Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: July 2021
Wednesday, 28 July 2021 13:20

PDP-Laban 1982-2012

Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Laban ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) marked its 30th anniversary with the launch of a coffee table book detailing the party’s history.

Click the link below:


Published in LML Polettiques
First of a series

EARLIER this month, we witnessed the fait accompli takeover of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), the party that catapulted Rodrigo "Deegong" Duterte to the presidency in 2016. To recall, it was the symbiosis between Deegong and PDP-Laban that brought about this feat. But in some symbiotic relationship, one faction tends to be dominant - a twin in the womb cannibalizing a weak sibling, and the man was ruthless - from the time he ruled Davao as mayor and built a formidable political dynasty.

The instincts of PDP-Laban's eminence grise, Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr., correctly assessed Duterte propelling PDP-Laban to greater heights; but failed to anticipate an ingrato's lament disparaging PDP-Laban as a "father and son political party," belittling the founder and insulting its adherents. Duterte was unknown in Davao in 1986. His mother, Nanay Soling, was the person we, the fledgling Davao PDP-Laban, wanted then-president Corazon Aquino to appoint as vice mayor to complement our then-officer in charge mayor Zafiro Respicio. The mother declined, substituting her son instead. Thus, the debut of the Deegong in politics. The rest is history!


In some ways, PDP-Laban's capture by Duterte and his minions was not totally unexpected. The intramurals could be traced back to the illegal precipitate appointment by Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel 3rd in December 2020 of Sen. Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao as "acting president," a violation of its cherished tenet - "party process." But this move was not done without rhyme or reason. Koko acceded to Manny's salivating for the Philippine presidency. It was perhaps Koko's means of wresting back control of the party post-Duterte - as a kingmaker to an unschooled and naive but rich politician bent on cashing in on his reputation as "ang pangbansang kamao." Except that Koko's and Manny's amateurish moves were too early. The Deegong will not be made a lame duck, the worst thing that can happen to an alpha-politician with an eye toward perpetuating his dynasty. PDP-Laban's deterioration was fast, deadly and immediate. Like Jojo Binay before him in July 2015, Pacquiao's premature declaration invited a political maelstrom guaranteeing an early downfall. With the Deegong acting as the puppeteer, he has caused his underlings to advance the idea of his running for the vice presidency. This keeps him in play preventing a lame-duck presidency. This script was a near repeat in Davao in 2010 when daughter Sara ran as mayor with Tatay as her vice. This kept the ambitious in his orbit at bay, stunned and immobilized.

I don't think the Deegong will run for VP under a marionette as titular president. I surmise Duterte will eventually allow Sara to run for the presidency in this "moro-moro." So far, Sara is doing excellently well, being coy - keeping her cards close to her chest, before calling "all in."

Meantime, the PDP-Laban will go the way of traditional political ruling parties - peopled by pragmatic and opportunistic powerful politicians with the acquiescence of the original intelligentsia providing cover with a patina of its ideological language and symbolisms having been co-opted, bought and paid for with sinecures and lucrative positions in government, undersecretary/assistant secretary appointments, and government board seats. The traditional symbolic "left hand swearing in" complementing the DDS "sieg-heil" of a fist bump will simply caricature their mumbo-jumbo tenets - makadiyos, makabayan, makatao, etc.

When Nene Pimentel invited a winnable presidentiable into the fold, it also marked the beginning of the end of his vision of building a sustainable ideologically correct political party, setting in motion its perversion by the most traditional political genius of them all. The Deegong! Nene's progeny at the helm never had a fighting chance.

In retrospect the current events recall a similar scenario eerily paralleling circumstances occurring 33 years ago. Nene Pimentel founded the party along with a handful of us from Cagayan de Oro and Davao shortly after the Manila 1978 "noise barrage." We named this Pilipino Democratic Party (PDP)-Partido Dapat sa Pilipino.

Political journey

These excerpts are from a yet unpublished book written by this columnist circa 1997:

"The transformation of the PDP-Laban as an ideology-based political party to one that became a traditionalist patronage-centered party was a slow burn. Several factors contributed to this conversion. For one, it has not really internalized the political principles it claimed to operate under within the three years of its early existence prior to being drawn to the Cory government after the 1986 People Power Revolution.

