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The Manila Times : What the political opposition should do for 2022

News & Interviews
1 January 2022

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

THERE is a saying — sexist and politically incorrect though it may be and with apologies to horizontally challenged women — that it is not over until the fat lady sings.

But judging from the survey numbers and the temperature on the ground the results of the 2022 national elections are now a foregone conclusion.

There is no realistic and fair way for the lead of the team of former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio to be surmounted by any of the candidates trailing them by double digits. It will take an act of massive fraud, a terrible misapplication of election laws on the qualifications of candidates or the hand of the US' Central Intelligence Agency to derail an impending Marcos Jr. presidency.

Many say that the markets will be spooked and political instability will ensue should Marcos Jr. win. In fact, there will be trouble if he loses or is disqualified.

The political opposition should begin to prepare and brace for the inevitable. They should stop praying for miracles; more so if it would mean taking steps to thwart the will of the greater majority of the people. They should not wish that 2016 will be played all over again because this time the people may not be as accepting and pliant when they wake up to a different result. The opposition should be ready to engage in a deep soul-searching on what they have done wrong or how badly they misread politics and the pulse of the people. And here, they will not find themselves searching far and deep for there are just so many stored in their troves of horror and mistakes in the litany of missteps and miscalculations that they have committed.

The political opposition should begin by abandoning politics that is trapped in the horrors and pains of the past. This is the most fundamental albatross that weighs opposition members down and renders them unable to engage people whose concerns are about the present and the future. It is one thing to learn from the lessons of history, but it is another when they allow it to become a rubric that confines them and holds them hostage. The martial law narrative remains a significant catalyst for political mobilization for many. Unfortunately, it is not inclusive and forward-looking. It divides more than it unites, and it forces people to choose righting past wrongs over future-proofing our country and making the future right.

This is not to say that political opposition members should cease fighting for social justice and human rights, but they should anchor this on two basic premises. First, they should focus on current and future concerns that are more relevant to the people. And second, if they have to root out the structural causes in the past of the present difficulties that we confront, they should not be biased for or against one particular narrative and must look at this not only from the usual anti-Marcos lens.

One of the glaring flaws of the political opposition playbook is that they are stuck in the anti-Marcos rhetoric. They continue to parrot its tropes, unmindful of the changing demographic and cultural contexts. This is clearly embodied in the way they chose and frame their candidates and the manner their enablers and followers campaigned and pushed for them. Fueled by anger and hatred against the Marcoses and anything they represent or represents them and dwelling on historical narratives that are legible mostly to academics and the intellectual elite, what came out is an arrogant, alienating and exclusionary form of political practice. And the effect is both lethal and unfortunate. Far from winning the hearts and minds of voters, it only drove them away.

The members of the political opposition should look at 2022 as their year zero. They should begin to transform their politics away from the past and into the future, from anger to sincere engagement, from exclusivity to inclusivity. They should begin recruiting a new breed of political activists that are molded not by EDSA and the anti-Marcos forces, but by the growing threats of neoliberalism and the fourth industrial revolution. They should begin investing in politicians for the future and not those whose politics are minted from the shadows of the past.

The opposition members should transform their impending defeat into an opportunity to be reborn. A second Marcos presidency is the most challenging moment for them to develop a different kind of politics. With a Marcos in Malacañang, it is tempting to once again ride the usual anti-Marcos narrative drawn from anti-martial law activism, led by the minted anti-Marcos intellectual and political elite. This is a mistake that should not be allowed to happen.

The old guard of anti-Marcos activism should stand down stay back, and let a new breed of political actors emerge. The new political contestations should no longer be played along the old issues of corruption and abuses during the martial law years. The political battles should no longer be against the ghost of a former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr., but against the actual acts of a President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Marcos Jr., while bearing the surname of his father, would be presiding over a totally different political landscape. He may or may not be a mere carbon copy of his father or ape the policies of President Rodrigo Duterte. But whatever path he takes, it would do the members of the political opposition well if they evolve out of their old political playbook and use their defeat as an opportunity to redirect, repackage and recruit.

But in order to do this, political opposition members should have the humility to accept their mistakes and learn to listen to the people, including even those with whom they disagree. They cannot evolve into something better if they just change their color. In this new year, let us all wish that the political opposition will turn a loss in the 2022 elections into an opportunity.