FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Some people are lamenting the end of Uniteam, the majority coalition that produced an immense landslide in the last election. The breakup follows the natural course of things.

At the House of Representatives, the center of gravity of our politics at the moment, the air is heavy with intrigue. Purges and shifting party-affiliations seem to be the preoccupation – well over a year before the next electoral cycle.

Several factors explain the hyper-political atmosphere prevailing.

First, there is no real opposition offering a fully fleshed out alternative policy platform. There is a tiny group of leftist lawmakers at the Lower House punching way above its real political weight. Like the larger ideological movement it represents, it trades in slander and agitprop. But it cannot possibly play the role of a second big tent to accommodate a broad range of political interests.

At the Senate, the two politicians not affiliated with the supermajority barely function as a unified pole of opposition. There is no formal alliance between them, no party vehicle to institutionalize it and no articulated shared vision. Theirs is really an alliance of inconvenience formed mainly because they do not fit in with the majority of their colleagues – nor with each other.

The Liberal Party, core of the Robredo campaign in the last election, is on the brink of extinction. Only a few stragglers remain loyal to the party. Its leading lights do not seem disposed towards playing a leading role in rebuilding from the political ruins. We know these leading lights are alive only because of the constant stream of travelogues they post on social media. A few politicians from this faction are rumored to be angling for slots in the senatorial or local executive slates of the pro-Marcos parties.

Second, there are at least two political personalities affiliated with the supermajority that are considered to be presidential material in the 2028 elections. Although both deny actively pursuing higher ambition, they remain active poles for lesser politicians to rally around.

Whatever they say or whatever they do, lesser politicians will want to be affiliated with one or the other to secure accreditation in the 2025 elections. It is the interests of the petty politicians, more than the actual plans of the main players, that dictate the formation of factions.

Third, local political contests in the Philippines is described in the political science literature as inherently bi-factional. There are contending families, long-running feuds and deeply entrenched local interests that drive this tendency.

Because of the bi-factional tendency of our local politics, our elections always tend to be two-party contests even if we are constitutionally-speaking in a multi-party system. The also-rans in the last presidential elections did not grasp this dynamic.

The secret of the Uniteam’s landslide victory in the last contest was that it built a broad but loose coalition that enabled it to accommodate local rivalries. Rival candidates for congressional seat and local executive posts belonged to parties affiliated with Uniteam. That allowed local rivals to fight intensely among themselves while supporting the same candidates at the national level.

Even during the depths of dictatorship, during the rule of Marcos the Elder, the ruling KBL party respected the power of provincial political lords and regional power-brokers. They were coopted rather than suppressed. Seats were as equitably distributed, as best possible, between rival local factions in exchange for validating the power monopoly at the national level. This is why the political dynasties survived even the most traumatic changes in the national political scene.

Nature hates a vacuum.

In the absence of a functioning opposition grouping standing outside the Bongbong-Sara orbit, the “opposition” will have to emerge from within the ranks of the supermajority. There is no other way to absorb the bi-factional tendency of local politics.

The most important item driving the factional breakup of Uniteam at the moment is the forthcoming senatorial elections. Seats in the Senate are elected nationally – a patently unwise feature retained under the 1987 Constitution.

It will be impossible for a single ruling party formation to accommodate all the aspirants seeking a seat in the Senate. At the same time, it is difficult for the aspirants to win national elections without an organized political party vehicle. This is why rumors persist that a few “Dilawans” are seeking Bongbong Marcos’ favor to be included in one of the viable senatorial slates.

At least two slates of senatorial aspirants will have to be formed to accommodate the number of aspirants. A large number of sitting senators are up for reelection. An almost similar number of former senators want to return to serve. A large number of new aspirants are considered “electable” to our strangely constituted Senate.

Before Bongbong Marcos’ landslide win, nearly all senators had more popular votes in their pockets than the sitting president. That gave them the political capital to behave like emperors  in their own right and swagger their way around the power edifice.

We saw what happened to the ill-fated 2019 “Otso Diretso” candidates that had the gumption to challenge Duterte at midterm. They were absolutely annihilated.

No one wants to repeat that sort of ballot-box obliteration. We all know from the elections of 2019 and 2022 that the Left, despite their noise, cannot deliver the votes. Nor can any of the “civil society” formations deliver.

The only way to win a seat in the Senate is via one or the other party formation friendly to the powers-that-be.

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