Keeping democracy alive
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - May 9, 2019 - 12:00am

Ever since the Philippines declared independence in 1898, its people has called  itself the showcase of democracy in Asia. But if we look at the country’s history during the past 120 years, keeping democracy alive and vibrant has been a constant struggle. 

During these past 12 decades, there have been four big stories that can explain this struggle and offer a vision for the nation’s future. After the Philippine war for independence against the Spaniards and the Americans came the long period of non-violent movement for independence from American colonization. That was the era of the great “wise men” in Philippine politics. There were Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, Lorenzo Sumulong and young nationalists like Claro Mayo Recto. In both these historical stories, the leaders came from the elite educated class. It started with the ilustrados like Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar and Antonio Luna whose families were rich enough to send them to be educated in Europe. The revolutionary leaders and generals were primarily town officials and landlords who organized the lower classes and tenants to join the Philippine Revolution.

In 1935, the Philippines became a commonwealth which meant a certain degree of independence. However, the democracy that was in place was considered by some to still be the rule of elite. This was the cause that Pedro Abad Santos took up as he fought for the rights of tenants and landless in Central Luzon. His political vehicle was the Socialist Party, the forerunner of the Hukbalahap.

This class struggle was interrupted by the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. After the Second World War, the Philippines won its independence from the United States and conducted its first democratic elections. Several candidates from the Socialist-Communist won congressional seats in Central Luzon; but were not allowed to seat. 

The Nacionalista Party is the oldest in the Philippines. It was founded by three young leaders in the revolution against Spain – Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmeña and Rafael Palma. In the 1953 elections it fielded the tandem of Ramon Magsaysay and Carlos P. Garcia.

During the Commonwealth period, the Nacionalistas dominated politics. After the liberation of the Philippines, several members of the Nacionalista Party led by Manuel Roxas seceded and formed the Liberal Party. They contested the leadership and candidacy of Sergio Osmeña. In the 1946 election, the winners were Manuel Roxas for President and Elpidio Quirino for Vice President.

Then came the second big story of modern Philippine history. The 1949 presidential elections saw Quirino of the Liberal Party defeat Jose Laurel of the Nacionalista Party. In the 1953 presidential elections, the political parties emerged and became an integral part of Philippine politics. However, the major parties did not represent any particular ideologies; and, were mainly organized around prominent political personalities or served major vested interests. In the 1953 elections, there were four major political parties. Aside from the Nacionalista and Liberal parties, a Citizens’ Party was formed headed by Lorenzo Tañada who had gained a reputation as a crusader for clean and honest government. This party would later coalesce and become the Nationalist Citizens Party; and, in the 1957 elections would run Claro Recto for President and Tañada for Vice President.

The fourth party was the Democratic Party organized by Carlos Romulo who failed to win the nomination for president under the Liberal Party. This party decided to coalesce with the Nacionalista to assure the defeat of Quirino.

The big struggle in the 1950s was the fight against the rising tide of communism and the Hukbalahap led by Taruc and the Lava brothers. It was the charismatic leadership of Ramon Magsaysay that united the nation in this struggle. Unfortunately, he died in a plane crash even before his first term ended. It was said that he would have easily won a second term and perhaps prevented the rise of the Marcos rule.

In 1965, Marcos  became president of the Philippines. In the mid term senatorial elections of 1967, only one out of eight seats was won by the opposition – the Liberal Party. The sole winner was a young congressman from Tarlac called Ninoy Aquino. In the 1969 elections, Marcos won overwhelmingly and was deemed as an unbeatable political personality. But things and the mood of the people changed as corruption and abuses of power became rampant. In the 1971 midterm senatorial elections, the Liberal Party won seven out of eight contested seats. Among those who lost were Enrile and Ople. 

Marcos, however, wanted to stay in power indefinitely. He declared martial law and started a reign of rampant corruption and grave human rights abuses. This was the third big story of our modern political history. It was not until 1986 – 21 years after the start of his reign – that democracy was restored. It took the martyrdom of Ninoy Aquino, the leadership of Cory Aquino and the rise of People Power. This was the beginning of the fourth big story.

This story – the restoration of democracy – has not yet ended. There are forces that want to end this story and restore Marcosian rule. These coming elections on May 13 will be a crucial chapter in this story; but, it will not be the end of the story. 

If we look back at the four stories of Philippine history, one lesson we should learn is that democracy and human rights are very young concepts in this country. We have spent more time as colonies of Spain, United States and Japan and under the martial rule of Marcos than as a truly independent and democratic country. 

Keeping democracy alive will be a constant struggle. That is why participating in the elections this Monday, May 13 is so critical. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on May 11, 18, 25 (1:30 pm-3pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC.  Writefest summer workshop of six sessions for kids and teens run from May 13 to 24. For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.  

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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