I ran out of space in today’s column to discuss other developments I see taking place within the ranks of the political opposition. Here are three more “disturbances.”
Unnecessary. In paying tribute to Aquino’s leadership in the pushback against Chinese expansionism, retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio unnecessarily roiled the waters with his unfortunately one-sided account of what he said was “bitter” divisions between Aquino’s advisers on the matter of the case filed against China—something that former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay demolished with a detailed deposition in all but name. (I was moved to write somewhat tangentially about this controversy because I had the utmost respect for all the principal figures involved, in “While there is peace, there can be no traitors,” 8/26/2014.) Once a candidate for the Senate under the political opposition, Hilbay’s response has sharpened the unease some in the opposition share about the 1Sambayan initiative, which Carpio heads. (Retired SC Justice Francis Jardeleza’s commentary in today’s Inquirer promises a reckoning with “pretenders.”)
Absurd. For some reason, an opposition influencer like Philip Lustre has come out swinging against Vice President Robredo, calling her spineless and describing her and Liberal Party president Kiko Pangilinan as opportunistic. His reasoning is absurd, not only because the opposition leader he favors, Sonny Trillanes, belongs to another party but also because the very leaders he calls on to bring Robredo and Pangilinan in line, such as Frank Drilon, have in fact also reached out to other potential anti-Duterte allies. It’s called pitching a big tent. But Lustre, whom I know and respect, thinks essentially in black and white, and while that is a strength in resistance, that is a weakness in alliance-building and campaigning. In Twitter and Tear Gas, Zeynep Tufekci found that online movements end up privileging “informal but persistent spokespersons—with large followings on social media,” resulting in a “conflict-ridden, drawn-out struggle” for agenda-setting and leadership. I understand Lustre’s broadside as an example, and an omen.
Old. I relied on Tufekci’s insights when I had the chance to speak at the first lawfare summit convened by the office of Sen. Leila de Lima in February 2020; I focused on her findings regarding capacity-building by social movements. Instead of emphasizing narrative, disruptive, and electoral capacities, however, perhaps I should have directed attention to her related findings on “tactical freeze”—which she defined as “the inability of these movements to adjust tactics, negotiate demands, and push for tangible policy changes” after initial success, a consequence of the essentially leaderless nature of online social movements and the strength-and-weakness of “dealing with issues only as they come up, and by people who show up.” The events of the last 10 days or so seem to me to have proven that, after the rediscovery of Noynoy Aquino’s true legacy, many in the opposition have fallen back on old, familiar methods: engaging yet again in purity politics, diluting the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea issue, rushing headlong into the “distraction” trap.
I do sense that the campaign to draft Leni Robredo is gathering momentum, but these disturbances leave me worried about 2022, and whether we can finally arrest democratic erosion.