"The critical mechanism to provide and imprint the Christian Social Democratic creed to its members and acolytes through the basic membership seminars (BMS) was not successfully put in place. What originally started as a three-day immersion on party tenets that began in Mindanao was cast aside once PDP decided to merge with Ninoy Aquino's Lakas ng Bayan (Laban). A critical mass of membership may have been attained but the inculcation of the ideological precepts did not keep in step.

"The PDP was an innovative idea from successful European models. It was not meant to be just transplanted from these mature societies, but certain features could be adapted to counter home-grown patronage-based politics. PDP was then touted as 'left of center' of the political spectrum with its Jesuit-influenced founders, steeped in Christian social teachings articulated through the papal encyclicals.

"A true ideology-based Filipino version of a political party that reflected the profile of its society was envisioned; a mass-based dues-paying membership, free from the shackles of patronage; practicing internal democracy in its methods and choices; a collective leadership whose decision-making process is arrived at through consensus; and one that must serve its community requiring its continued existence beyond campaign and election periods. This was the PDP we envisioned.

Internalization of concepts

"The three years of organizing (1982-1985), was not enough to internalize these concepts, so one by one, these tenets were surrendered to the exigencies of the times. The first to go was the P250 annual dues. What was meant to fund the party's basic needs and give the members a sense of ownership was eliminated by the populist arguments that the amounts were too much for the poor members to pay. So, the party had to revert to the patronage system where members look up to their local leaders to have their dues paid, for the privilege of membership and voting rights.

"When it was conceptualized in Mindanao, PDP was religious in conducting the three-day basic membership seminars (BMS). This was meant for the party members to imbibe the basis for the party's existence, its principles, platforms and structures. This type of immersion was necessary to enable prospective members to form friendships, deepen bonds and foment trust especially under martial law conditions. But the organizing reached fever pitch after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. All steps were eliminated to gain adherents and warm bodies. Peping Cojuangco, Cory's brother, with the acquiescence of the "leadership in Metro Manila, did away with the intensive BMS and exacted the half-day sessions. This twin decisions to eliminate membership dues and shorten the BMS opened the party to the onslaught of shrewd politicians steeped in the ways of traditional politics."

Next week, Aug. 4, 2021: Two wings of PDP-Laban
Published in LML Polettiques
Fourth of a series

THIS column could best be appreciated within the context of today's deadly internecine fight in the ruling party with an eye on the political upheaval five decades ago. I start from the Marcos dictatorship years, underscoring democracy's loss and subsequently extolling its return in the 1986 People Power Revolution when then-president Corazon "Cory" Aquino declared that her main concern as a "housewife-president" was to bring back democracy. Little did we know then that what she brought back was really just a veneer of democracy. We were so taken with the euphoria of having booted out the dictator Marcos that, looking back now - given the 20/20 hindsight vision - we were in denial.

People are now skeptical whether the five decades of this brand of democracy is right for us. From its inception, the country has inexorably marched toward political oblivion. Our leadership has perpetuated this democratic fiction for so long that its deficits are tolerated as typical and natural to the system. We see by now that the main beneficiary of this deceit is our oligarchy and its allies, the political dynasties. These simply flourish in this type of democracy.

What was meant to be the vehicle for people empowerment, as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, resulted in a proliferation of single-issue political parties championing eclectic though narrow causes under a party-list system: from the interest of farmers and fisherfolk to the advocacies of coconut farmers and banana growers, concerns of the security guards and jeepney drivers, and even the welfare of artists and electricity consumers and cooperatives. A maximum of three slots are allotted through a minimum number of universal votes, adding performers enhancing Congress' already circus-like debauchery. The party-list system, lifted from the German model, was perverted to suit the Filipino politician's penchant for freeloading off resources from government.

