When a Party is Over: the long, drawn-out death of the Liberal Party

To say this is painful for me is an understatement.

I entered the Liberal Party as one who was cynical about politicians; as the head of the UCSC’s intelligence directorate, being paranoid and cynical were part of the job description. Until that time in 2000, only one politician merited my respect (hah, and even he has lost that now). But you learned to love the LP, and being a liberal in beliefs if not in creed, it was but the logical conclusion to align one’s self to the most visible and powerful symbol of liberalism in the Philippines. I was proud to be a Liberal, proud to be in the LP.

It is a testament to the extent of the… mess that the Party is in right now that one’s pain is mixed so thoroughly in – and caused from – the confusion and disappointment that stems from 8 July 2005. Someone once said that what befell the LP was a mirror of what was happening to the country. Perhaps it is true: although one can see the battle lines clearly drawn, who are the protagonists? Who are the antagonists? Are the heroes totally pure in their motives, as heroes should be? Are the villains totally without basis for their percieved villainy, or are their actions justified by the acts of those they contend with?

For following the events of 2 March 2006 the manner of the escalation of this 8-month long debacle may have hopelessly shattered our once great Party. Yet this is no division where you can distinguish one part from another, and an attempt can be made to make it whole. No: the LP is shattered into a hundred million pieces, each minute shard being tossed in the winds of the dark fate released from July 8.

Isn’t that where it truly begins? I still maintain that, despite Chito’s points last March 2, he would have been answered in full if on that day itself, during that assembly and in the presence of the cameras of all the TV networks and notepads of reporters that March 2 happened becuase Drilon refused to heed the call of Party leaders and members to immediately convene the National Executive Council (NECO).

KALIPI asked for it not one week after July 8; I should know, I drafted that position paper, circulated to the members of KALIPI’s National Board and to the major chapter leaders before we sent it to Drilon (this is contrary to what some people would claim; they said that we lack democracy in the youth wing since no consultation happens. How very far from the truth).

And when the Party’s sectoral groups – KALIPI, the Liberal Caucus of Congressional Staff (LCCS) and the Liberal League of Local Legislators (L4) – met to discuss what was happening to the Party and what can we do about it, along comes Chito to tell us, in so many words that, yes, we were free to discuss, but we shouldn’t, do anything that would, ah, affect the moves being done among “higher management.” to resolve the issue. To my mind, this sounded so much like the Party’s sectors were being told by the Drilon group to “keep off!” All we wanted to do was to discuss the problem, and call on the Party President to convene the NECO at the soonest possible time to resolve the issue. Drilon was right: the NECO is, short of the National Directorate, the highest policy-making body of the LP. During Butch Abad’s time, no important decision was reached without at least consulting the NECO. The NECO’s decisions would have been final.

Yet Frank Drilon, since 8 July 2005, refused to convene the NECO. Month after month after month. Until March 2 happened.

And they had the gall to refer to the LP constitution? So why didn’t Chito mention anywhere that Drilon, too, had breached the LP constitution? It was clear there that the NECO should be convened at least once a year. The last time the NECO was convened was Nov. 2004, when Abad finally turned over the party presidency to Drilon. November and December 2005 came and went and still no NECO. Still no resolution to the conflict.

And there’s that infernal “stand.”

Let me level off here: I do not like Gloria. I think my previous post proves that. I am not entirely convinced of the Garci tapes – my training, both as an intelligence officer and as a communications major, prevents me from jumping too quickly to conclusions when a shadow of a doubt exists – but neither do I agree with the little girl who sits at the Palace. I think she should have let the impeachment through and fought it out in the Senate, hostile as it was after July 8; didn’t the Filipino people show in 2001 that they cannot be hoodwinked? She shouldn’t have done 1017, for that matter.

But the event involving the LP in 8 July 2005 showed the other reason of why I haven’t gone so much against her: I cannot fully trust those wanting to bring her down, at least in terms of motives.

Wednesday, 6 July 2005: Party leaders met at Club Filipino for the first in a series of consultations. It ends at about lunchtime, with Drilon telling everyone in the table that, another one would be held two days hence and if they want to join that one, too, they were welcome to.

Friday, 8 July 2005: Party HQ personnel meet early at the HQ to get the equipment needed for that day’s consultation. It was decided by the senior personnel present – me – that we would bring only the laptop (since Mario Taguiwalo, NIPS president, had a presentation) and some tarps since, as we were told, it was only going to be a consultation. I didn’t even make a press release; what for? It was just a consultation, right?

