Following the “burning” of Philippine “senator” Antonio Trillanes IV on live TV in the BBC talk show HARDtalk, attention now turns to a beleaguered Opposition faced with the hard question: What now? Trillanes, after all, had been one of if not the most aggressive of the Philippine Opposition’s attack dogs. Now reduced to a national laughingstock, Trillanes threatens to pull a huge chunk of the Opposition’s brand equity down with him.
To be fair, long before Trillanes’s televised meltdown, the Philippine opposition had already been suffering from a crisis of leadership. By default, they had latched onto “vice president” Leni Robredo who, along with Mar Roxas led the Liberal Party camp in the last national elections held in 2016. Since assuming office, Robredo had opposed Duterte’s administration at every step much to the glee of members of her camp, many of whom, like Trillanes, couldn’t wait for Duterte to be ousted from the presidency.
Robredo, for her part, represents the Liberal Party which is most associated to the “Yellow” faction of the opposition — the clique that claims sole ownership over the narrative surrounding the 1986 “people power revolution”. This “revolution” was really a coup attempt by then General Fidel Ramos and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile that would have failed had it not been rescued by a massive outpouring of civilian support on Manila’s streets.
This tradition of coup d’etat is what binds Trillanes and Robredo’s Yellow camp. For his part, Trillanes has quite the track record of mutiny behind him having led two major coup attempts against then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the 2000s. But the commonality ends there. Whereas the Yellow Camp’s mutiny succeeded in toppling a government and was subsequently branded a “revolution”, Trillanes’s adventurism fizzled after no more than a handful of giddy “activist” journalists came to his support. Indeed, during his HARDtalk interview, host Stephen Sackur described the two attempts at rebellion as rather “pathetic”.
Both Robredo and Trillanes clearly come from a political school of thought that ingrains a perverse sense of entitlement to, shall we say, habitually expeditious methods of opposing an incumbent administration — not just opposing but aiming to implement extra-judicial steps to prematurely end an incumbent’s rule. Unfortunately for Duterte’s enemies, both Robredo and Trillanes have turned out to be hopelessly inept statesmen and not up to the formidable task of leading a fragmented Opposition against a massively-popular incumbent. Robredo has so far demonstrated an inability to string together a full English sentence, finding comfort instead in a giddy pedestrian-flavoured “Taglish” vernacular that appeals to the colegiala teeny-bopping sensibilities of her audience. And Trillanes? Well, we’ve recently seen what he’s like in a conversation with a real journalist.
It’s no wonder the Philippine Opposition is the humungous national embarrassment that it is. To be fair, the quality of a democracy can be judged by the character of its Opposition. An intelligent and competent opposition after all is what molds the quality of the national debate itself. Seeing how things are panning out today around the Philippines’ moribund Opposition, one ought to be worried about the health of Philippine democracy.
[Photo courtesy ABS-CBN News.]
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