On the national level, large political parties are underwritten by party bigwigs, oligarchs and self-proclaimed candidates chosen in the proverbial "smoked-filled rooms." Thus, they retain their prerogatives to dictate what programs and platforms, if any, to present to voters. Political manna constantly flows from the incumbent regime inducing a massive exodus from out-of-power parties resulting in a merry-go-round where opportunistic politicians are PDP-Laban today, Liberal Party in the past regime, Lakas-NUCD before that and KBL during the dictatorship. Tomorrow, they may flock toward Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

Political parties and elections

In this country, elections are seldom the expression of the people's will. It is one dimension of the monopoly of power allowed by a few dynastic families and allies to perpetuate their decades-long hegemony on the body politic, thus stunting society's development. As a corollary to this, the people's lack of civic and political education exacerbates the situation resulting in an immature and subservient political culture.

The abrogation of all these is imperative. The antithesis is the creation and institutionalization of real political parties that could aggregate the varied aspirations of the citizenry giving them options - including the decision to emerge from their ignorance - thus breaking out of the clutches of the dynasties.

In more modern developed countries, political parties are the "sine qua non" of a vibrant democracy. They are not vessels for personal electoral survival and perpetuation in power of dynastic political families. They exist because the citizenry, the wellspring and final arbiter of political power, have diverse issues and concerns that need to be articulated and amplified to a wider political domain. Political parties must provide them with real choices.

From the Centrist Democrats (CD) manuals and literature (www.cdpi.asia, CDP/CDM/CDPI manuals):

"Political parties are the primary vehicles to gain political power by engaging themselves in political contests, primarily elections. The members and their leadership are expected to adhere to a set of principles and strategies written in a platform unique to that party. This espousal of a vision of governance defines the ideological identity of that party - and therefore, the electorate must be permitted a patent choice - as to who must govern them based on what the candidates and their respective parties stand for."

These political parties exist abroad, principally in Germany, Great Britain, and even in the US prior to Trumpism. Their best practices could be adopted, such as dues-paying membership and year-round activities.

Parties must be membership-based

Political parties as in any organization need warm bodies, advocating shared interest, expanding growth of adherents and voters, as means for eventual political control. These activities require logistics from a diversity of sources. Membership dues are the obvious main source. In the Philippines, political party members seldom pay dues. Therefore they have no real stake in them. The real stakeholders are the financiers.

Building solid finances principally from members and like-minded allies and instituting transparent financial management can free the membership from dependence and control of a few rich personalities within.

Off-election season activities

The reality on the ground is that political parties are only active during election season. Off-season, they tend to "hibernate." Ideally in between campaign periods, elected representatives must conduct continuous dialogue with the people and the institutions that govern them. Representatives need constant feedback from citizens so they may understand changing realities on the ground. Throughout each year, their political parties should organize projects and activities, advocacies and internal training sessions with its members participating actively.

They need to strictly exercise internal democratic procedures, from inception and execution of programs and activities to the selection of their leaders or the nomination of candidates for public offices.

They need to impose party discipline, not allowing their leaders or elected representatives in public offices to contradict party policy decisions, except in rare cases of personal conscience-driven issues.

The party must have its own rules for its members to abide by and should be the training ground for the leaders of the country.

Consequently, only parties which are member-based, possessing internal democratic structures and procedures and clear program orientation should be permitted to field candidates for elections. These should all be covered by law.

Reforms needed

To enforce the desired profile of real political parties we need immediate reforms in our political party system short of the 1987 constitutional revisions. Meantime these reforms can be achieved through the passing of the proposed Political Party Development and Financing Act (a bill that has been pending in Congress for several years) which will:

1. Penalize "turncoatism" (or the switching of political parties, "balimbing," "political butterfly") and expulsion from elective public offices and party membership if their acts are deemed inimical to party principles.

2. Enforce transparent mechanisms providing and regulating campaign financing to eliminate graft, corruption and patronage (corporate and individual contributions).

3. Institute strict state subsidy that will professionalize political parties by supporting their political education and campaign initiatives (currently being done in European countries).

No political reform has ever been done by the current regime. But it is not too late while the PDP-Laban though in disarray still has cohorts in Congress and are in control of the legislative agenda. What is lacking is the political will to ram this through.

