Lessons have been learned and it is costly for the Liberal Party.
The defeat of the once ruling Liberal Party has completed a cycle: 2016 presidential elections, 2019 midterm elections, and 2022 presidential elections that decimated the might of one of the oldest political parties in the country.
The descension in the leadership of former Sen. Kiko Pangilinan as Party President, and ex-VP Leni Robredo as titular head and its Chair, creates a vacuum in the leadership of the opposition party. But the Liberal Party is, arguably, not out of talent. The next LP President is Cong. Edcel Lagman, who is, according to the words of LP’s new Secretary-General Teddy Baguilat “one of the most consummate politicians we have seen in House.”
How consummate is Lagman?
Can Lagman light the LP’s torch in a Marcos Jr. Presidency? As a leader of the most hated political party in the country, can he navigate the complexities of today’s political situation?
As an individual, Lagman is, undoubtedly, an achiever. Cong. Edcel Lagman is a multi-termer representative of the 1st District of Albay. A seasoned parliamentarian, legal luminary, vociferous critic, human rights rock star, and a “consummate politician”.
One has to wonder why he’s the chosen one to lead the decimating LP. In recent history, his allegiance used to be with PGMA particularly in the 14th Congress, and in fact, he served as HOR’s Chair in Appropriations Committee – the ever-powerful budget committee in House. He was the primero petitioner against President Aquino’s Executive Order No. 1 or the Creation of the Philippine Truth Commission. In the 15th Congress, upon the assumption of Aquino’s presidency into power, he served as Minority Floor Leader – a hefty post vowed to fiscalize policies and agenda of a sitting administration. What gives?
Lagman is an experienced and decorated statesman. Cong. Lagman is a progressive lawmaker in the House of Representatives since the 1980s up to now. While he is one of the political lieutenants of PGMA, he used to serve as Undersecretary in DBM during Pres. Cory Aquino – which explains his deep and vast knowledge of budget, and it shows that he has, in a way, a connection to PNoy. He has filed progressive bills and sponsored landmark laws of national importance such as Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, Compensation to Martial Law Victims, Abolition of the Death Penalty, and Cheaper Medicines Act, among others. Whenever he debates on the floor, he “wears his passionate stand in issues on his sleeve, the man often eschews party politics in favor of candor.”
This guy is no-nonsense and true to his beliefs. He managed to weather the changing political terrain without the cost of having a zero budget in his district nor being lose in an election in his district. His consistency in his values, views, and principles unraveled his abilities to be a Liberal by affiliation, and now it’s the next President.
Rebuilding LP under Lagman
Lagman is known for his ultra-opposition to measures at hand, even if he is alone. In the last two Congresses, he has been at the forefront of challenging the priority legislative agenda of the Duterte Administration such as the Restoration of the Death Penalty, ABS CBN Franchise, War on Drugs, etc. He in fact delivered turno en contra speeches year after year since 2016. He never wavered on his stances.
But will his ultra-opposition stances alienate or attract the base, his colleagues, or the majority of the electorate? Or will he temper his positions on popularly supported measures? Rep. Edcel is now in his legacy-building period. Will his Presidency of a most abhorred party help his legacy building?
We leave it to the good gentleman, and to his introspection. But LP, to say the least, is big baggage to any politicians with further plans in the near future. Its ex-Chairperson, Leni Robredo, who has a sterling performance as VP, was resoundingly rejected by the majority. Certainly, leading and rebuilding LP is a gargantuan task – which largely rests on the direction it will take. Quo vadis, LP?
Before you laugh, let’s first talk about what the next leadership of LP needs to hurdle. For immediate terms, LP needs to increase its bench on all fronts. In HOR, it needs at least twenty (20) members to be considered a formidable bloc again. In Senate, Sen. Hontiveros and Sen. Pimentel need companions in minority by at least 4 or more members with 2 or 3 LP senators out of it. If it happens, LP will surely regain its influence again. At the local level, LP needs to increase elected members and double the current roster of local officials. Most importantly, it has to successfully organize its mass base in order to shape opinions, and re-influence the country’s political landscape.
In the process, this immediate goal engenders a lot of political work, coalition-building, and to some extent, compromises. Cong. Lagman has to spearhead the attainment of these goals. On top of his maverick style of politics (Lagman is an oppositionist to some measures, yet he still managed to get funding for the projects of his District), Lagman has to carry the burden of rebranding the once great LP.
His Artikulo Uno to LP members: “be loyal to the party, but be cooperative to this government.” Here it shows how Lagman as a leader who understands the public pulse – which means there’s no way to survive the popularity of this administration by just being a contrarian—shows the imperatives of being a critical collaborator.
The consensus of EDSA has been rejected overwhelmingly. The Philippine society has found its new political order. Under Lagman and with this new order, the LP has to rediscover its niche and posit itself in a strategic position wherein it has a capacity to dissent without being viewed as a destabilizer; yet the public is able to appreciate its role in a democracy – a strong opposition that needs to exist. If that is not hurdled, LP will be a forever punching bag for this new political order.
With Lagman at the helm, it is a sacrosanct duty of all believers of a strong and vibrant opposition in our democracy to aid the rebuilding of the Party of conscience, and reemerge the democratic values in our Philippine society.
The author is a former staffer at Liberal Party National Headquarters. He is a student of politics and history. His lifework is ensuring that democracy works for everyone.
 Gerry Lirio, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, 04 June 2006