Even when a whole phalanx of media people were camping in front of Kalayaan Hall, it still didn’t feel as if something extraordinary would happen on our side of the planet. Yes, we were aware by that time of the Hyatt 10 and other people removing their support from GMA, but this is just a consultation, right? I mean, how can a stand be made when we in the HQ weren’t ordered by the Party President to call the members of the NECO, at least for that purpose?

A vote was done inside the hall. A quick look showed some members of Congress. A few who were there were from the NECO, but no quorum. The vote to ask for Gloria’s resignation I think reached 19, with impeachment being close behind it. So, at best, if say the NECO was there, the total votes wouldn’t even breach 50. The LP constitution recognizes quorum for the NECO at 50%+1. At that time, the NECO was about 102. Do the math.

Media barged in for the 1:00 p.m. presscon. Still no alarm bells in my head. I heard someone ask Drilon after the vote what was the nature of the vote, and the people at the head of the table answer it was just an advisory vote. So, no worry, right?

At past 1:00 p.m., LP President Franklin Drilon was giving a statement that the Party was withdrawing its support from the President and calling for her resignation. If she won’t resign, the LP will support moves to impeach her.

That was what happened that day.

Someone will contend my stiory? Fine, then: if even the Congressional Caucus of the LP agreed with this “stand,” then how come 22 out of 33 Liberal congressmen voted to uphold the report of the Justice Committee, that there were no grounds for impeaching GMA? If the local leaders of the LP agreed with the July 8 “stand,” then how come nearly all our governors, and city and municipal mayors were all expressing their support for GMA?

Go to www.liberalparty.ph and look up the roster of NECO members. 102 members. Let’s say 3 senators support her resignation. Add to that the 11 congressmen who agreed to her impeachment in the House. Add Govs. Maliksi, Tupas and Padaca. Perhaps add Mayor Jesse Robredo. Add Chito, Mayor Soccoro Acosta, Chit Asis, Butch Abad, Rene Villa and Bobby Tañada. That’s just 24. If we simply add the 22 congressmen who supported the Committee report to the remaining Governors and City Mayors who supported GMA, where would the math lead you? How about the none-elected members of the NECO?

Let us put aside the discussions of who was right or not last July 8. Given the Drilon’s camp insistence on the NECO and the LP constitution since March 2, why didn’t he just convene the NECO and get it over with? If what the anti-Gloria LP were right, then why were they afraid to convene the NECO? Didn’t they want to put Atienza and his group in their place? What better way to do it than through the legal process of convening the LP’s highest policy-making body and giving a final answer to the issue of where the LP was regarding Gloria?

Eight months. In all their pronouncements the Drilon group never once answered the question on why the NECO was not convened these last eight months to resolve the issue. The members of the NECO have put down everything for issues much less in impact to the LP; would they have shirked now that the existence, viability and reputation of the Party is at stake?

Even worse to not convening the NECO, Drilon and his cabal continued to foist the lie – and it is a lie, please make no mistake about it – that the LP had a stand and it was anti-Gloria. Stand? What stand? How can there be a stand when the NECO was never convened to ratify anything?

Oh, and there was something much worse: the muzzling of the sectoral groups and leaders of the LP. I mentioned the gathering of the LP sectors earlier, yes? The Drilon group attempted to muzzle that, prevent it from happening. When they couldn’t, they sent Chito to put a spanner in the works and ensure that at the very least no concerete action would be taken by the LP sectors with regard to the issue.

KALIPI had a Mindanao Congress sometime after July 8. This was one of the decisions by KALIPI’s National Assembly during its 5th Congress in Nov. 2004: owing to the fact that there was just one delegate from Mindanao, we would pursue an aggressive rebuilding in Mindanao by holding a congress for that Area. Yet we had to postpone it because calls went out to the our partner organizations and contacts among the local LP leaders that it was already cancelled. How can it be cancelled when the National Board had not even decided on the issue when some of Drilon’s people called our Sec Gen to ask KALIPI to postpone it, in view of July 8? We heard that, following our strong position on the issue of July 8, there were fears that we would say some things on July 8 that some people won’t like to be said.

I can go on and on here, but Drilon’s people would only spout their line. No: let’s deal with facts here, instead:

  • The NECO had not been convened since Nov. 2004, nor in the 8 months following July 8;
  • Drilon’s group continued to say in the public that the LP was anti-Gloria, eventhough the NECO had not been convened for the discussion of a stand;
  • Actual records of LP members among the congressmen, governors, city mayors and other local leaders showed who these leaders of the Party were supporting;
  • LP sectoral groups and leaders were being muzzled, even if they were simply asking for forums where the problem could be discussed, and calls from them to convene the NECO fell on deaf ears

Liberals are supposed to be process-oriented, yes? The Party had a dilemma leading to the elections of 2004 because Raul Roco had a lot of supporters. And there were the solid-Erap supporters in the Party, too. So, in order to avoid what would soon befell the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), the LP turned to a process of selection. This process was drafted and presented to the NECO for its approval. When it was approved, it was executed. After execution, the results of the exercise were reported to the NECO, who, based on the reports brought back by the people who interviewd all five major presidential candidates, decided that GMA was the best candidate.

