It was totally unexpected, which lived up to its hype of being a ?bombshell.? I doubt anybody was prepared for Chiz Escudero?s announcement that he was bolting his party, the Nationalist People?s Coalition (NPC), and going it alone.
?Whoever wants to be president of this country,? he said, ?won?t go far with his hands and feet shackled, his eyes blindfolded and his mouth gagged. Whoever wants to be president of this country should have no allegiance to any party?NPC, LP, PMP, Lakas. He should not decide on the basis of the dictates of the interest of a single group, party or person.?
Them are fighting words. And the first thing you thought of when he uttered them was how Eduardo ?Danding? Cojuangco took it. Gilbert Teodoro has suffered for less.
It is Chiz?s misfortune, however, having labored under Danding?s shadow for so long, that he cannot say anything suggesting nobility and self-sacrifice without people wondering what mundane reasons underlie it. And true enough, the first thing media speculated on was what really detonated his bomb. With most concluding that he felt thwarted when Danding failed to put his money where his (kingmaker?s) mouth was, conclusions that persisted despite his and his former party?s strenuous denials. Or probably because of them.
It didn?t help that Chiz?s answers to the questions put to him after his declaration were evasive. Asked by Ted Failon to cite specific instances when he felt shackled, blindfolded and gagged by his party, he went back to what he believed a would-be president should be free of. Asked by Karen Davila if that meant he would never join a party in the future, he went back to what he thought a would-be president should be free of. You can?t be both fearless and fearful at the same time. Those were not his finest moments.
I don?t know if he is serious about eschewing parties the rest of his life. I don?t know if he is serious about devoting his energies to a reformist agenda. I don?t know if he is serious about doing everything in his power to subvert traditional politics and going boldly where no politician has gone before. But I do know what he has done to stake his claim is pretty startling. He is either a high-stakes gambler or a man transformed. To go against patron, that?s been done before. But to go against patron without sheltering under another, that hasn?t. To go against one?s party, that?s been done before. But to go against parties in general, that hasn?t.
Time will tell if Chiz will be true to his word, or has the fortitude for its consequences. But whether he does so or not, he?s done us the no small favor of drawing attention to a plague that?s been ravaging our shores far more bitterly than the recent typhoons. Even if he himself doesn?t greatly enlighten on the subject.
That is the tyranny of parties.
Is he right to say parties shackle, blindfold and gag?
That is a very tricky question. My answer to it is: Yes, in this country they do. But that is only because we have no real political parties, except the Communist Party and Kapatiran. Those are the only political organizations that compel loyalty from its members on the basis of principle. The rest compel loyalty only on the basis of a strong patron, normally the president.
That was so even before martial law, when there were only two parties, the Liberal and the Nacionalista. The ease with which people transferred parties testified to the lack of hold of the parties on their members beyond their ability to advance personal ambitions. Indeed, the ease with which Ramon Magsaysay and Ferdinand Marcos transferred from Liberal to Nacionalista in the last two minutes to become its standard-bearer testifies to those parties being little more than fitful alliances or temporary (in)conveniences.
Local parties act as fetters, shackles, or yokes because they are run by powerful central figures who are bigger than the parties and whose word is law. You are Gibo, Arroyo?s wishes will be your commands. You are Chiz, Danding?s wishes will be your commands. Villar and Erap of course are their own parties, or dictators. If People Power hadn?t arisen like Lazarus with Cory?s death, the LP would have been the same.
In other countries, you don?t join political parties unless you believe in its principles, be it social democracy, Christian democracy, liberalism, socialism, or Utopia. In other countries, you don?t leave political parties just because your standard-bearer lost the elections. In other countries, the party?s will is not dictation, it is consensus.
How to end the tyranny of parties in our own unique, specific, perverse circumstances? Chiz?s stated solution is to abandon them. There is another, and that is to start building real ones.
Neither is easy, which is a humongous understatement. But the latter, for all its epic strenuousness, seems to me the more inevitable, or inescapable, one. It?s not just that abandoning parties seems suicidal, though there?s that too. It?s also that it can subvert the very thing it means to achieve. Look at the way Chiz phrases it: ?I just want to run as me, as Chiz Escudero.? That is not without its virtues. But that is not without its vices too, chief of them reinforcing personality politics, which is the essence of the tyranny.
Building real parties, the kind whose members share beliefs, principles and convictions and hold on to them for dear (political) life isn?t easy. But in these days of miracle and wonder, where one candidate at least is managing to run a genuine people?s campaign, one that is not shackled, blindfolded and gagged, one that is not dependent on, well, dictation, you never know. These elections have been full of surprises.
The candidate formerly known as Danding?s won?t be the last.