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Opinion

Tales of Philippine elections

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

The Philippines is entering a political period which used to be called the “nominating” process the period when the political parties would choose their presidential, vice presidential and senatorial candidates. Before the Marcos martial law, this used to be an exciting process, and there were times choices for party candidates were closely fought.

This was during the period when there was a two-party system and a viable candidate for president and vice president had to come from one of the two national and legally recognized parties – Nacionalista and Liberal.

During the Philippine Commonwealth period, there was only one dominant party – the Nacionalista Party which had led the Philippine struggle for independence from the United States. The party was led by Quezon and Osmeña. However, in the first postwar election, a new party was formed to oppose the Nacionalista Party. This was the Liberal Party led by Gerardo Roxas. There were stories that this new party won because it was backed by Douglas MacArthur.

One significant date is 1965 because this was the year Marcos became president and started his long tenure of power which ended only in 1986.

Marcos’ story of winning the presidency has all the earmarks of Philippine politics, which include jumping from one party to another. In 1965 Macapagal, a Liberal, was the president. He had a stranglehold on the Liberal Party while the Nacionalista Party did not even have a viable presidential candidate. Then two prominent Liberals, senator Ferdinand Marcos and vice president Pelaez, transferred to the Nacionalista Party. These two became the nominees for the Nacionalista Party in 1965.

There was a third Liberal Party leader – Raul Manglapus – who left the party and formed the Party for Philippine Progress. This was a reformist Party for Progress. It attracted the youth, who became the backbone of this party.

The most critical part of the Nacionalista Party nomination story is that the Lopez brothers – Eugenio and Fernando – swung their support to Marcos during the convention. There have been a lot of stories and theories why they supported Marcos. However, this support swung the powerful sugar bloc to Marcos and clinched his victory.

One can say that Marcos owed his nomination and eventual victory to the Lopez family. A few years later, Marcos declared martial law, sequestered all the Lopez businesses, including Meralco and ABS-CBN.

During martial law, the political landscape was dominated by one party – the Marcos KBL. Then in the 1978 National Assembly elections, Marcos allowed opposition. There was initially a call for boycott because it was known that this would not be a fair election. However, Ninoy Aquino, who was then the acknowledged leader of the opposition even though he was detained, wanted to participate. There was also the belief that as long as there was election, Ninoy, who was in jail, announced he was running in order to have a chance to talk to the people. I think there was also a belief that as long as there were elections, the people had an alternative to a violent revolution. A party was formed to fight in the 1978 elections. It was called Lakas ng Bayan or People Power.

In 1992, a group of ideologically driven leaders from Mindanao led by Aquilino Pimentel Jr. in Cagayan de Oro and leaders from Davao City got together and organized what was intended to be an ideological party with a center-left ideology.

After the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983, the clamor was for change. At that time there were two principal opposition parties. There was the UNIDO originally founded by the Laurels of Batangas and the PDP-LABAN.

At that time there was increasing anticipation that it was a matter of time before Marcos would again call for elections. There was again a debate between Boycott and Participation since there was again anticipation Marcos would cheat or rig the elections.

The first problem was to choose a common candidate. In PDP-LABAN there was early consensus that Cory Aquino would be the ideal candidate. But she was against her running as the candidate. I remember that Jaime Ferrer was asked to invite Cory to Parañaque to address a group of our leaders. She accepted and I was the one who introduced her to the assembly. I said that she would be the next president of the Philippines.

After the meeting she called me aside and scolded me for saying she would be the next president. She repeated that she had absolutely no intention of running. A year later, she ran and won as the president of the Philippines.

The 1987 post-Edsa Constitution removed the monopoly of the two parties. At that time, I had hoped that political parties would be along ideological lines and not personalities. Actually, nothing has really changed. Pre-martial law, political parties were formed based on personalities. The only difference is that the final election would be limited to two major personalities based on the limitation to the two parties. As I said, in the 1965 elections the two candidates of the Nacionalista Party – Marcos and Pelaez – were recent transferee from the Liberal Party.

I also have not seen any formula for winning elections. Reluctant candidates like Cory Aquino have won; popular personalities like FPJ lost and unexpected candidates like Noynoy Aquino and Duterte have suddenly appeared and won.

All I can say is that this coming election will be another historic one.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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