Aquino’s ‘guidance’ to LP: ‘It’s time to speak up’

Mara Cepeda
Aquino’s ‘guidance’ to LP: ‘It’s time to speak up’
Former president Benigno Aquino III says he is 'definitely' bothered by Senator Leila de Lima's arrest and the Senate reorganization that affected Liberal Party members

MANILA, Philippines – Former president Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday, February 28, told fellow Liberal Party (LP) members to “speak up” and let their voices be heard on issues that go against party principles.

LP secretary general and Quezon City 6th District Representative Jose Christopher Belmonte said Aquino gave the guidance during the LP caucus in Quezon City on Tuesday, held days after the arrest of Senator Leila de Lima and the Senate reorganization that affected LP members.

“So ang basic guidance niya (So his basic guidance) is it is about time that we speak up. It is about time na marinig uli ang mga boses ng LP and ma-realize din ‘yung good intentions natin para sa bansa (It is about time for people to hear the voice of LP and realize that we have good intentions for the country),” Belmonte said.

He said that while Aquino espouses being “constructive” and “helpful” to the Duterte administration, this cannot be done at the expense of party principles and positions on various issues.

“I’d like to think that ang opinyon ni presidente (the opinion of former president Aquino), we want to be constructive. We wanted to be supportive, we wanted to be helpful pero (but) not up to the point that we’ll give up our party principles and our basic positions and ethics on issues,” said Belmonte.

Aside from Aquino, the caucus was also attended by the LP chairperson, Vice President Leni Robredo, and LP lawmakers. 

Prior to the meeting, LP member De Lima, Duterte’s fiercest critic, was arrested on multiple drug charges. (READ: De Lima’s fate: Karma or political persecution?)

Three days later, LP senators were removed from key committee chairmanships, prompting their shift to the Senate minority bloc. (READ: Will LP bolt House majority? Decision after death penalty vote)

Asked if he was bothered by the recent developments in the Senate, Aquino said he was, but refused to elaborate. 

“Definitely. But we agreed that it is the party president who will articulate the party position,” said the former president. 

‘Democracy includes dissent, criticism’

In an interview with reporters after the caucus, the LP president, Senator Francis Pangilinan, said taking a contrary stand against certain policies of the administration should not be taken as a bid to oust the government.

“Masama bang maging oposisyon? Hindi naman eh. Ibig sabihin ba ‘pag ikaw ay tumututol sa ibang mga patakaran, gusto mo nang pabagsakin ang gobyerno? Hindi rin. Nasa demokrasya tayo,” said Pangilinan. 

(Is it bad to be the opposition? No. Does it mean that when you oppose certain policies, you also want to take down the government? No. We are in a democracy.)

He dismissed as “kalokohan (foolish)” allegations that the LP is “destabilizing” the government and that two people linked to the LP allegedly attempted to bribe high-profile inmates to recant their testimonies against De Lima.  

“Hindi ibig sabihin na ikaw ay pumupuna ay wala ka nang karapatang magsalita – ikaw ay sasampahan ng kaso, ikukulong, etcetera. Hindi. Kasama sa demokrasya ang pagpupuna, ang dissent at ‘yung pagtutol sa mga pinaniniwalaan naming ‘di tamang programa,” added Pangilinan. 

(It doesn’t mean that when you are criticizing, you no longer have the right to speak – that you will face charges, that you will be jailed, etcetera. No. With democracy comes criticism, dissent, and opposing things we believe are not right.) 

Asked if the LP should now be considered the opposition party under Duterte, Pangilinan said: “Well, let us wait for it. ‘Wag nating pangunahan (Let’s not get ahead of ourselves).”

In recent days, LP members led by Robredo have become noticeably more vocal in criticizing the Duterte administration.

On the eve of the 31st anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution, the Vice President challenged President Rodrigo Duterte to use his leadership to “wage the war that truly matters” and “stop the lies” that distort the truth. (READ: The essence of EDSA: Change is within us) – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.