July 3, 2016 issue
Philippine Daily Inquirer
As of today, around 80 Liberal Party congressmen have reportedly joined the exodus to PDP-Laban, the party of President Rodrigo Duterte. Earlier on June 2, eleven from the same party took their oath under PDP Secretary-General Pantaleon Alvarez in a short ceremony in Makati.
In less than a month after the May 9 elections, PDP bragged that it was close to achieving its goal of creating one of the biggest alliances in Congress’ history by successfully recruiting other members from the Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, National Unity Party, Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats and the Party-List coalitions, including Gabriela to form what they call the ‘Super Majority Coalition’.
Politics in the Philippines swings like a pendulum and the ‘balimbing’ (turncoat) rides on the crest of a wave. Hide tide or low tide, would he or she be on your side? It depends where the wind blows.
Balimbings are in season. Their word-of mouth popularity can even make Macopas blush. Why, it is that time of the year when seats of power are up for grabs and everyone is jockeying for a position as the musical chair game begins.
Being referred to as one is tantamount to being addressed with disdain. Worse, the perfidious tag has stuck and most likely, cannot be undone, a term that has made the yellow-green Averrhoa Carambola (scientific name) the most reviled of all Filipino fruits, innocently synonymous to a person who is disloyal, traitor, “doble” or “muchas-caras” (double or multi-faced).
History is replete with ‘Balimbings’. We were made to believe that they began during the Spanish times and flourished when the Americans introduced their political way of life to the archipelago. No, not exactly.
Monarchs and Despots, Kings and Queens, Emperors and Tsars, Rulers and Tyrants fought wars because of treachery. Up to the modern era, from Wall Street to your tiny little corporate cubicle, a ‘Balimbing’ exists with a “we-live-in-a-disposable-society” mindset. Get hold of Arthur Redding’s “Turncoats, Traitors and Fellow Travelers” book and you are going to unearth more.
Every civilization or society has a turncoat. They come in different shapes, sizes and nom de guerre. When the last vote had been counted and all things had been said, they can only be summed up in either one of these two:
1. “Some people aren’t loyal to you. They are only loyal to their needs. Once their needs change, so does their loyalty.” 2. “My loyalty to my party ends when my loyalty to my country begins,” a line attributed to Manuel L. Quezon.
Famous Filipino ‘Balimbings’
Historian Ambeth Ocampo describes Pedro Paterno as the greatest turncoat in Philippine history. The “original” ‘Balimbing’, according to Ocampo, was “first on the Spanish side and then wormed his way to power to become President of Malolos Convention in 1899.”
Felipe Buencamino was a fine example of the Filipino “muchas caras” at the twilight of Spanish rule and dawn of American regime. When the Revolution broke out, he initially sided with the Spanish, reverted to the Filipino camp after being incarcerated by ‘revolucionarios’ in Cavite and ultimately sided with the Americans in the end.
Had Teodoro Patiño shut his mouth and not thought of his own interests, Filipinos would have succeeded in their planned revolt against Spain. Squealing the existence of Katipunan because of a petty two-peso wage dispute, he led Spanish authorities in ransacking a printing shop. The operation yielded incriminating evidences against the Katipunan and doomed the fate of many revolutionaries.
Emilio Aguinaldo would not have been captured in the hinterlands of Isabela if not for Cecilio Segismundo. What made the latter reveal Aguinaldo’s hiding place? He was promised a commission in the Philippine Army and a $300 reward, allowing General Frederick Funston to bring him back to Manila.
From one party to another
Political “turncoatism” or politics without principles has been an integral part of our society. When self-interest mattered and egos are bruised, it is easy to set-up a faction or an entirely new party.
In 1922, a young Manuel Quezon organized the country’s “third” political party - Partido Nacionalista Collectivista with all members coming from the Nacionalista Party. They had accused NP president Sergio Osmena of being an autocrat.
Ramon Magsaysay was secretary of national defense when he bolted out of Elpidio Quirino’s camp and joined NP. He ran against the latter and won by a landslide.
When Ferdinand Marcos was Senate President, the late President Diosdado Macapagal promised to fully support him in 1965 presidential election. Macapagal reneged on his promise and decided to run for re-election prompting Marcos to switch to the NP camp. Marcos ran against Macapagal and won.
Political turncoats had a heyday when Marcos formed KBL (Kilusang Bagong Lipunan). Lakas-CMD (Christian Muslims Democrats) was a political party founded by Fidel Ramos in 1992. He ran because he had lost the LP presidential nomination early on.
Months before the 1992 elections, the House was controlled by members of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino allied with then Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. After Ramos won, virtually all LDP members jumped ship to Lakas.
In her Philippine Daily Inquirer column, former Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Solita Monsod, said “the sight of the Liberal Party, or most of its members immediately deserting what they thought was a sinking ship, should be denounced. The Liberals, thinking only of themselves (chairmanships bring a lot of perks, including monetary) and not of their constituents (after all, they were elected as Liberals), just abandoned ship,” she said.
What drives politicians to become turncoats?
