Angara en garde

Senator Edgardo J. Angara’s rise to political power has largely passed unnoticed.  This may partly be ascribed to  his  non-confrontational and noncontroversial persona.  His style is that of the quiet consensus-builder; he threatens no one.  He is not a leader of great charisma.  But he gets things done.  He is an organizer, not an ideologue; a team player, not a free spirit. This is his public image.

That is why his swift and dramatic ouster as Senate president came as a bit of a shock to the public.  The manner of its execution, which allowed the victim almost no room to protect himself from humiliation, does not jibe with Angara’s public persona.  It seems undeserved.  Or, maybe the man is actually so different from his image that there really  was  no other way of dealing with him?   Those who plotted his exit from power have so far not given a clear account of the leader they have just overthrown.

A leadership transition at the Senate at any point in time is no longer in itself surprising.  In a span of just a little over three years, we have seen the downfall of as many Senate presidents: Salonga in 1992, Gonzales in 1993, and now Angara in 1995.

The plot to oust Angara was undertaken with remarkable stealth.  No warning was given.  Senator Angara’s own trusted party mates, with a few exceptions, fell in line one by one and signed the warrant against their colleague.  Bel Cunanan’s account of how it happened, in her column yesterday and today, shows a multiplicity of motives that could not be disciplined by party affiliation.

Key members of Laban, of which Angara remains president,  conspired with senators from the other parties in order to bring about the downfall of their own leader.  Worse, they supposedly even sought the help of Malacanang in getting some of the hesitant senators to come aboard.

For all the civility of his farewell address and the bear hug with which he greeted his successor Senator Neptali Gonzales, Senator Angara could not hide his pain and bitterness.  He smiled and shook hands with his detractors. But as soon as the turn-over ceremonies ended, he lashed out at the unseen hand from Malacanang, whom he accused of engineering his ouster as a prelude to a grand plan to amend the Constitutional in order to extend the term of President Ramos.

This usually placid and gentle senator, who had elevated collaboration with the Executive  into an art, suddenly permits himself the luxury of publicly attacking the President.  He must really have felt deeply humiliated and widely outmaneuvered.    Had he remained his usual intractable self and had he been able to resist the instant gratification of fulminating against Malacanang, he would have managed the grace of withdrawing quietly to fight another day.

But the betrayal must have rankled him so much that he went en garde even before he could fully contemplate the implications of his opening line of attack.   How could the good senator, for instance, blame Malacanang for plotting against him without casting aspersions on the integrity of his party mates in Laban?  The latter insist his ouster  was a purely peer decision.  He says Malacanang made them do it.  In so many words, he is calling them liars. Is he ready to break off with them completely?  Does  he intend to give up the presidency of Laban, or quit the party altogether?

Senator Angara’s tragedy is  that he has always projected himself as a party man, and he has always believed in developing the party system as an essential element of modern liberal democracies.  His party has failed him, and if he were another man, he would have every reason to abandon it now or seek its final destruction.  But because he has said he believes in party politics, and more importantly, because he is a contender in 1998, it would be unwise for him to allow this event to derail his program to transform the LDP into a  genuine party. He can, of course, quit now, form another party or join another one.  But there may not be enough time to nurture another party that can match Lakas in 1998.

While he worries over his mode of attack, Senator Angara’s troubles are far from over.  Having lost the Senate Presidency, he may soon face another move to strip him of  the LDP presidency.  Thus diminished, he would have great difficulty in mounting a bid to regain the position he was forced to give up last Monday.  He would then be marginalized as a presidential contender, and that would clear the way for the entry into the arena of younger Laban warriors — Roco, Sotto, Mercado, Alvarez, among others.

He has to fight to retain the presidency of his party if he wants to survive politically.  To do this, he must swallow his pride, reach out especially to those who had turned against him, and champion the unity of  a severely fragmented party while consolidating his own bloc within it.

Clearly, Ed Angara cannot play the role of unifier  in Laban while serving as the leader of the minority bloc in the Senate.  These are discrepant roles.  The new Senate president is a party mate.  Laban is the principal partner in the majority coalition in the Senate.   He cannot oppose this coalition without compromising his own leadership of the party.

However, should  he  be deposed as Laban president, Angara would have no choice but to head the minority bloc in the Senate.  This will cast him in a role that he is not accustomed to playing — that of an active critic and oppositionist.  Many people would like to see him play this role, the obverse of what he has always been: a staff man rather than a leader in his own right. If he can bring sobriety, integrity, wit, and intelligence into it, he may yet succeed in projecting himself as the alternative in 1998.


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