COMMENT: Can it happen in RP? by Patricio P. Diaz

Paraguay in South America did one better in its election last Sunday, April 20. Retired Bishop Fernando Lugo won the presidency, ending the 61-year rule of the country’s dominant party, Colorado Party (Partido Colorado), also known as the National Republican Association.

Can the Philippines do a Paraguay in the presidential election of 2010?

Paraguay Story

As reported by The New York Times and washingtonpost.com in their April 21 issues:

Since the Paraguayan Constitution prohibits church officials of any denomination from being elected president, in December 2006, Lugo resigned as bishop to start his campaign. While an independent, he had the backing of the Patriotic Alliance of Change, the second largest party in Paraguay.

With 92 percent of the ballots counted, Lugo garnered 41 percent; Blanca Ovelar de Duarte of Colorado Party, 31 percent; and Lino Oveido, a former general just released from prison for leading a coup in 1996, 22 percent.  Both Ovelar and Oveido have conceded.

Even before the final results were officially announced, this set off “wild street celebrations in downtown Asuncion”, the country’s capital, with fireworks, flag-waving and dancing “deep into the night” The revellers chanted Lugo’s campaign slogan, “Lugo has heart”.

Oveido, in conceding defeat, said after congratulating Lugo: “I’m content and happy because change was produced, even if it was not through me.”

Known as “self-styled champion of the poor”, exuding “natural warmth” and “often wearing sandals”, Lugo ran on the issues of poverty, unjust distribution of wealth and corruption. “In the 1970s, he advocated liberation theology – frowned upon by the Vatican – encouraging political activism within the Church for the social liberation of the poor.”
 
Here are some of the conditions that Lugo rode on:

Political: There is a deep frustration with single-party rule in Paraguay. There is entrenched patronage and corruption in the Colorado Party. President Nicanor Duarte Frutos supported Ovelar, not Vice President Castiglioni, for the party’s nomination which the latter labelled as “autocracy” or “authoritarianism”.

Among the reforms Lugo promised to do are: “change the country’s image to one of efficiency and honesty” and “ensure that ‘never again will the political class make policies based on clientism’” (washingtonpost.com).

Corruption: “Paraguay has struggled … to rid itself of a reputation for being among the most corrupt countries in Latin America” since 1954 when the Colorado Party brought to power Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled as a dictator until 1989.

One central issue: “Mr. Lugo accused the ruling Colorado of fuzzy accounting for the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues from the Itaipu hydroelectric dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam” (The New York Times).

Paraguay “is still saddled with a reputation for contraband and corruption. Lugo’s political ascent rode on a wave of dissatisfaction with those labels, and he launched his campaign after leading anti-corruption rallies against Duarte” (washingtonpost.com).

Economy and Poverty: Paraguay’s economy grew 6.4 percent in 2007. However, an analyst observed: “There is a feeling that even though Paraguay is experiencing economic growth, that hasn’t been reaching the people.” (washingtonpost.com)

More than 33 percent of the Paraguayans live below the poverty line – living on less than $2 a day. Lugo’s vow to level the country’s income disparities appealed most to the rural poor, the group that “generally haven’t been involved in the political process”. This shows how unjust the system is.  If as reported, the 2007 economic growth was mainly in the agricultural sector, who is monopolizing this sector?

The New York Times reports: “Mr. Lugo has talked about reforming the agrarian sector and redistributing wealth to more of Paraguay’s poor….he might consider increasing export tariffs on agricultural producers.”

Questions

The political, social and economic conditions that ended the 61-year dominance of Colorado Party are not unfamiliar to Filipinos. The difference: While in Paraguay, the conditions grew, persisted and worsened under one party for so long, in the Philippines parties alternated in nurturing the monster.

Change is as much a need and a demand in the Philippines as in Paraguay. To effect the change, the people of Paraguay changed its leader, not the system.  In opting to elect as their president Bishop Lugo, who had to retire to be an alternative, the Paraguayans declared their loss of confidence in traditional politicians.  This was the same message of the Kapampangans in electing Governor Panlilio.

For the Philippines, Paraguay has stoked the message in Pampanga. Will it catch fire?

The Philippines does not lack members of the clergy like Bishop Lugo.  Will anyone of them sacrifice like him? Unlike in Paraguay, a Filipino priest or bishop running for president does not have to resign.  There is no constitutional prohibition.  He only has to take a leave from the ministry.

However, will the Vatican accept the resignation of any Filipino bishop in order to run for president? That’s the highest hurdle.  In the case of Bishop Lugo, the Vatican did not consider him resigned but only on leave.  The constitutionality of his election can still be challenged.

Should a Filipino bishop do a Lugo in 2010, will the opposition match the sacrifice by uniting to support him? That is the final and pivotal question.

Bishop Lugo’s vow to ensure that “never again will the political class make policies based on clientism” is – for the Philippines – a reminder, a call to end traditional and dynastic politics.  Electing a member of the clergy as president is only a battle half-won. The full unselfish support of the opposition will make the war much easier to win.

Conditions in Paraguay crying for change plague the Philippines. Paraguay elected a member of the clergy as president in their quest for change. Will the Philippines do a Paraguay? (“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to patpdiaz@mindanews.com).

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