LP: Party to beat in 2016

Notwithstanding the perceived lack of party politics in the country, the fact is the LP and its coalition partners, notably the Nacionalista Party (NP), Akbayan, Magdalo, and other lesser parties, have relegated its political opponents to the fringes, strengthening its hold to political power.

It is the coalition in power; it has reached a point that whoever it would field in 2016 would have the distinct political advantage. It has reached a point that the hand, which President Benigno Aquino III would raise this year as his endorsed presidential candidate, enjoys political goodwill in 2016.

Their ruthless display of party politics could prompt their marginalized opponents to unify and gravitate into a new coalition, but this is not about to happen because the situation has become abnormal for them. They are either sick or in detention as a result of the plunder charges arising from their alleged acts of corruption. Hence, they lack credibility. Others suffer from old age and weakened faculties.

The 2016 presidential elections would be defined by the political dynamics of the ruling coalition. A lot would depend on how the key leaders of LP and its coalition partners handle the selection process of its presidential candidate. The President and Senate President Franklin Drilon, the country’s third highest political leader, would have their say in the political process.

Right now, the selection process revolves on Local Government and Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas, whose grandfather was one of the 3 LP founders in 1945, and Senator Grace Poe, an independent and party outsider who has shown considerable strength as the potential presidential timber. The selection process is mainly the political dynamics that would define the post-2016 Philippines. 

Weakened opposition

Those political leaders in the fringes are weak and almost inconsequential to influence the course of political developments. They are noisy to get public notice. But what they could create are noises of little consequence. 

Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her political acolyte, Senator Bong Revilla, are both in jail, weakening the nominal oppositionist Lakas-NUCD, which they lead as titular head and party president, respectively. They hardly influence political developments, as they have been reduced to a pair of complaining prison inmates. Former president Fidel Ramos, Lakas-NUCD founding chair, is a non-factor. Its other leaders like Quezon Representative Danilo Suarez are hardly taken seriously.

Leaders of the United Nationalist Alliance, which has been posturing as the mainstream opposition, have similar fate. Senator Juan Ponce Enrile is in jail. Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada has been weakened by old age, while his son, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, is also in jail. Enrile, Jinggoy, and Revilla are among the lawmakers allegedly involved in the multi-billion peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) anomaly. They are facing plunder charges.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, their UNA partner, has been considerably weakened by the spate of accusations and exposes about his corrupt ways as mayor of Makati City, the country’s premier business center. He has been reduced to the defensive, as he could hardly defend himself from those corruption charges. The Anti-Money Laundering Council has frozen 242 banks reportedly belonging to him and his allies, virtually closing the financial faucet for his presidential run.

Binay is having what could be regarded as his political free fall; his popularity is perceived to plummet the moment other presidential candidates officially join the fray. He has no anticorruption agenda, making him the odd man out in the presidential race. He is not seen as a man of integrity. Netizens look at him as a proverbial laughing stock, who has no idea how low he has sunk before the people. 

Ruling coalition

The Liberal Party, which heads the ruling coalition, is a success story in recovering its old glory and restoring its place in the country’s political history. It has produced 4 presidents – Manuel Roxas, Elpidio Quirino, Diosdado Macapagal, and Benigno Aquino III. Dictator Ferdinand Marcos was originally an LP member, but he switched to NP to run as its presidential candidate in 1965.

The LP was originally the liberal wing of the Nacionalista Party, but the triumvirate of Roxas, Quirino, and Jose Avelino decided to convert it into a political party to support the initiatives of the US colonial rulers, including the enactment of the Bell Trade Act and the Military Bases Agreement. It alternated in power with the NP in the postwar period, until Marcos virtually killed all political parties, when he imposed his dictatorship in 1972. 

Although weakened by the exodus of its party leaders to the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, the political vehicle of the Marcos dictatorship, the LP was among the political parties that fought martial rule. Its key leaders – Benigno Aquino Jr, Gerardo Roxas, and Jovito Salonga – fought Marcos and advocated a return to democracy, which happened after the people kicked the Marcoses out of Malacañang in the 1986 People Power Revolution.

The LP, under Salonga’s leadership, found its place in the post-Marcos era, but it was not a steady ascent to power. It attracted the likes of Joseph Estrada, Orlando Mercado, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, among others, only to lose them later due to strict party rules, which Salonga and other party stalwarts imposed. It was when the younger guys like Drilon, Roxas, and Noynoy Aquino that saw the LP rising to its full potential.