Is the Deegong still up to it?
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 14 July 2021 10:04

Political parties - what we have

Third of a series

THE Partido Federalista (Federal Party) was the first Philippine political party allowed by our colonials in the 1900, which pushed for our annexation as a US state. The Nacionalista Party was founded shortly after to advocate for the opposite view - immediate Philippine independence. Several iterations of these advocacies emerged over the years until the liberal wing of the Nacionalista broke away and formed the Liberal Party. These two old groupings were the closest the Philippines had to a two-party system until President Ferdinand Marcos, a member of both parties at certain times, imposed martial law in 1972 and President Corazon "Cory" Aquino,, who did not believe in political parties, allowed the proliferation of the multiparty system in the 1987 Constitution.

Midterm elections

National elections are always a referendum on the current occupant of Malacañang. Last midterm, the Otso Diretso opposition, a motley group of Liberal, Akbayan, Magdalo party-list and Aksyon Demokratiko political parties were obliterated. The Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) catapulted four PDP-Laban partymates, two of whom were political neophytes and Duterte's underlings - Bong Go and Ronald dela Rosa - to the Senate, capturing the third and fifth places. In total, HNP won nine of the 12 seats with one seat each for the veteran senators with their own personal political base: the ex-movie actor Lito Lapid of NPC and two other reelectionists, Nancy Binay of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) and Mary Grace Poe, an independent.

This triumph was attributed more to the charisma of Duterte rather than to the PDP-Laban and perhaps the bankruptcy of the moral ascendancy of the opposition. More importantly, this evokes a truism in Philippine patronage politics: that the patron's influence, in this case, the sitting president is all-pervasive in wielding power without compunction using the entire government resources at its disposal running over the political opposition any which way.

HNP is a regional political alliance formed by the President's daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, to support the father's candidacy - a personal vehicle simply for the purpose of winning elections with no pretenses to ideological fervor except PRRD's nebulous concept of federalism, emancipation from "Imperial Manila" and war on drugs, issues that resonated with the periphery. On these credentials as a federalist and an outsider, he was enticed to assume the presidency of the PDP-Laban - an anti-martial law party that originally occupied the left-of-center space in the political spectrum. Federalism was a major tenet of the party until Duterte dropped this advocacy in 2019 leaving the PDP-Laban and adherents high and dry. Currently, he is party chairman while Sen. Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquaio, his erstwhile sycophant turned adversary, holds the presidency.

Pacquiao ran under his personal People's Champ Movement (PCM) solely on his boxing creds in coalition with UNA. He was also allied or a member of the Liberal, Kampi-Lakas-CMD (Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats), and Nacionalista parties at certain times. Duterte himself ran under several political groupings, once joining the Nacionalista, won as congressman under the Laban ng Makabayang Masang Coalition and as city chairman of the Liberal Party in 2009.

Convoluted political parties

This phenomenon, almost exclusively Filipino, is known as the "political butterfly" syndrome. In this context, switching political parties is akin to chameleons changing their skin color perfunctorily. Politicians with the temerity to stay affiliated out of principles and values are rare. They are an endangered species. This is descriptive of a paucity of ideological perspectives and politicians bereft of moral compass anchored on patent expediency. These defections are rampant on the shifting winds of political fortunes and purely done for political survival.

Almost all of the political parties in the Philippines are structured in a manner that hew closely to the centuries-old patronage system. The patron (in this case the sitting president) who provides the funds makes almost all of the party decisions, especially with regard to those slated to run for elective positions; the central/executive committees are usually manned by their allies and subalterns; and there are no real offices and party activities year-round except during election periods.

Invariably, political parties do not have a uniquely consistent set of beliefs that distinguishes one from the other; at most they proffer slogans and motherhood statements that pass for political doctrines. Their political agenda is predictably directed toward the preservation of elective members' prerogatives, ensuring the continued accumulation of pelf and privileges for themselves, their families and their allies. Individual programs and family interest, perforce, have precedence over that of a political party's collective appreciation of society's needs. And once they are gifted the privilege to govern, public policies are instituted on the fly emanating from the framework of traditional political practices, their comprehension of national issues seen subjectively through the prism of personal and family interests, thus perpetuating the existing flawed political institutions.

