What third force?

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

IF we are to go by the almost insane media attention being devoted to the ongoing political version of the game musical chairs among our senator-wannabes, one would think that the only elective posts at stake in the May 2007 elections are those for senators. That’s all we’ve been reading and hearing about in the last few weeks.

I don’t blame media, though, particularly those that have thrived on blowing up political scandals and intrigues into national crises. The relative calm on the political front in the last few weeks has yielded very slim pickings for screaming front-page material. Why, some even tried, although unsuccessfully, to put a spin to the alleged booing that the President supposedly got at a weekend concert, which did not really happen after all. On the other hand, the mad scramble to finalize the Senate slates of both the opposition and the administration has been one replete with all the juicy stuff that has made Boy Abunda and Cristy Fermin household names. There are the convoluted twists and turns, the continuing stories of treachery and betrayal, the lame attempts at comedy. At the rate we are going, soap operas will soon become unnecessary.

After all that huffing and puffing, the opposition finally announced the first installment of its magic 12: Nine names whose only commonality seems to be the fact that they are all anti-Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (or at least as of this writing; this can change in the next few days given that in politics, there are no permanent enemies). It is interesting, though, that the opposition has not made any attempt to hide and has in fact made a big to do with the fact that its senatorial lineup is personally being handpicked by former President Joseph Estrada.

Is it far-fetched to assume that loyalty to Estrada is a major consideration for one to become part of the opposition ticket? Most of the names in that ticket are already known Estrada loyalists (Tito Sotto, John Osmeña, Francis Escudero, Ping Lacson, JV Ejercito) and some possibly recent converts (Loren Legarda, Koko Pimentel, Peter Cayetano).

The other names being bandied about are supposedly “independent-minded”(i.e., they haven’t made up their minds yet), the likes of Senators Franklin Drilon, Manny Villar, Francis Pangilinan, as well as Benigno Aquino. These people used to be anti-Estrada. I wonder what medication they are taking to quell the tsunamis building in their stomachs.

But such is the nature of politics in our country. I have said this before and I will say it again. In our country, political parties are nothing more than mere launching pads for political careers. Political coalitions are really nothing more than loose groupings of the disgruntled, the outcasts, and the turncoats. Ideologies, principles, philosophies—all these have nothing to do with political parties in this country; or for that matter, with Philippine elections.
Of course, there is this attempt to forge a so-called third force.

Under a mature democracy, a third alternative is definitely a good idea. But let’s do a quick reality check once again: The May elections are not just about the Senate and any third force needs to have effective machinery that has presence nationwide and impact on the grassroots level. And in a setup where votes can be bought, where political dynasties and patronage are a shameful reality for which politicians do not even bother making even half-hearted apologies for, a third force can be likened to the futile efforts of Don Quixote battling the windmills.

This is not to say of course that the idea is doomed or that it should not be pursued. But it will be difficult given the current capabilities and financial largesse of both the administration and the opposition (which unfortunately may have come from the same sources anyway), but it can be done. That is if such a third force is grounded on a more concrete and more laudable platform.

By connotation, any reference to a “third force” today would mean being an alternative to both Arroyo and Estrada. Necessarily, any candidate who champions the movement needs to dissociate himself or herself from either camps and needs to go on record as being critical of both camps as well. What is the point of being a “third force” if it cannot be distinguished from the first and second forces anyway? So, the expectation is that the third force being bandied about is a breakaway faction that shuns both Arroyo and Estrada.

I believe there is a sizable percentage of Filipinos who are disenchanted with both GMA and Erap and would welcome the formation of such a third force. It should have a following. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that we are assuming that an anti-GMA and anti-Erap platform is the whole essence of this so-called third force. The emergence of Sonia Roco’s name as a possible convenor of this third force was taken as a strong indication in this direction. But then again, Senator Villar recently floated the idea that the third force would include Senator Loi Ejercito (Estrada’s legal wife) and other Estrada and Arroyo supporters. And to complicate things even further, the guy who fancies himself as the all-around broker and mediator in this country, presidential chief-of-staff Michael Defensor, recently floated the idea of a third force being a “unification ticket.”

So who knows what the third force is really about especially since no one has come forward to actually claim leadership of this force? The scuttlebutt is that it’s all speculative at this point, a trial balloon so to speak. I think we’re being generous with our critique. I think that this third force idea is really a fallback option for those who for one reason or another, will not make the cut of either the opposition’s or the administration’s respective tickets. Being excluded is a real possibility since there are only 12 slots in each ticket and the number of interested people exceeds that number.

When push comes to shove and some people find themselves out in the lurch, expect these people to go to town claiming ownership of the idea and declaring the wisdom and brilliance of the third force. But until then, I don’t expect anyone to come forward to claim leadership for practical reasons: They don’t want to kill their chances of still being included in the opposition or administration lineup just yet.

It’s all about getting elected.


Anonymous said…
You are right Bong, what 3rd force? More like a group of Erap discards or Erap unsures. All of them so shameless in their reasons for running, the people/country farthest in their minds. If these are the choices, I feel like doing the boycott. An old prof of mine who is now a teaching colleague said it right: the lineup being floated, if they win, will make the composition in the Senate a brother-sister, husband-wife-former husband, mother-son-stepson, father-son etc. circus. And they are hindi nahihiya about it ha! It is nauseating.
Anonymous said…
It's all for the money, that they care whether they are from admin, opposition and third force. Who cares about them.
We seldom have this kind of people in government service and I pray that they multiply. So lets support them for the good of the Pilipinos. Let us support the last force in our motherland. Support this blog because it deserve support from every decent Pilipinos wanting a change for the better.

excerpts FROM THE STANDS By Domini M. Torrevillas
The Philippine Star 01/25/2007

In two-and-a-half years, Grace showed that a governor can be incorruptible, and genuinely work for her constituents. Every Wednesday the capitol is open to the public for an ugnayan, where she listens to hundreds of people talk about their problems. She refuses "to be sidetracked by temptations to do big time projects where the primary consideration is how much kickback we can get." She has gone as far as allocating money from the provincial coffers to add to the NFA buying price P2 for every kilo of corn, and P1 for every kilo of rice "just to be able to influence the market to allow for better prices for our farmers. Our farmers have a long way to go before they can be freed from the bondage of their long years of being indebted to the financiers of their farm activities." She said she inherited almost a billion peso debt from the past administration, "but I did not have any second thought about using whatever little money we have to prioritize support for our lowly farmers."

Contractors and businessmen could not believe that the governor would not ask for a single centavo with regard to transactions, nor not derail the proper conduct of the proceedings of the bids and awards committee. Those guys, she said, know better now than to try to grease Governor Grace or use a padrino to get to her "because the more they do the more she will ignore them." She said people could not believe that she would not be interested in receiving the P2 milion a month jueteng money allocated supposedly for her. She told the bankers (headed by BAIPhil president Grace G. dela Cruz; by the way the one who invited me to the lunch is my good friend Sally P. Magat, EVP, Development Bank of the Philippines). "If all of us, women and men, just go on doing even just our little share in fighting what is wrong in society, then the battle is half won."

Grace’s struggle for life began when she contracted polio at age three. She was one of six children of schoolteachers. Because of her disability, she studied hard, graduating from elementary and high school at the top of her class, and getting her college degree at Lyceum of the Philippines magna cum laude. She also wanted to someday work where she could be heard but not seen — which was exactly what radio broadcasting did for her. On the radio, she was critical yet fair, and took up the causes of the poor and underserved.

Grace is running again – but will have to decide yet whether for governor or congresswoman.

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