The urge to make a movement
In the 13 years he was dictator, Ferdinand Marcos systematically dismantled the parties that existed prior to martial law. His New Society demanded the resurrection of an old scheme. His model was the Kapisanan ng Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas (Kalibapi) during the Japanese Occupation, which was meant to replace the political parties of the Commonwealth. His Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) was called a movement supposedly upon the request of former speaker Jose B. Laurel Jr., who asked that the Nacionalista Party be allowed to “go to sleep” for the duration.
Marcos’ desire for a one-party state was nothing new. One can argue that the political class’ built-in tendency is to have a single party to ensure everyone has access to patronage. This is why in 1957, for example, the Nacionalistas and Liberals considered reuniting (both traced their origins to the prewar Nacionalistas) in what was expected to be Magsaysay’s unstoppable second-term landslide victory.
Magsaysay himself liked the idea, as it would sideline party elders who were a thorn in his side. Presidents like the idea of inspiring a movement because while each one enjoys the support of the administration party that coalesces at the start of every administration, it requires bargaining with the leaders who bring the factions to the feeding trough; and that party remains supportive only as long as the trough is kept full and the president remains popular. If the president—or, to be precise, his or her people—are more ideologically minded, then a six-year shelf life is unsatisfying because it means long-lasting political change is impossible. You need a movement to accomplish that.
Every president since Edsa has hoped or tried to set up a movement that would become a permanent party. Cory Aquino had Lakas ng Bansa to push for the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, which became the LDP which transformed into the Lakas-CMD of Fidel V. Ramos. He hoped this would become the permanent union of political factions on the model of Malaysia’s Umno once the shift to a parliamentary government took place. To do this, he tried to foster movements to push for charter change (Arroyo would try to do something similar, rebranding it Kampi). Estrada tried to cobble together the Left and Marcos loyalists into his PMP. Aquino III tried to foster volunteer organizations even as he hoped the bloating of the Liberal Party wasn’t just a flash in the pan (it was).
All these efforts failed because our democracy is top-heavy. The barangay is our government’s basic unit, but it is supposed to be “nonpolitical,” which is like insisting that if you can make a pig moo, people will think it produces beef.
What the barangay really is, is demonstrated by the impunity its officials enjoy: freedom from fixed terms. Of course they technically have fixed terms but in reality, they have no regular, predictable expiration date. Other officials come and go like clockwork, but of all people, the barangay chairs remain the same.
This is because barangay officials man the political front lines; they are more useful the longer they’re in place, most especially during election season when everyone else has to campaign (and risk winning or losing). But being “nonpolitical” officials, barangay chairs have an excuse to stay on and hold the political machinery together. And so the only thing regular about barangay elections is how regularly they’re “postponed” and “rescheduled” to “save money” or ensure “efficiency.”
We saw it under Arroyo, we saw it under Aquino III, and in 2016 the “supermajority” in the 17th Congress labored half a year only to produce a mouse: its sole legislative output being the postponement of the barangay elections from last year to this year. Presidents may, from time to time, say how undemocratic this is. In the end their party leaders point out to them, in private, that to reform the barangays is to institute a circular firing squad. It would reform everyone’s political machinery out of existence.
For the methodically minded in the present dispensation, giving in to yet another barangay election postponement may be pragmatic politics but does nothing to effect changes that will outlast their dear leader. For Kilusang Pagbabago (the movement meant to liberate the President from his political kind) to finally achieve the vanguard dreams of its architect (Cabinet Secretary Evasco), a different model from the past is required. That can be found in the ’60s and ’70s, in the building of the CPP-NPA-NDF. Whatever path the cadres of those days subsequently chose, a chance for redemption is being dangled: Reunite the factions; recycle the red manifestos; work from within the corridors of power to mount a revolution from within.
But as we will see, this is turning out less easy than it first seemed.
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