Ambition Kills Loyalty

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I had written a line about the event when the coalition of parties comprising the administration held a convention of sorts to announce their support for the presidential run of Defense Secretary
Gilbert Teodoro. I believe that there were more than 50 members of an executive committee who were there and allowed to vote between Teodoro and Bayani Fernando.
Of course, it did not seem that they were there to vote but to ratify a decision already made before the gathering. It showed in Fernando’s somber face. He seemed to have known about the outcome before that day, and it was surprising that he chose to enter a lions’ den. Perhaps, he wanted to make sure that he gave it his best, to let all know he played by the rules. When asked by the president’s son if he would accept and support the choice of the party, Fernando said he was reserving his options – whatever that means.

Though I am not a fan of party politics and hardly keep up with names and faces of those who sit in Congress, there were those who looked familiar, or whose names were not that alien to me. I was very surprised that many whom I knew or had heard about were there as voting members of their coalition’s executive committee, and more surprised that they voted almost unanimously for Teodoro. It was not because I expected them to vote for Fernando, but I had expected many of them not to vote at all.

That same day, later in the evening, I had occasion to meet with friends who were more wired to political dynamics than me. When we were discussing the choosing of Teodoro earlier in the day, I asked that we all kept a record of those who voted and then review the list after the May elections. The list would be basis for a wager we would make as to who among us would predict the level of betrayal of the same politicians who chose Teodoro.

When I said I was surprised that many of those who voted for Teodoro actually had the gall to vote when they had plans to be somewhere else during the elections. Somewhere else is not in a foreign land but in another political party supporting another presidential candidate. Someone in Manny Villar’s camp had mentioned that more than fifteen of those who were in that mini convention had already made arrangements to move out of the administration coalition. I saw some faces whom I thought would soon be helping Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

From that original list of slightly more than fifty are another hundred or so whom the administration is counting to be with them for Teodoro. I wish they would finalize that list, share it with some of us, so we can exchange notes after the election. Turncoatism has become more fashionable than loyalty, perhaps, I thought, because of the multi-party system of Philippine politics. But it is more than that, more sad and ignoble than that. It is way beyond the increased opportunity given by more parties to choose from. It has much to do with the rise of ambition that has lowered the premium of loyalty.

With several parties playing the political field, one would expect a variety of ideologies to be presented to the people. Instead, we have been entertained by the variety of personalities more than the variety of ideas and party platforms. The march of modernity and technology has not made our politicians more informed or skilled, simply more creative in ways on how to stay in power longer, how to enrich themselves in office and get away with it, and even how to change the Constitution to suit their future needs.

When Filipinos rate Congress and the Senate poorly, when they rate Gloria and her administration poorly, they are also rating the loyalty of these politicians poorly. Somehow, trustworthiness needs a high degree of loyalty, and the lack of credibility of government officials, agencies and institutions must be seen as less than loyal.

Loyalty, too, is not only a matter of standing by a superior or a political ally, but also standing by the people – or standing by the people ahead of superiors or political allies. Somehow, loyalty to the people has become a phrase without a clear imagery to describe that loyalty. What nobody seems to be confused about is loyalty to power and money. After all, many have given up friendships but few ever give up power and money.

During martial law, fear for their safety became a major factor in causing many to let go of friends who were enemies of the dictator. After the 1986 Edsa revolution, many turned against the Marcoses and their cronies, not so much from fear for their lives but fear of losing their money. The term “balimbing” was assigned to those who had the capability to switch sides. That term and what it symbolizes have become commonplace in politics, a rule more than an exception.

When Noynoy was chosen by a great number of people, difficult to count but easy to feel, I thought he was much more blessed because so many would have to turn around before he would be affected. in contrast, of the fifty plus who had cast their votes for Teodoro, how many had been negotiating with Villar beforehand, and how soon will they jump ship? Worse still, how many will be making double jumps from the Teodoro to Villar to Noynoy?

Truly, the morality and ethics of politics have suffered great blows and succumbed to great temptation. The Church, too, has not been spared from the corruption of their traditional counterpart when it has waned as the premier institution that sets the tone of morality and ethics in service. People, then, who have looked up to their leaders in the secular and religious realms must now look to themselves and their consciences to understand loyalty in the context of fidelity to God’s will and the common good.

Loyalty to man is less firm than loyalty to virtue and principle. Loyalty to ambition is not loyalty at all.

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