philippines.

The Arroyo government policy on US troop involvement was in fact the single most important issue of national significance about which the opposition could have demonstrated what exactly makes it different from the administration. Instead, however, the opposition demonstrated its ideological unity with the administration by approving those initiatives through its deafening silence as well as some of its members’ explicit approval.

To expect otherwise, however, would have been to expect ideological differences between Philippine political groups where there are none. Indeed the absence of those differences has been noted before, and has become part of conventional political wisdom. It has been blamed for the personalistic focus of Philippine elections, which are usually decided on the basis of popularity as well as singing and dancing ability.

The ideological unity of administration and opposition groups, however, also means there is nothing else to guide either decision-making or their positions on current issues except their political agendas as these have been shaped by personal ambitions.

It is significant that one of the first things Ople said to justify his acceptance of the foreign office post was his ideological affinity with Arroyo, as evidenced by their having cosponsored the Senate’s approval of the GATT Uruguay Round and their having campaigned for the Visiting Forces Agreement.

Given that ideological affinity, what separates them other than the formality of one’s being designated “administration” and the other as “opposition”? On the other hand, no one knows exactly what Jaworski and Sotto stand for.

“Administration” and “opposition” are, in this country, tags easily discarded and taken up by politicians as their personal interests dictate, as indeed Ople, Jaworski and Sotto are doing in one more demonstration of the ideological homogeneity of the political groups in this country.


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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