PDP-Laban's disintegration

From Duterte's ascendancy, the PDP Laban sheltered within the halo of Duterte's influence, exuberant in this new regime of political clout conducted an indiscriminate wholesale recruitment of "trapos" from other political parties whose ideological precepts run counter to that which the original PDP-Laban holds dear. This was ostensibly advantageous - following the precepts of "politics is addition" - as its agenda has found advocacy in the two houses of Congress, provided they don't run in conflict with the vested interests of the senators, congressmen, their respective political dynasties and their allies in the oligarchy. This is double-edged as the originals and intelligentsia of the party - derisively described as "unelected and unelectable true-believers" by the trapos are invariably shunted aside - except for those gifted with sinecures in the cabinet, the bureaucracies, appointed undersecretaries and assistant secretaries and government board seats. Unwittingly their interests have become aligned with those of the new political power brokers - worse, these "political butterflies" crafting an agenda inimical to the PDP-Laban's purported left-of-center profile are now lording over it. These "true believers" backbone of the party at its inception and growth possessing no political power are reduced to a pathetic few, their political carcasses left strewn all over the place.

The PDP-Laban has splintered. The "unelected president," Pacquiao, questioned by the original members for usurping the party presidency, has his eye on the Philippine's presidency. It seems that Manny hasn't undergone "Basic Orientation Seminar" (BOS) for party membership but was offered the presidency by the past president Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel 3rd, whose own presidency was likewise questioned by the "originals," accused of having illegally assumed the post after VP Binay (the past party president) left in 2009. Apparently, Koko never called a national council meeting as the party constitution required to affirm his presidency. Eventually the PDP-Laban national assembly met in July 2018 and former MP (Congressman) Rogelio "Bik-Bik" Garcia, an original, was elected president. A rump national assembly was recently called by another personality appearing out of the woodwork - Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, presumably with the Deegong's imprimatur calling for Duterte to run in 2020 as VP, with whoever PDP-Laban chooses as its presidential candidate.

Where is the Deegong in all of these? Recalling presidential spokesman Harry Roque's declaration, ages ago: "Hugpong ng Pagbabago, not PDP-Laban, is the President's party. Hugpong has always been his political party ever since he ran for mayor of Davao City 23 years ago."

Next week, July 21, 2021: Political parties - what we want

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 07 July 2021 11:53

Fixing a dysfunctional system

AS discussed in the first part of this series last week, political patronage is central to what ails our system of governance. Professor Jose "Pepe" Abueva, citing Gunnar Myrdal's book, Asian Drama, depicts the Philippines as a soft state and a weak nation, arguing that it is unable to apply the law equally to all its citizens. Our institutions are captives of the oligarchy and serve mostly their interest and that of the few rich allies and powerful politicians. Our leaders failed to unite and inspire our diverse peoples as a nation. These are symptoms of political patronage, peripherals feeding on themselves, defining us after centuries of this practice.

Former chief justice Renato Puno referred to our dysfunctional democracy in one of his speeches: "I like to stress the failure of our electoral system to excise the virus of the politics of patronage that has infected our so-called elections...xxx...This vicious politics of patronage has allowed few oligarchs and bosses to rule us from colonial times to post-colonial times, and their rule has brought us nothing but a facade of democracy, its mirage but not its miracle."

Furthermore, the agenda of the oligarchy, the political dynasties, clans and cabals who get their candidates elected allow their legitimate capture of state institutions. They build on this dominance and perpetuate themselves in power, positions and wealth. It is unfortunate that all these deformities are intertwined and protected by the 1987 Constitution.

It will be recalled that the US-sponsored 1935 Constitution was the overriding political document governing our political life until replaced by the Marcos 1973 Constitution, which was then abrogated by the 1986 Edsa People Power revolution. These authorizations contain the structures underpinning our dysfunctional system of governance buttressed by deleterious provisions evolving into what was to become the Cory Constitution of 1987. (These will be apt topics for dissection in future columns.)