In 2010, LPs candidate Noynoy Aquino won the presidency over Estrada, Manny Villar, the NP-backed candidate, and Gilbert Teodoro, the Lakas-NUCD candidate. Afterwards, LP has entered into a coalition with other political parties, including NP, Magdalo, Akbayan, Nationalist People’s Alliance (NPC), PDP-Laban (Pimentel wing), among others, to generate political support and strengthen its hold to political power.

The ruling coalition has been holding on to power as indicated by its political cohesion and support of coalition partners for the Aquino administration. The perceived non-involvement of its key leaders in any corrupt activity is another factor for its staying power. 

The political imperative is to keep intact the ruling coalition in preparation for 2016. At the rate UNA and other minor opposition parties have been destroying themselves due to corruption-related exposés and scandals, the ruling coalition has shown political resilience to maintain its hold on power beyond 2016.

Internal dynamics 

Despite the disarray of whatever is left of the political opposition, the LP-led ruling coalition is resting on its laurels. Yet the political parties composing the ruling coalition, specifically the Liberal Party, do have their own internal dynamics in the selection of their presidential standard-bearer in 2016.

As indicated by press reports, the choice is between Mar Roxas, the presumptive LP presidential bet, and Poe, the political newcomer who has shown a strong performance in recent opinion polls. Majority of LP leaders were said to have been supportive of Roxas, whose party loyalty is beyond doubt since his grandfather and father nurtured it to become a major political party in the country.

But certain quarters in the LP and the other parties have gravitated towards Poe, believing that she has a better chance of beating Binay. Moreover, Poe is perceived to be beyond party politics, as she could be the rallying point of other political entities in the country.

How party leaders would handle the situation could be an act of brinkmanship. A Roxas-Poe, or Poe-Roxas, ticket could end all political infighting and bickering, enabling the coalition partners to focus their energy to political victory in 2016.

President Aquino seems to hold his cards close to his political chest, but he has indicated he would endorse his presidential candidate on July 28, when he delivers his last State of the Nation Address (SONA). Roxas has also indicated he would make an announcement of his presidential run sometime in July, or before the President makes his endorsement. 

Roxas vs Poe

Mar Roxas, whose name has not been dragged into any serious allegations of corruption, has yet to boast of a strong showing in the opinion polls. Unlike the front-running Poe, Roxas is the typical stayer, who languishes in the list of presidential bets. He is expected to generate political steam the moment he announces his presidential run.

Some “political analysts” of dubious credentials say that Binay would likely beat Roxas in 2016 since Binay already defeated him in 2010. But it has been argued that Roxas would face a different Binay – or a corruption-tainted Binay – the moment they square off again in 2016. Besides, the administration bet has built-in advantage as state resources could be used to prop up his candidacy.

Her supporters in the ruling coalition claim that Poe could easily beat Binay because she is at the height of her popularity. Moreover, the series of political booboos committed by Binay’s inexperienced lieutenants could have boosted her presidential run. But Poe does not belong to any political party; she is an independent newcomer viewed with distrust by key party leaders. Besides, she has no resources or political machinery, although certain leaders in the business community are said to have committed their support for her.

At this point, some political imponderables will be floated the moment the ruling coalition fails to resolve the issue of its presidential candidate. The myriad of opposition groups and parties, including UNA, could adopt Poe as their candidate. This possibility could generate steam the moment Binay’s political free fall becomes a foregone conclusion. Poe appears to be a perfect alternative.

Or the ruling coalition could just collapse, as the LP-led group supports Roxas, while the minority group goes for Poe. This is a political scenario that does not sit well with the coalition leaders, particularly the President and Drilon. This was the point when the President quietly met Poe in Malacañang.

In brief, what looms is a Roxas vs Poe in 2016, while the likes of Binay, Bongbong Marcos, Duterte could provide the side show.

The big question is whether Poe is prepared to go for broke at the early part of her political career. Poe has indicated she was not prepared to be the country’s version of Barack Obama, who ran for president despite a measly two-year experience as senator.

Many things could happen between now and the day the ruling coalition selects its standard-bearer. At this point, its candidate already enjoys the distinct advantage to get the people’s nod in 2016. It is a different story when a candidate runs under the banner of the ruling coalition. History is on its side. – Rappler.com


Philip M. Lustre Jr is a veteran journalist with more than 3 decades of experience writing on economic and political affairs. Email him at ba.ipe.lustre@gmail.com