CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 19 June) – In pre-Martial Law days we had real political parties, mainly the Liberals and the Nacionalistas. They were organized as such, with dues-paying members, local chapters, and committees organizing local activities.
In those days, to be a candidate of a party one had to qualify according to its policies, rules, and formalities. There were exceptions but the rules applied everywhere, from Batanes to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
But today it’s open season everywhere. An aspirant simply seeks the approval of the owner of the party—yes, owner. How else would you call the one who organizes, finances, appoints its candidates, then manipulates it at will? Just get his blessing and you’re the man! Even the Liberals and Nacionalists of today are a faint shadow of their glory days.
What we have today are really more of a syndicate than a party—like the Mafia or Yakusa, Big Boss, money, and all. The Mafia or the Yakusa don’t have platforms, don’t hold public caucuses, and don’t bother with nominating conventions, just like our parties.
Before Marcos bastardized the system, an aspirant desiring to run under a particular party, had to know the party’s platform at heart and promote it, speaking out on major issues. Otherwise he could get expelled or prevented from running again.
In other words, there was party discipline, and loyalty was important. As political systems go, although it was by no means perfect, it was a workable setup. And they provided non-disruptive means of influencing policy, questioning or blocking undesirable action, or expressing popular sentiment.
In other words, parties provided citizens a chance to be involved in the political process without having to run for office themselves. They not only provided their members, supporters, and sympathizers an orderly, peaceful, and focused exercise of their sovereignty, they made it possible for a disgruntled citizen who shared their beliefs a sense of belonging.
Because the parties consisted of law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who sought to be associated with other sectors, not at all elitist, they had credibility and thus could exert a decisive influence on government at local or higher levels. And they could count on the party to represent or fight for them.
Unlike today, even the poor could join and play a useful role in advancing the cause of free, open, and democratic political competition. In turn, their membership gave some assurance against betrayal and disloyalty, for the party meant more than just a label. It meant they shared a set of values that was their bond, keeping them close to each other and relatively free of betrayal or disloyalty.
But today party membership is like disposable items; you buy it, leave it, or trash it without consequences. If an unhappy citizen wants to express himself in an organized way, there’s no real party to join or join forces with. He can of course march on the street, mount a protest in the plaza, join a Luneta demonstration like the Million People March—or walk all the way to Malacañang hoping to see the President like the agrarian victims of Bukidnon are doing even now. But no sympathetic party to keep him company.
Of course, there’s cyber space and the internet, but it’s too unwieldy and one can easily be drowned out by paid hacks. About the only alternative is to run to the hills and join any of a number of insurgent groups like the BIFF or the NPA or Abu Sayyaf to engage in the ultimate protest: rebellion!
The point is, the parties then were as close to the advocacy institutions of democracy that they’re supposed to be. They had bona fide members and you knew who they were. They also had chapters with duly elected or appointed officers who lent visibility to the party in the community. It wasn’t only the national candidate or his paid spokespersons who spoke.
In other words, the parties of yesteryears were real, organized political groups. They helped organize the political system and society itself—as unifying or harmonizing agents promoting platforms, ideas, and ideals. This is indicated by the fact that the major actors in the political system then were outstanding leaders, role models, and pace-setters in Philippine society.
To appreciate the uprightness and admirable visage of Philippine politics in those days, one has but to recall who walked the halls of Congress then and their ideas and writings. Among them were Mindanao’s Emmanuel Pelaez, Duma Sinsuat, Domocao Alonto, Salipada Pendatun, Roseller Lim, Alejandro Almendras, Tomas Cabili, others.
And who can forget Claro M. Recto, Lorenzo Tañada, Raul Manglapus, Manuel Manahan, Jose Diokno, Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo, Camilo Osias, Ambrosio Padilla, Lorenzo Sumulong, or Jose Roy of Luzon? Then there were Sergio Osmeña, Manuel Cuenco, Daniel Romualdez, and others of the Visayas.
To visit and sit in sessions of Congress in those days was a real treat for the student of rhetoric, oratory, and debate as ideas and legislative proposals resounded on the walls of that institution.
In contrast, one can only agonize today at the sight or sound of a well-groomed but tongue-tied Lapid, a trivial Jinggoy, a pedantic Trillanes, a nitpicking Alan, a self-righteous Miriam, an ever grandstanding Bong, and the rest of the sordid crowd in the Upper Chamber. As for the Lower Chamber, well, just skip it!
More on this later on.
[Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asian Publishers Association; director, Development Academy of Philippines; member, Permanent Mission to the United Nations; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. [email protected]]