1987 Constitution

Subsequently, the socio-political-economic system fashioned by and for the elite and the oligarchy enshrined in the 1987 Constitution has so constricted an all-encompassing growth unable to keep pace with progress and the changing needs of society. The irony of it all is that laws perpetuating these deficits are legitimately framed by those controlling the levers of political and economic power - the two lawmaking bodies, the Senate and the House - bastions of the oligarchy and political dynasties.

On the economic front, these defects are attributed to the constitutional provisions restricting foreign direct investments (FDI) attracting foreign technology and capital that create jobs. Here, the role of the State is to provide a supportive framework, spurring inclusive growth and not be a direct participant competing with the private sector in an interplay of free market mechanisms. In the homegrown basic sectors, there needs to be a restructuring and modernization of agriculture and fisheries and a rethinking of investments in the mining industry; and the reform of progressive taxation policies that shifts the burden from income to consumption.

Charter change

Political and socioeconomic reforms require revisions of the 1987 Constitution. But every post-Cory administration has failed at critical reforms - from FVR's 1997 Pirma to Erap's 1999 Concord to GMA's 2005 Consultative Commission (ConCom) ending with Duterte's 2018 Constitutional Committee (Concom).

Looking beyond the limits of our discretion, it is hard to find a country that has not amended or revised its constitution in 30 years. In a nutshell, we are unable to tackle the most severe problems within our existing system.

Our leadership fatuously pays lip service to change, pagbabago, but sorely lacks the courage to take it to the finish line - a bankruptcy of political will. No president can permanently alter our realities without overhauling our decaying system. Only when the imperatives of good leadership and governance are put in play can we cure our ailing political system.

President Benigno Aquino 3rd (may he rest in peace) made it very clear that he never wanted to modify "a comma in his mother's constitution"; as if Charter change were a sacrilege.

Parliamentary system

Our presidential system does not provide a sufficient degree of checks and balances for constancy. The executive and the legislative branches are intermittently at odds resulting in gridlocks. Our colonial past inculcated a premise that a presidential form is a natural choice. Looking at the list of countries with similar systems, you find a list that starts with Afghanistan and ends with Zimbabwe - practically turbulent and failed states. The most stable and successful countries in the world have parliamentary forms of government. America that imposed on us the presidential model has, since the ascendancy of Trumpism, exposed the weaknesses of its presidential system, its practice of democracy and the mockery of the concept of co-equal branches of government and separation of powers - in a perpetual deadly stalemate.

In a parliamentary system the legislative and executive powers are fused. Members of parliament elect the leader of government among themselves (usually called prime minister) with his Cabinet recruited from among the members of parliament. Thus, the accountability is clear and direct between the makers of the law and executors of the same.

The prime minister is accountable to congress (parliament) and can, if needed, be replaced through a vote of no-confidence - instead of the acrimonious and highly partisan impeachment process. The president still exists as a symbolic head of state, possessing no real political powers.

Studies from all over the world have shown that this form of government provides a higher degree of stability and is less prone to corruption, delivering services much more efficiently to constituents as in Germany, Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries. An important feature is that the prime minister is likewise held accountable to the political parties represented in it. Needless to say, our current party system is a parody of these models.

Presidential system and dynasties

We pointed out the aberrations of the sequences of our selection and election of persons who will eventually occupy the presidency, one inherently undemocratic.

But the most glaring defect of the presidential system is that this is the embryo upon which patronage politics is nurtured. For almost 100 years the system flourished feeding upon the least desired aspect of the Filipino culture - the desire for and dependence on a benefactor from the datu and sultan, heading a clan; to the Spanish patron looking over the indios, to the American "big brother"; morphing into the Philippine president, the "father" of the people.

And where the president is elected at large, he is expected to provide the wherewithal for an expensive election campaign (billions of pesos). This opens an aperture for the oligarchy and the moneyed elite to influence the outcome. We can only speculate at the quid pro quo.

And with the constitutional mandated term limits of elective officials, this deviant model of "public service as a private business" becomes a strong impetus toward the perpetuation of this power base - thus the birth of powerful political dynasties.

Charter revisions are central to fixing our dysfunctional systems. But a critical precondition to all these is the existence of political power delivery system - real political parties - much needed in all reforms in governance.

Next week, July 14, 2021: Political parties
Published in LML Polettiques