Liberal Party

‘Not yet rock-bottom’: Lagman remains optimistic about Liberal Party’s future

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‘Not yet rock-bottom’: Lagman remains optimistic about Liberal Party’s future

NEW OFFICERS. CHANGING OF THE GUARD. The new Liberal Party officers take their oath on September 30, 2022.

Dwight de Leon/Rappler

As the newly-elected president of the once-ruling Liberal Party, Edcel Lagman discusses the defeat in the national elections and the current prospects of the party

MANILA, Philippines – Faced with the consecutive electoral defeats in 2019 and 2022 and an overwhelming majority coalition, Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman remains optimistic about the Liberal Party’s (LP) prospects. He took the helm of the party last September 30.

He sees the LP presidency as a challenge to elevate the party to social and electoral relevance. “One which has an illustrious past deserves an illustrious present and an illustrious future,” Lagman told John Nery in an episode of In The Public Square that aired on October 18. “And we will exert all efforts that the legacy of the party and the works of their principal leaders, past and present, will not go to naught. We are going to prevail and we are going to be relevant once again,: he continued.

‘Not yet rock-bottom’: Lagman remains optimistic about Liberal Party’s future

What are the factors that hinder LP’s attempts at electoral relevance?

Electoral rock bottom: the role of disinformation, and political powerhouses

Disinformation played a big role during the campaign period for the 2022 election. Former vice president Leni Robredo, who ran as an independent presidential candidate, had been a target of misinformation even in the years leading up to the election. Lagman, like Robredo, believes the main reason for the electoral defeats is disinformation. 

“Six years of disinformation against Leni Robredo cannot be offset by a six-month campaign,” he said. Lagman suggested media literacy as a possible solution to the plague of disinformation, citing successes in Sweden.

Another key factor according to Lagman was the influence that political powerhouses held over the electorate. Their support for then presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. paved the way for his landslide win in 2022. “In this country where people still [lack] education on the choice of candidates, there is that tendency that the electorate would follow the command of their political leaders,” Lagman said. “The command votes, plus the disinformation, spelled the difference.”

When asked if the party reached its electoral rock bottom in 2022, he said, “Not really rock bottom.” He asserted that despite losing in the national elections, LP has “a number of incumbents” in the local elections. “So there is a good prospect of strengthening the party. We will have to campaign for more membership based on voluntarism across the grassroots and youth leaders in the barangay and in schools and in university campuses, as well as in the national scene. And also we will have to accept alliances or forge alliances with kindred spirits in the political spectrum,” Lagman added.

Lessons learned

Asked about what they have learned from their only ally to win a senatorial seat, Risa Hontiveros of the Akbayan Party, Lagman identified four main lessons:

  • They have to start early.
  • They have to strengthen their grassroots anchorage. 
  • They have to have the young blood infused into the party. The youth is a potent partner in an electoral campaign.
  • They have to ally with kindred spirits, with parties and politicians with the same ideals and prospective tendencies which would ally themselves with the ideals of the party. 

Parties in the Philippines are formed based on personality, not ideology due to a lack of political maturity, Lagman noted. What is LP’s posturing regarding this flippant majority?

Principled criticism and opposition

Lagman said that with regard to the majority coalition, LP has adopted a stance of principled criticism and opposition. “When there is a need to collaborate because the policies are consistent with the people’s interests, particularly [the] marginalized or the disadvantaged, we are not going to detach ourselves from having a collaboration. However, if we feel that the political initiatives of the majority coalition is detrimental to the people’s interest or in derogation of the constitution, then we will be forced to be critical and tell the people what is happening, and there is this importuning of the majority coalition which the people must know,” Lagman explained. 

Lagman and his family were victims of human rights violations during Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s regime. His brother Hermon Lagman, a human rights lawyer and labor leader, was forcibly disappeared during Martial Law. But he holds out hope. “If we are not optimistic for room for reconciliation then we will be facing a blank wall,” he said.

However, this forgiveness will have to be earned. “We could not have national unity being called for by the new administration if the present president cannot admit the brutalities and oppression committed by his late father, and to really make amends, and vow that these atrocities will never happen again. If he fails to do that, he will continue to be known as the son of the dictator Marcos,” Lagman maintained. 

Lagman also criticized the lack of budget allocation for the human rights museum, the decimation of the budget for the Commission on Human Rights, and the appointment of its chairman who had no background in human rights advocacy.

Common ground

Lagman banked on “kindred spirits” to join them in ensuring that the revival of an authoritarian and despotic rule will not happen. They are open to work with those who oppose the threats to freedom of expression and academic freedom under the current administration, such as the attempt by the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino to ban books, the killing of broadcaster Percy Lapid, and the scrapping of the proposed merger between ABS-CBN and TV5.

He will continue to advocate for funding the human rights museum. Should it not pass in the lower house, he is confident that an opportunity to secure funding can arise during the bicameral conference committee. “Nothing is forfeited,” he said.

He is also willing to collaborate with the current president on socially liberal policies. The institution of divorce, which Bongbong Marcos appeared to be open to during his campaign, is a “good starting point for a common advocacy,” according to Lagman.

The women leaders of LP

Asked where the women leaders of LP were, Lagman responded, “They are with us. And they are very supportive of our party.” 

Leni Robredo continues to be a part of the party, although she is no longer an officer. She will be a prime advisor for LP. Lagman also renewed calls for Senator De Lima’s release, either through acquittal or by allowing bail. “Whether in captivity or in the vastness of freedom, Leila will always be a part of the party,” he said. 

Moving forward

Lagman sees the 2025 midterm elections as the pilot for 2028. He expects a disenchantment between the two political dynasties currently in power, presumably the Dutertes and the Marcoses. For him, “the main objective for the political opposition or the alliance for political parties is to have a common slate in 2025 so that all forces would go in support of the common slate. You know, a slate of six, eight, or twelve should be formed. And this should be supported by the alliances in the opposition so that our efforts would not be dispersed and our trajectory is clear.” – Pola Regalario/

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