So much as I wish there were other options – Eddie Villanueva had not convinced me that he was the right man for the job; I have no doubt he is a good and religious man, but the presidency demands… something else than those – I wrote, “Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo” on the president’s slot of the ballot because I had no excuse to my Party for going against its decision.

Process. That’s what’s important for Liberals. It is what separates us from other ideologies, our adherence to protocols that ensure all our decisions are reached in a rational and democratic manner.

The pain I feel over what befell the Party is magnified whenever I look at the roster of those in the Drilon camp: Butch and Dina Abad; Sen. Rodolfo Biazon and Rep. Ruffy Biazon; Neric Acosta; Bobby Tañada; Gov. Grace Padaca.

These and more are people I respect and look up to in the Liberal Party. Especially the Abads, Cong Ruffy, Ka Bobby, and Gov. Grace, they have added to that pride one feels in wearing the L-in-a-shield of the LP.

Yet… I cannot go over the fact that July 8 was wrong. I should know. I was a staff of the HQ then. We were the ones who processed these things for them, who organized activities for them. We knew what July 8 was supposed to be about and were shocked at what really happened. We were appalled by the actions that followed after that, and outraged when the Drilon people started picking us HQ staff off in clusters. Jan and Cali were the firs to go. Me, Mante and Donna were recently removed, just this February. Hah, Mante and I were told it was because our contracts expired. See, they made us sign something sometime in Feb of last year, but it was never signed by Drilon. And, oh: I’ve been working for the Party since 2000, Mante since 2003, if not 2002.

I am outraged by the callousness in which the Drilon camp touts their moral ascendency. Because I know, as someone once intimately involved in the workings of the Party, that their actions since July 8 bankrupted any claim they had to being right with regard to this issue. At the very least, they should have called for the NECO. But they didn’t, while continuing to claim that they spoke for Liberals all over the country.

I cannot join my old comrades in the anti-Gloria camp because of this. Because they are there. Because if people who can bend even a political party’s rules and laws for their own benefit are the ones I will replace with someone like Gloria… how different is that? I’d rather have Gloria. At least she had no pretensions. Or at least, if she made one, you knew it was just propaganda.

So do I say that March 2 was right? Not exactly. But I can understand what led Atienza and more than 300 local leaders of the Party to do what they did, given the context of July 8.

It’s actually funny when you look at it: the anti-Gloria LP claim that their call for GMA’s ouster, even through people power or whatever means, is because the constitutional processes to address the griveances brought about by the Garci tapes have either been co-opted or rendered ineffective. Resign, Impeach, Oust, yes? (God, that used to mean something good back in 2000…)

Yet when leaders and members of the Party did so, because they who hold the levers of power in the LP refused to go through constitutional channels to resolve the issue of July 8, they refused to recognize this, to even acknowledge the grievances that led to March 2.

And like some of Gloria’s people, they even lambasted their opponents. I can never forget the… venom in which they looked down on the barangay captains and municipal mayors who were present last March 2. Aren’t those Liberals, too? What makes a “lowly” barangay captain any less Liberal than the Senate President? What makes the voice of our Municipal Mayors any less than those in Congress?

Why am I surprised? Didn’t they muzzle us, the youth wing and the other sectoral groups? Wasn’t there a plan by Chito to raise a “new” liberal youth oraganiztion since KALIPI wouldn’t side with them?

This is the most painful part. We are the Liberal Party. We were supposed to be the ones who will reform the political sphere. We were the good guys, for God’s sake.

But if the good guys are so ready to set aside what is right in order to get what they want… where does that leave you, then?

Who do you believe in?

Who do you trust?

I thought I had seen enough, acheived a level of equilibrium between my Atenean-inspired idealism and the pragmatism needed to engage in politics. I thought I had found a group that resonated with my most cherished values and ideals.

Now, I’m not so sure anymore…

Maybe that’s why mourn. Because something I loved so much is dead. Because no matter how this is resolved, the LP might never recover, at least in my lifetime. The wounds are too deep, too much blood has been spilled, and the warfare between the camps so total that the landscape is a devastated and desolate mess.

So… there.

Maybe Bam was right: we should give up on our elders. There are no paladins there anymore. Just a bunch of thugs in armor bashing at each other to prove who has the bigger sword, while the countryside burns and withers in the face of plague, poverty and pillage.

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