OPINION: Clock is ticking

Edmund Tayao

Posted at Jul 21 2019 11:07 PM

When politics is just plain partisanship and threatens the President’s would-be legacy

And I thought it’s already done, we already know who the Speaker is and who the Senate President is. Well at least, the Senate Presidency seem more secure and that we can expect more stability compared to the Speakership.

Perhaps the senators are simply contented with how it is now or that if there are changes, it is being negotiated quietly. Perhaps we can also assume that it is simply easier to manage partisanship in the Senate as there are only 24 members compared to more than 300 in the House of Representatives.

The dynamics are simply different in each House of Congress. So if the past few days are any indication of what to expect on Monday, it seems we are in for a surprise.

This is the first time, at least in recent political history where the leadership in the House of Representatives remains unclear. In all of Congresses I remember, the Speaker is already known, even before elections are done.

We can always bemoan of the President’s significance in determining the leadership in either House of Congress, but in a system like ours where there are no real political parties and the spoils are integral to what the administration can do, it is simply not a question of propriety but more of expediency and exigency.

It cannot be overemphasized that the leadership in Congress is crucial in any Presidency, most especially in the latter 3 years where so much of what has been promised and or planned can now be done only if fast-tracked.

Of course, there are plans that may have already been prepared or set up beforehand and now only a matter of implementation. There are plans however that simply require considerable time to accomplish that there may be preparations but not enough to simply get it to the implementation phase. And then there are those plans that all phases from preparations to implementation take considerable time. These are undertakings that require, more than just successful implementation, but also institutionalization or at the very least, internalization.

This requisite of considerable time is of course simply not there in the latter three years. In fact, no administration can do any long-term plan, it is one weakness that is clearly embedded in the system. There is no way you can do a long-term plan and successfully put it to motion.

This is the very reason why each administration is tied to a Medium-Term Development Plan. Plans should follow the limiting time frame provided by the political calendar, 6 years.

Of course, there are Presidents and or administrations that take off from where the previous left. Our history says however that there are more leaders who simply would rather start entirely new, perhaps wary that whatever could be accomplished might just be credited to the previous leadership.

Hence the proverbial “lame duck President”, used or assumed as soon as a sitting President reaches halfway in office. However, this characterization doesn't apply to this President.

His staying power has been shown, in no small measure, from the complete shut out of the opposition in the midterm elections to the divergent pattern of increasing popularity towards the end of his term. And I keep on hearing the explanation of the critics, that the President is simply populist and have been effective in playing to what the crowd wants.

For the first year or 2 this can probably be true, feed the people with rhetorics and gimmicks and remain popular. Make no mistake this is hardly sustainable. Notwithstanding the assumption of some that majority of the people are simply dumb to make a better judgment, history says the people can see through what is real.

We have seen this in 2 Presidents in the last 20 years. Their ticket to the Presidency was sheer popularity, only to end their terms in disgrace and or resentment of the people.

So much more remains to be done and in fact, can be done by the President in the next 3 years but is contingent to his maintaining his political capital. Recent surveys say this and as always, reflecting the country’s level of development, the majority’s concerns remain in the economy, mainly employment, i.e. creation of jobs and or livelihood opportunities and pay hike and the prices of goods. Foreign policy, e.g. issues on China is more in the interest of classes A and B. Hardly was there any mention of reforms needed, which ironically impacts on all of these issues.

The President understands the significance of changing the rules of the game saying recently that whether or not the people want Federalism or not, it is imperative that the Constitution is revised.

Perhaps we will hear him say this again in his 4th SONA this Monday, but the dynamics in both Houses of Congress is a significant indicator of what can still be done in the next 3 years. How the leadership in each and both Houses is determined and sustained will impact significantly on his political capital, which can be sustained only with the cooperation of his allies.

From the start it was clear, the President didn't want to endorse anyone to be Speaker. He didn't have to in the first place that for sure he knows almost everyone in the House is his ally. Endorsing one will only make some feel bad and even possibly end up crossing the political divide. This should not be taken to mean that some will readily join the opposition now but whatever exactly happens, just the same could lessen the support enjoyed by the President in the House.

I’m not sure how the previous Congress arrived at the minority, but if we are to be true to the rules of the House, at least as is usually how it is, not only in our Congress but also in other countries, the losing candidate for leadership of either house always becomes the minority leader. This is an important issue not because of the position and what comes with the position but more with the implications of being in the minority.

The losing candidate may not be officially proclaimed the minority leader, but if he and his group are counted in the minority then, of course, it means they’re no longer with the majority that is with the administration. If it happens, and it significantly weakens the following of the President, then it can very well signal a weakened leadership.

The Senate should likewise be closely watched. With the way it turned out in the determination of committee chairs, it revealed the significance of political aggrupation each belongs to. A Senate in the first half of a Presidency does not reveal these divisions, as it is only a question of either being with or against the incumbent President.

It is way different when you look at a Senate in the second half of a President’s term. Again, this will show the interests of the different political groups. Either it is still mainly the question of being supportive or critical of the President, or preparing for the next Presidential election. If the latter is the case, again, it will impact on the President’s political capital.

We haven’t had a President this strong in the last 2 decades, even longer. And it is only now that this political strength is sustained. Without any doubt, there is simply so much more that can be accomplished, even more than what has already been done in the last 3 years. Hopefully, many of our political leaders can see this, agree and cooperate more. Then we can all benefit from a reinforced and reformed government, regardless whether you like him or not.

(The author is a professor of Modern Local Governance at the Ateneo School of Government.)

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.