By Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III
Today’s politics in Israel is complicated and confusing, and seems crazy. The coalition that has replaced Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year regime is an oddball mix of eight political parties. They consist of the ultra-right Orthodox Jews, former allies of Netanyahu and other conservative hardliners, the secular upper middle class, center-left Labor, left-wing social democrats and Greens, Arabs, and Islamists.
Their ideologies and political platforms clash. The centrists and the left favor a two-state solution with the Palestinians. The conservatives and the hawks want further expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestine’s West Bank. Some parties are secular; the others are sectarian and extremely nationalistic.
Nothing unites all those that have joined the “unity government” except their being anti-Netanyahu. In the words of a neo-conservative Jewish columnist, what fell Netanyahu was his politics of “demagogy, vilification, sleaziness, and sheer pettiness.” Netanyahu’s corruption is spectacular. He has been indicted for bribery, deception, and breach of trust in three cases. The trial is in its early stage.
In truth, Naftali Bennett, who will serve as prime minister for the first two years of the new government, is more ideologically aligned with Netanyahu. Some pundits say he is “definitely worse than Netanyahu.” He is for further annexing of Palestinian land and blocking a two-state solution.
One can argue though that the reality of coalition politics to preserve power makes a hardline politician pragmatic. The combination of keeping the coalition and dealing with foreign affairs will compel Bennett to make compromises.
The unwieldy coalition has succeeded in ousting Netanyahu. But the most difficult part is how to stabilize a fractious, fragile coalition.
Israel’s politics of coalition that removed Netanyahu might seem to be an attractive playbook to follow for the Philippine opposition. The opposition sees the imperative of having just one candidate to contest the presidency in the 2022 elections. The various forces of the opposition have formed 1Sambayan, which draws membership from across the political spectrum. The primary basis of unity is being anti-Duterte.
Despite their ideological and political contradictions and their deeply rooted animosities, the opposition forces have an anti-Duterte program. The coalition can find unity in a better way to fight COVID-19, the containment of Chinese aggression, the human rights abuses particularly the extra-judicial killings, and the peace talks.
But on other big issues like dealing with economic and social policies, ideological and political biases will obstruct consensus. On the economy, the debate will revolve around the role of state interventions and freer markets. On social issues, conservatives in the coalition will oppose expansion of gay rights and reproductive and sexual health goods.
Even on issues where unity can be found — say, the peace talks— problems on framework and implementation will arise. 1Sambayan co-founder and retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio favors peace talks, but wants negotiations to be done within the purview of the Constitution. The National Democratic Front has rejected this. (In the case of the talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, both parties avoided making the Constitution a deal-breaker.)
In other words, like the Israeli coalition that ousted Netanyahu, the anti-Duterte Philippine coalition is tenuous.
Despite the similarity between the successful anti-Netanyahu coalition and the struggling anti-Duterte coalition, the differences are also stark.
One difference is the scope of the coalition. The Israeli coalition is broad, having been able to attract bedfellows of Netanyahu and their nemeses. 1Sambayan, however, remains narrow. The narrowness has become pronounced in the wake of the withdrawal of strong candidates from its list.
The anti-Netanyahu coalition is opportunistic. 1Sambayan is pure. As mentioned earlier, the Israeli coalition includes personalities and parties that were once close allies or partners of Netanyahu. The new prime minister is in fact more hardline than Netanyahu.
1Sambayan has rejected politicians allied with the administration, even though some of these politicians, like Manny Pacquiao, have discreetly distanced themselves from Duterte. Off the bat, former Justice Carpio rejected Pacquiao’s inclusion in 1Sambayan.
This is a naïve view about tactical coalitions. It is a manifestation of sectarianism. (The dictionary defines sectarianism as “narrow-minded devotion to a particular sect.”) Perhaps, another coalition, never mind its being opportunist, has to be built that can break apart the Duterte camp and win over impure politicians that can no longer be accommodated by the ruling party.
