Balimbing Republic revisited

Balimbing Republic revisited

In the aftermath of the “People Power” that deposed President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the word “balimbing” became popular. The “balimbing,” or star fruit, became the mark of a turncoat. The star fruit’s cross-section is shaped like a five-sided star; thus, a person who changes political loyalty is called “balimbing.”

Overnight, after Marcos relinquished the presidency, thousands of his supporters abandoned him and pledged their loyalty to newly proclaimed President Cory Aquino. The turncoats were welcomed to the Aquino camp. After all, the persons responsible for the removal of Marcos — Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos — were former allies of Marcos. Their followers simply followed them to the Aquino camp.

The Marcos overthrow was called “People Power” revolution because it drew hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) in Quezon City where the Marcos military loyalists were at a standoff with the anti-Marcos group led by Ramos and Enrile. The end came when Marcos called US Senator Paul Laxalt to seek his advice. Sen. Laxalt told Marcos to “cut and cut cleanly.”

In my opinion, EDSA I revolution — as it is called today — was not a revolution; it was a coup d’état. Ditto with EDSA II in 2001 which removed President Joseph Estrada from power. As a matter of fact, except for the short-lived 1896 revolution, or “unfinished revolution” as called by the Filipino nationalists, the Philippines never had a true revolution.

Some people called the 1896 revolution a “Tagalog revolt,” which culminated with the declaration of Philippine Independence in 1898. But before the revolutionary government of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo could take roots in the whole archipelago, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States for $20 million.
During the 1896 revolution, there were already balimbings in the ranks of the Magdalo faction of 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, 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. 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.

Roxas died in office in 1948 and was succeeded by Vice President Elpidio Quirino, also a Nacionalista-turned-Liberal. Quirino won a four-year term the following year. He appointed Ramon Magsaysay as Secretary of Defense. Magsaysay was effective and became popular fighting the Hukbalahap (Huk) guerillas. However, he resigned due to a dispute with Quirino. Magsaysay left the Liberty Party in 1953 and became the Nacionalista Party’s presidential candidate. Magsaysay, an Ilocano from Zambales, defeated his former boss, Quirino, another Ilocano, by a landslide and won in all provinces except Ilocos Sur, Quirino’s province, and Ilocos Norte, the bailiwick of Congressman Ferdinand Marcos, a rising star in the Liberal Party at that time.

Magsaysay died in a plane crash in 1957 and Vice President Carlos P. Garcia, a Nacionalista from Bohol, took over the presidency. Garcia won election later that year with Diosdado Macapagal, a Liberal, winning the vice presidency. Macapagal won the presidency in 1961. In 1965, when Macapagal ran for re-election, Ferdinand Marcos, his rival within the Liberal Party, bolted the party and joined the Nacionalista Party. Hundreds of Marcos followers also left the Liberal Party and joined the Nacionalista Party. Marcos captured the nomination and went on to defeat Macapagal in the election. Marcos won reelection over the Liberal Party’s Sergio Osmena, Jr. in 1969.

When Cory Aquino took over the presidency after EDSA I 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. Her successor, Lt. Gen. Fidel 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 Gloria ran for re-election in 2004, Fernando Poe, Jr., a movie superstar ran against her. 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. Then Poe died of heart attack and Poe’s widow, Susan Roces, withdrew the charges.

Election-cheating was common. There was 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 “balimbing” running the show regardless of who is elected President.

With political power in the hands of a few, the Philippines is governed by oligarchy. Virtually all of the provinces have political dynasties that control the provincial and local governments. It is expected that during a presidential election, their political allegiance would be driven by their personal agenda. They would switch parties if that were what it would take to get political concessions. As kingmakers, they play a key role in influencing the outcome of the election in their political turfs in favor of the presidential candidate they support. Indeed, a presidential candidate who gets the most balimbings, wins.

With the 2016 presidential elections fast approaching, political realignments are beginning to change the political landscape of the country. New faces replace old faces. But don’t take oldies for granted. They have a trove of election tricks.

The question is: Is Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, an “oldie” favorite, going to be the next president, or are the people going to go with a new face in the arena like Sen. Grace Poe?