The LP Civil War

I know, I know: Trillianes and his little tantrum are the talk of the town still. How could it not be, when it has spawned several other issues, and the Pen gets a much-deserved free PR out of the whole mess. I have nothing but wonderful memories of the Pen’s amazing lobby, and really felt bad at the prospect of it getting trashed.

Still, so much has already been said about Tantrum Tony (if you want a more-or-less complete overview of all the issues involved, Manolo’s blog is always one of the best to look at, so just click here for his post on the latest caper of Trillianes and co.) that I feel any other statement would just add nothing new to the arguments already out there. Instead, I’ll tackle an issue closer to my heart.

Like I said in an earlier post, perhaps it was too much to hope that Mar’s “election” to the presidency of the LP would write finis to this long-standing fratricide among the Philippine Liberals. Mar has long been touted as the LP’s golden boy, after all, the natural successor to the leadership of the country’s political Blues. The Atienza and Drilon wings of the Liberal Party have been on each other’s throats since the escalation of the conflict with Sec. Lito Atienza’s 2 March 2006 “rump” session at the Manila Hotel, and, really, it’s been a tiring ride.

The viewing of the LP leadership issue as Civil War, to me, is rather apt. How else would one characterize the destructive qualities of this turf war? It becomes particularly apt as a Civil War of sorts when one considers what the the LP was before the split: a tight-knit political family, and a small but influential organization. From being hailed as the biggest winners of the 2004 elections, and the promise of the LP leading the way towards political reform, almost two years of internecine conflict has eroded much of the power and influence built up by the Party since the Rebuilding began right after Ka Jovy’s disastrous defeat after the ’92 elections.

Aside from his “hostage takers” statement, another thing that rankled with me with what Mar said during his investiture was that on building an LP that is “strong, united and modern… rooted in its founding principles…”

What made me angry was the casual disregard for that shining period in LP history that I call the “Liberal Family Years.” This was the period where the LP had recovered much already from its earlier defeats but was still far from the heights achieved in 2004. This would be the period of the latter part of former Education Secretary Butch Abad’s first presidency to all of his second term, roughly between 2001 – 2003.

The term “Liberal Family” was actually coined sometime in the middle of that period as a catch-all phrase for the then-highly-coordinated actions of the Liberal organizations in the Philippines. The LP was, of course, the “flagship” of the Philippine Liberal Movement, since the Party carried the banner of liberalism into the corridors of power. But aside from the Party, there were the Allied Sectoral Organizations – KALIPI, the Liberal Caucus of Congressional Staff (LCCS), and the Liberal Local Legislators’ League (L4) – the National Institute for Policy Studies (NIPS), the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD, whose Secretariat was based here in Manila), the Manila Office of the Freidrich Naumann Foundation (FNF), and, tying them all, Liberal Philippines, the magazine of Philippine Liberalism.

One misses that idyllic time. Back then, there was real pride in wearing the L on the blue-and-red shield because of its history and the fact that we were at the cutting edge of political reform and in the utilization of the latest advocacy tools (to which we owe much to Dr. Ronald Meinardus, who, in my opinion, was badly vilified by the Drilon faction). We were the first Philippine political party to have a fully-functioning website. Liberal Philippines dealt with the latest issues through a serious discourse of them as viewed through the liberal democratic lens. The Young Liberals and Democrats of Asia would be founded during this time, and many ordinary people would express their ardent desire to do more for the Republic by actually wanting to join the Liberal Party.

But perhaps the most missed aspect of the Liberal Family days was that sense that a Liberal’s word was his bond and that honor among Liberals was real. Oh, certainly, there were intense debates among the senior leadership, but none that couldn’t be dealt with given the proper processes and a healthy debate. It wasn’t scary during this era to go against the flow because the Party wouldn’t kick you out or persecute you for advocating something different from the Party line.

Oh, sure, Chito Gascon made your life hard if you didn’t subscribe to his narrow view of what was Right and Wrong (read: if you weren’t with him, not only were you against him but you were Wrong and Evil), but he was the only loudmouth. The rest were content (or so it seemed) to air their side and kept to the Party dictum for minority opinions after the vote had been cast.