The second difference is that unlike the situation in Israel where the coalition removed a sitting prime minister, Duterte will complete his term, which will end soon. He is not eligible to run for reelection. It’s more challenging to explain to unsophisticated voters an anti-Duterte campaign when Duterte himself is not in the race.
Assume that daughter Sara Duterte is Rodrigo’s anointed candidate. In line with traditional social norms, Sara will likely shield her father from accountability.
But a clever Sara can package herself as a Duterte who is different from her dad. In this way, she would still be able to capture the Duterte votes at the same time that she could court those voters disappointed with her dad.
The claim of Sara’s independence from Rodrigo is credible. Rodrigo has described his daughter as pasaway (stubborn). But this pasaway is dangerous. In one tweet, she wrote: “I have been described as heartless by my mother.”
On the difference between father and daughter, read Peter Kreuzer’s “Governors and Mayors in the Philippines: Resistance to or Support for Duterte’s Deadly War on Drugs” (Jan. 1, 2020). The Kreuzer paper documented the varied responses of different local government units (LGUs) to Duterte’s war on drugs. Kreuzer’s study dealt with the war on drugs between 2016 and 2017 in seven highly urbanized LGUs. The LGUs consisted of two provinces and five independent cities, including Sara Duterte’s Davao City.
Manolo Quezon’s Inquirer column of June 16 also cites the Kreuzer report. This opinion piece does not intend to provide a full review of the Kreuzer study, which the Quezon column does. Rather, it wants to point out a critical difference between President Rodrigo Duterte and his daughter, Mayor Sara Duterte.
It behooves the opposition to anticipate the implications of any contradiction between father and daughter.
The gist of Kreuzer’s argument follows: “Active local chief executives” that had their own program on citizen security and crime control and had ownership on policies through dense networks enjoyed the police’s trust and cooperation. This counteracted national influence when police loyalty was conflicted. “Passive chief executives” that lacked ownership of such program suffered from weak cooperation with the local police. The local police’s loyalty gravitated towards the Philippine National Police (PNP).”
Active executives including Sara Duterte “reinforced local networks that enabled them to enhance their informal control over and bonds with the local PNP.” The result was a mitigation of “the escalatory dynamic emanating from the higher level of the police hierarchy.”
On the other hand, the passive executives had weak control over the local police and allowed them to be directed by the national hierarchy. Consequently “the local police directors opted for a more violent strategy of crime control that satisfied the center’s demands.”
This passage on Kreuzer’s Davao case study is relevant to pointing out the difference between the Duterte father and daughter: “Without the presence of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, actual practice has become less violent than might have been expected four years ago. Instead, under Sara Duterte-Carpio’s mayorship, the police seem to have shifted to a hardline strategy that nevertheless largely follows bureaucratic rules and laws and thus results in a reduction of police and especially vigilante use of deadly force.”
Nonetheless, Kreuzer qualifies that among the three “active chief executives” in the case studies wherein violence was mitigated, Sara Duterte was the most “repression- and police-oriented.”
We return to the dissimilarity between the conditions facing the anti-Netanyahu coalition and the anti-Duterte coalition. The third difference is obvious. Even though Netanyahu retains a solid base, the majority of Israelis dislike him. Duterte, however, continues to enjoy high trust and satisfaction ratings despite the botched pandemic response and the deep economic recession. It is difficult for a coalition to defeat a hugely popular leader.
What accounts for Duterte’s popularity is a different question altogether. Vice-President Leni Robredo, in her weekly radio show, states with candor and maturity this question:
“Kailangang natin intindihin bakit marami iyong attracted sa Pangulo, bakit ba maraming attracted sa ganitong klaseng mga politiko? (We need to understand why many are attracted to the President, why are many attracted to politicians like him?)
1Sambayan and others identified with the opposition can take the cue from Vice-President Robredo. It is from taking stock of this difficult situation can we learn to advance. It is from recognizing our weaknesses can we learn to craft the appropriate strategy and build a more effective and diverse coalition.