Column: Destabilization? Opposition can’t even unite

“Criticism of the President is not destabilization.” Published on March 14, 2017.

A concerted campaign to destabilize the Duterte presidency exists—but only in the opportunistic minds of political entrepreneurs like Sandra Cam or the anxious imaginations of political virgins like the President’s diehard devotees. I can also include the likes of the smart, articulate political veteran Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, whose fortunes now depend completely on his erstwhile running mate.

They have one thing in common: no real power in the Duterte administration, only access or the promise of access to the inner circle.

We must thus understand the notion or rumor or fake news or insider info they peddle about a supposed plan to unseat President Duterte as designed to burnish their bona fides, to guarantee their continued access, or—in Cayetano’s case—to finally allow them a seat at the grownups’ table.

In contrast, a grownup like Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana can say the following about alleged destabilization plots against the President:

“As far as the military is concerned, there is none,” he said at a forum last week on threat assessment. “Criticism [of] the President is not destabilization. We must accept that there will be criticisms on what we do, whether we do right or good. Meron talagang criticism yan (There will be criticism). Let’s accept that. In fact, we should use that as guidance on how [well] we are doing.”

It is true that criticism of the President has found a new focus, after retired police officer Arturo Lascañas testified a second time to confirm the existence of the so-called Davao Death Squad and to implicate Mr. Duterte. It is true that Lascañas’ testimony corroborates some of the statements of Edgar Matobato, the first person to publicly claim membership in the DDS. It is true that Lascañas has said that as many as four other former members of the DDS might also testify to the President’s involvement in the deadly work of the death squad. And it is true that a small support network of churchmen and political sympathizers is helping Matobato and Lascañas, and might be helping more DDS members ready to surface. But none of this is destabilization; rather, the burden of all those killings in Davao is finally making its weight felt. It was only a matter of time.

The growing outcry against extrajudicial killings today, which found a focus in the murder of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo, is also and only criticism; as Lorenzana reminded us, criticism is not destabilization.

It is true that officers and members of what’s left of the Liberal Party, notably Sen. Leila de Lima, have vigorously condemned the President’s so-called war on drugs and its unconscionably high death toll. It is true that (some) LP leaders are actively campaigning against the reimposition of the death penalty, a legislative measure seen by many as the President’s first priority. And it is also true that the LP and its allies, including Akbayan, will be among those fighting the administration’s push to lower the age of criminal liability, when that push finally comes to shove. But, again, none of this is destabilization; rather, it is only politics, the opposition making its presence felt.

We can expect more movement in the political arena. I agree with political analyst Mon Casiple’s reading, that the issue of the Senate presidency has not been fully resolved yet, despite the ejection of the LP and Akbayan senators from the majority. But it is not the LP that will move against Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III. I also share the common view that the death penalty vote (and the process by which it was forced) exposed real fault lines in the so-called supermajority in the House. But, again, it is not the diminished LP that will move against Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

The truth is, the political opposition—and here I refer specifically to the reform-oriented blocs that got behind the Roxas and Poe candidacies—cannot even get its act together. The supporters are relitigating the 2016 elections on Facebook and Twitter; leaders and political operatives have largely ignored each other since last year. And as far as I can tell, none of their allies is involved in the support network.

If this administration fails or falls, it will be because of its own internal contradictions.

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