Recently, there was an altercation between Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Vice President Jejomar Binay’s camp over the Supreme Court’s decision to grant bail to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile. De Lima believes that the high court’s ruling has set the Philippine justice system back to that of a “banana republic.” But Binay’s camp defended the Supreme Court, saying, “Yes, we’re banana republic, but not due to the Supreme Court,” which begs the question: What exactly is a banana republic?
Wikipedia defines it as follows: “Banana republic is a political science term for a politically unstable country, whose economy is largely dependent on exporting a limited-resource product, e.g. bananas. It typically has stratified social classes, including a large, impoverished working class and a ruling plutocracy of business, political, and military elites. This politico-economic oligarchy controls the primary-sector productions to exploit the country’s economy.” Does this definition fit the Philippines? Sad to say, it does – every word of it.
Yes, Binay was right — the Philippines is a banana republic. But he should know that he’s part of the plutocracy that rules the country. Yes, he lives it… He breathes it… and he savors it. Indeed, you might say, he was cunningly lucky to have crossed the great divide that separated the impoverished – where he came — from the rich – what he is now. He’s adept at the game of political musical chairs: a game of “survival of the cheatest.” And to win, a politician must not only learn the tricks of the trade; he must be very good at it.
A key part of the game is learning the art of turncoatism. In the Filipino vernacular, a “political turncoat” is called balimbing or star fruit, whose cross-section is shaped like a five-sided star. Thus, a person who changes political color is called a “balimbing.” And this goes back to the time when the indios – that’s what the Philippine natives were then called — were struggling to free themselves from Spain’s colonial rule.
In my article, “Balimbing Republic” (July 8, 2005), I wrote: “During the 1896 revolution, there were already balimbings in the ranks of the Magdalo faction of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and the Magdiwang faction of Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonifacio. Members of Magdalo would switch to Magdiwang and vice versa. After the execution of Andres Bonifacio by the Aguinaldo forces, most of the leaders of Magdiwang joined the Magdalo, mainly for self-preservation.
“During the commonwealth government that began in 1934, there were two political parties, the Federalista Party favoring statehood and the Nacionalista Party favoring independence. After the independence from the United States on July 4, 1946, the Liberal Party was born from remnants of the Nacionalista Party. The biggest ‘balimbing’ at that time was former Nacionalista stalwart Manuel Roxas who changed his party affiliation to the Liberal Party and was elected President in 1946.
“When Cory Aquino took over the presidency after the EDSA revolution in 1986, hundreds of former Marcos loyalists crossed over to the Aquino camp. In 1987, the Philippine constitution was changed extending the presidential term to six years with no reelection. Cory won the presidency under the new Constitution. In 1992, her protector and EDSA hero, Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, won a presidential term for himself. Again, hundreds of opposition party leaders switched to Ramos’ party. After Ramos, Joseph Estrada was elected and the same thing happened, balimbings defected to Estrada’s party. When Estrada was deposed in 2001 (EDSA II) due to the jueteng scandals, Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo — with the help of Estrada’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Gen. Angelo Reyes, who switched his loyalty to Arroyo — took over the presidency. Estrada was jailed on charges of plunder. Overnight, loyalties changed.
“When she ran for re-election in 2004, Fernando Poe, Jr., a movie superstar ran against Arroyo. Poe was ahead in the early part of the campaign, which caused a bandwagon effect with the opposition leaders. However, Arroyo came from behind and defeated Poe in the election. Poe immediately filed charges of cheating against Arroyo. But Poe died of heart attack and Poe’s widow, Susan Roces, withdrew the charges.
“Election-cheating is common. There is a joke that says: ‘In the Philippines, there are no losers, only the winner and those who were cheated.’ He who cheats better, wins; and party-switching is part of the political process.
“With a government full of balimbings, it makes you wonder if the government really changes when a new President is elected. It’s all the same banana, or more aptly, the same balimbings running the show regardless of who was elected President.”
The presidential election in 2016 is no different; perhaps it’s even worse. Today, political parties openly entice members from other parties to switch colors. And if you happen to be a popular actor, comedian or entertainer, party leaders would dangle all kinds of goodies to recruit you.
A case in point is the two declared candidates for president, Jojo Binay and Mar Roxas, who don’t have a running mate yet. The two have been trying hard to convince Sen. Grace Poe – Fernando Poe Jr.’s daughter — to be their vice presidential running mate. But Poe is not inclined to play second fiddle to anyone, not with her high popularity ratings. Although she hasn’t declared her candidacy yet, she already has a running mate in mind – her friend and mentor Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero. Rumors began to circulate that they’re already recruiting personalities from different political parties to fill their senatorial slate. But Poe denied the rumor.
Corruption, bribery, and votes
With the 2016 presidential election fast approaching, political realignments — “balimbingan” — are beginning to change the political landscape of the country. “Newbies,” like Poe, are gaining popularity. But don’t take the “oldies” – like Binay — for granted. They know how to win – by hook or by crook. Just the other day, Binay, in one of his campaign sorties, advised the voters to accept “bribe money” from the politicians, saying, “The money belongs to the people anyway, as it comes from the funds of the government.” Was he referring to the P200 million in pork barrel funds he received two years ago? If so, is he merely returning the money he may have stolen from the government in exchange for their votes?
Sad to say, with the allegations that Binay had accumulated billions of pesos skimmed from city projects that spanned over three decades when he, his wife, and son took turns as mayor of Makati City, Binay would presumably have plenty of “bribe money” to buy votes for his presidential run next year. That must be the kind of “banana republic” that Binay has in mind.
At the end of the day, while the balimbings thrive in Binay’s banana republic, there is still hope that an honest candidate would emerge to bring fresh ideas in government and truly make an effort to deliver the downtrodden from the abyss of poverty.