Star fruit season
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - May 25, 2016 - 12:00am

With the conclusion of another general election, star fruit season is again upon us.

As everyone expected, the Liberal Party (LP)-led ruling coalition began hemorrhaging as soon as the victory of Rodrigo Duterte in the presidential race became indisputable.

Overnight, Duterte’s tiny Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan or PDP-Laban has found itself leading the new ruling coalition. We’ve seen it before in the case of the Lakas-NUCD after its standard bearer Jose de Venecia Jr. was clobbered by Joseph Estrada in 1998, although Lakas quickly enjoyed a renaissance after Erap was replaced by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. We saw it again when Lakas standard bearer Gilbert Teodoro, hobbled by GMA’s kiss of death, was trounced by the LP’s Noynoy Aquino in 2010.

The turncoatism has become so brazen that bills have been filed to stop or at least regulate it, as part of efforts to reform the political party system.

Like legislative proposals on campaign finance, epal and political dynasties, however, or anything that threatens the power and perks of lawmakers, measures to curb turncoatism have gone nowhere in Congress.

Today we’re again seeing the season of the star fruit – the many-sided carambola or balimbing. Perhaps the unsavory political association has prevented Filipinos from making full use of the sour fruit, which is extensively used in several other Asian countries for salads and other food preparations.

* * *

Emilio Ramon “E.R.” Ejercito, rejected in his bid for a fresh term as Laguna governor, gave the most memorably contemptible explanation for turncoatism. Originally a supporter of Vice President Jejomar Binay, ER went on a pilgrimage to Duterte in Davao, reportedly in hopes of bagging a job involving tourism. ER was quoted as saying that his loyalty to the party ends where loyalty to the country begins.

(OK, go ahead and throw up.)

Happily for this nation of ingrates with no appreciation for such great personal sacrifices, the Commission on Elections kicked Ejercito out of the governor’s office for overspending in the 2013 campaign. Of course his famous uncle, reelected Manila Mayor Erap, also has a valid observation that only ER got kicked out for that offense, but that’s another story.

Manila itself is keeping in season. As survey preferences shifted, Erap kept everyone guessing on whether he would back Binay or his goddaughter Grace Poe. Erap finally endorsed Poe as her ratings soared. His wife Loi reportedly backed Binay. Erap’s partner Guia Gomez and their son Sen. JV Ejercito backed the LP’s Mar Roxas.

In the past days, a large streamer has been unfurled and prominently displayed at the pedestrian overpass on Roxas Boulevard near the US embassy. The streamer congratulates who else but Duterte for his victory.

The buzz from the Erap camp is that his son by Loi, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, backed Duterte but could not openly express support because he remains in detention.

Critics have likened certain chronic political butterflies in previous elections to sex workers. But in the absence of a law banning turncoats, the nasty comparison has done nothing to curb the party-hopping.

An LP member sighed that turncoatism is just part of realpolitik in this country – a matter of survival for politicians who need administration support to effectively serve their constituents (and of course themselves).

The best that party leaders can expect is to be given a heads up that they are about to be stabbed in the back, with the warning personally delivered by each turncoat.

I remember Joe de V when he was the House speaker walking around wearing a woven bracelet – an amulet, he told us, to protect his back. It didn’t work.

* * *

Flitting from one party to another is so easy because political parties in this country have no specific, differing positions on raging issues.

Voters see this weakness and elect candidates based on personalities rather than along party lines. This is the reason why we keep electing presidents and vice presidents from rival parties.

Divergent views are expressed by individual candidates and not as a party stand. We saw those divergent opinions during the debates for president and vice president, but the candidates were not expressing party positions that members must support.

Otherwise, how can you explain the continuing exodus of LP members, for example, to the coalition of an incoming president whose ideas about human rights, law enforcement, the Marcoses and several other issues are widely divergent from those of President Aquino?

In countries with a strong party system, a party that wins the presidency but loses the legislature to rival parties is forced to form a coalition government, with the strong opposition providing the checks and balances that are crucial in a healthy democracy.

In our country, a party that is trounced in an election is simply dissolved, with the members joining whichever group is in power. Or else the losing party coalesces with the winners.

At the start of any administration, the opposition is always weak. It becomes stronger only when Malacañang fails to provide the expected political largesse to original supporters and turncoats alike, or when the administration slips and public opinion turns against it.

Duterte can revel in his landslide victory – the largest winning margin ever in Philippine presidential races. But it’s good to bear in mind that Erap also won the presidency by a landslide – and he didn’t finish even the first half of his term.

We can probably consider this an upside of the balimbing culture: the turncoatism also means political support is built on sand. It shifts with public opinion and can be eroded overnight in case the president is seen to betray public trust.

IMELDA
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