With many congressmen and senators rushing to jump into the “super coalition majority,” the essence of an opposition minority party is fast making an independent House an extinct institution. The rush to join the party of incoming President Rodrigo Duterte has been so shameless it smacks of convenience and opportunism to partake of the presidential pork barrel. Watch and note members of both House and Senate who have flown to Davao like devotees of Duterte since the mayor won by a landslide in last month’s presidential polls. One of them is an aspirant to be House Minority Leader.
Money has been tight for the politicians since the Priority Development Assistance Fund spout was turned off after the arrest and detention of pork barrel scam queen Janet Lim Napoles and the Supreme Court struck down the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as illegal. These funds were diverted to the Office of the President. Because President Aquino had the discretion to dispense billions of funds only to Palace allies, it also serves as leverage used to the max to make even non-LP legislators toe the line for Malacañang-initiated measures. Congressmen have to beg the President for funds for projects in their districts and benefits for their constituents. And of course, for getting reelected and staying in power to perpetuate their political dynasties. Thus, the flow of turncoats traffic joining Duterte’s bandwagon has been heavier than the volume of vehicles on Edsa.This is the new normal—political butterflies crossing over to the party in power—dealing a death knell to the two-party system.
It is in this surreal setting that a true opposition party and a credible minority floor leader are sorely needed. A working democracy needs an opposition whose role is not to be an obstructionist but to scrutinize bills the Duterte administration would certify as priority measures. Palace-proposed measures must be reviewed and studied lest the overwhelming majority ram and railroad even onerous measures that serve vested interests.
One of those being looked at as a credible opposition leader is Buhay Party-List Rep. Lito Atienza. A three-term Manila mayor, former Environment and Natural Resources secretary and a member of the National Assembly during the martial law years, Atienza is a true-blue member of the Liberal Party founded by his uncle Herminigildo Atienza, a well-known figure in Manila politics. Lito Atienza has remained loyal to the LP even when it was tempting to switch sides to enjoy the perks of power. He was marginalized by the LP infighting manipulated by Senate President Franklin Drilon. Atienza is, in fact, one of the few remaining survivors of the deadly Liberal Party miting de avance bombing in Plaza Miranda on August 21, 1971. The bombing killed nine people and injured many others, including prominent LP leaders like Senator Jovito Salonga, and former Manila Mayor Ramon Bagatsing.
This early, Atienza, instead of pandering to Duterte, is opposing the incoming president’s plan to return the death penalty as a deterrence against rising criminality.
“Returning capital punishment will not solve the problem. It will only fan more violence,” said Atienza, a staunch pro-life advocate who also opposed the Reproductive Health Law initiated by Aquino. At the closing day of the 16th Congress, Atienza still fought to override President BS Aquino’s veto of the proposed P2,000 increase in the monthly Social Security System pension of retired workers. He was, however, drowned out by a viva voce vote despite his motion for a roll call to get the true sentiment of the House. This latest House episode could be a portent of things to come under the “supermajority” in the House and Senate formed under Duterte. Those who sucked up to PNoy are now doing the same to Digong to get chairmanships of choice committees and a slice of the president’s pork.
We have a new president elected by an overwhelming majority of voters. Call me an incurable cynic but I doubt much will change. It will still be patronage politics as usual. The people have seen it all—from Erap’s “walang kaibigan, walang kamag-anak” to PNoy’s “daang matuwid.” While there’s a new president who promises change, the deck of cards is stacked against the people. The players are still the same.