Many perspectives and different opinions resulted in my interviews with some political watchers from the community. Political Analyst and UP Professor Clarita Carlos, for example says the political party system in the Philippines is broken.
“Political parties are supposed to aggregate interests, articulate issues and prepare a program of government based on a platform of basic principles. They are avenues for socialization of its young members as they hone their skills in governance,” she says.
According to Carlos, political parties make decisions on the party line to support, who is running in what constituency, support for campaign radio/tv time, etc, and is required to toe the party line in any and all votes in the legislature. Crossing the “aisle" or changing political parties, she says is virtual political suicide.
She woes that it is not so in the Philippines, where so called political parties do not have distinguishing characteristics and platform. Why is turncoatism so rampant? Because it pays to change color, and yes, one even gets better political largesse when he/she switches political groups,” according to her.
Where politicians are often driven by self-interest rather than ideology, switching allegiances is endemic in the country because the constitution is extremely lax on the ability of candidates to switch parties at a snap of a finger, Political Analyst and De La Salle University Assistant Professor Richard Javad Heydarian says.
Former Senior Research Assistant at UP College of Public Administration Romy Garcia says turncoatism is an inescapable reality in the Philippines. According to him, survival is primordial to these would-be-demagogues. It is ducking the winds of change and living another day to fight, a Middle Age mentality of the vassal system, a kind of pledging an allegiance to the new guy on the block. “Sabi nga ng Pinoy,” just go with the weather, insidious but very effective in insuring self-perpetuation,” he adds.
There are no mass defections in most modern democracies, like the US, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia and New Zealand when a political party loses in the polls, Miriam College instructor Kris Ablan says. “Members stay with their party and understand why they lost. Whatever the cause may be, members of the losing party take responsibility for their actions and accept the peoples’ mandate. Losing and sticking it out with each other is how political parties learn. That's how they become stronger. It sets a good example for the people,” according to him.
Adie Pena who is Institutional Communications Director at College of St. Benilde says the Starfruit Syndrome is not limited to politicians. It happens everywhere. “In the entertainment industry, actors and actresses move from one TV network to another. Creative and accounts people leave their ad agencies to handle a competitive brand in another shop. Even maids and drivers will say goodbye (at a moment's notice!) to move to another household. And it usually all boils down to a better deal. Welcome to Balimbing country!,” he says.
Political Turncoatism is an accepted practice among elected politicians in the Philippines,
Educator-Servant and Professional Urban Planner Gabby Lopez, says. “For very obvious reasons - survival politically and continuing access to valuable resources of the sitting President,” he says. While most declare their principles, one cannot but suspect self-interests as the basic motivation, according to Lopez of Filipino turncoats. He says, adherence to party principles is conveniently shed off when survival and demands of personal interests behoove.
Loyalty to the party seems to be a thing of the past if you ask Pinay Medy Beroy, an independent medical and legal contractor based in Georgia, USA. “Changing political affiliations is now as easy as changing a spouse or a partner. Some candidates would sometimes opt to run as independent, giving them a lot of freedom to campaign for themselves to ensure victory,” she says. She also adds that even one’s own party mate could junk a candidate if he/she hinders his/her chances of winning.
“Now that the post-election balimbing-bashing phase is on it last legs, I’d like to make some space in my psyche for the question: “What’s wrong with changing sides?” Butch Tan, a retired advertising man asks. “All the “que horrors,” the demand for integrity and delicadeza, self-righteous breast-beating, they simply mean that summary judgment is alive and well, the great national pastime,” he observes.
He argues that, in the first place, political parties in this country, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) excepted, hews to a clear, well-defined ideology. They’re more like clubs and lodges whose purpose is built around protecting its members’ interests and benefiting from being in power.
He then puts in the punchline: “That last sentence is the key. Once a party is no longer in power, it ceases to be a source of power and protection, money. It’s called realpolitik. Being outside the kulambo means being in fiscal and political limbo, and being in limbo affects the good and the bad equally. It’s just the way things are, he says.
Good politicians, according to him, switch sides to make sure their constituents can get their fair share of the national budget. “Not doing so would actually be a disservice. So what about venal politicians who switch sides for self-serving reasons? I address the answer to the ones who vote them into office: Merese!”
Loyalty to country above self
In a news report, Senator Miriam Santiago said: “Most political parties in the Philippines are not composed of citizens advocating an ideology, platform, principles or policies. Traditional politicians who were not nominated by their original party to the position they desire easily changed political parties.”
The prohibition on turncoatism was removed in the 1986 Constitution during the time of the late former President Cory Aquino.
On the other hand, Cass Sunstein, in his Bloomberg “Societies Need Turncoats” article, gives us a mind-changing definition of the turncoat. He said: “Turncoats may be freedom fighters. In democracies suffering from a high degree of polarization, turncoats are indispensable,” he says.
“Turncoats are often independent thinkers and they promote independent thinking in other people. Turncoating can be an act of exceptional bravery. We shouldn’t celebrate those who abandon good causes for bad ones. To separate heroism from villainy, we need to specify the coat and the turn,” he said.
Anyone would like to dispute that?