I tell people that it was that adherence to processes that allowed the LP to weather sensitive issues. My best example was the decision on who to back in 2004. Although the default would probably have been Gloria, because there was a strong Roco component in the Party such an issue called for a process. What we did was (1) convene the NECO, (2) present a Guidelines for Selection to the NECO, which was approved after much debate, and (3) meet each of the Presidentiables, using the the Guidelines as, uh, guide in questioning and evaluating each of them.

In the end, even though GMA carried the day, the processes appeared to have satisfied even those that were virulently against her endorsement. Those that would not conform to the Party decision – which was reached via a vote in the NECO – were simply given guidelines on what they could or couldn’t do on the issue. Recalcitrants like Gov. Raul Daza were not reprimanded (although Gascon wanted this), or even kicked from the Party, but were accorded respect that liberal democrats give to those of the minority opinion.

Today’s Liberals come across as a shadow of the Liberals of that time. Whereas dissent and differences of opinion were at least tolerated, we have Liberals who won’t take no for an answer; it’s either my way, or the highway. Where major issues, especially those that could potentially threaten the once-unassailable unity of the LP, were immediately referred to the collegial body that was the NECO, Drilon and his cohorts refused to convene it during those long months between 8 July 2005 and 2 March 2006.

We in the youth wing warned Drilon and the leadership about the consequences of putting-off a caucus of the Party leadership in our post-July 8 Position Paper. This only merited for us a level of persecution that would do Marcos proud. Eventhough we were personally against Drilon people like Chit Asis, was our appeal for an immediate convening of the NECO following July 8 an unreasonable recommendation? When the Allied Sectoral Organizations gathered at the Ateneo on Nov. 2005, Gascon arrived and basically told all of us to “mind our own business” since the July 8 issue was something only reserved for discussion among the higher-ups.

Which was odd. Since when was discussion of issues central to the survival of the Party limited only to its upper echelons? In the Communist Party of the Philippines, maybe, but the Liberal Party?

The other ASOs were in the dark as to what had really happened since there was an information embargo from Drilon and company; the public, up until Lito Atienza threw down the gauntlet on 2 March 2006, were to be made to believe that there was no split in the LP and that we were anti-Gloria.

The information embargo got so bad that KALIPI Secretary General Jan Argy Tolentino and I were almost prevented from going to our Mindanao Congress. In fact, the Drilon boys and girls bypassed the sacred autonomy of the ASOs, especially the oldest Allied Sector, when Chit Asis phoned FNF to tell them our Mindanao Congress was being canceled. Since Dr. M’s FNF was a stickler for the process, too, and it all seemed highly irregular, FNF called us up to ask if we had really canceled the event. Even our contacts in Mindanao were calling, since Drilon people were calling them and telling them that the Congress was canceled. Drilon’s immediate staff would deny this during our face-off weeks later, when the ones who gave their names were the KALIPI contacts in Mindanao.

I think these actions, more than anything, eroded the filial ties of the “Liberal Family” LP and led to open warfare between the two factions after March 2. Up until that moment, the Drilon cabal were playing a stupid game of negotiating for peace and unity with Atienza’s faction while using – I’d say abusing – their hold on the LP’s structures of power to perpetrate the lie of July 8. Like good little Goebbels, the Drilon faction kept projecting the image that we were one, and that we were anti-Gloria.

Up until January 2006, this Civil War of the country’s most enduring political institution (seriously, if not for Manny Villar, the NP would be so dead today) could have been averted. All Drilon had to do was give out a call for the NECO to convene. The NECO had gathered for lesser issues; I maintain that, given that the LP’s survival and continued ascendancy was at stake, all 100+ members of the National Executive Council would have attended from where they were to discuss this most pressing of issues.

But no: they knew that their actions of July 8 had angered the Party leadership, even those like Lorna Verano-Yap who were anti-Gloria. They knew a censure was going to happen if the NECO had been convened.

Because of pride and hubris, the powerful force for political reform in this country that the LP was got engaged in a level of fratricide unseen even in our vicious political milieu. It has twisted the truth, shattered the idealism of so many young people, and done away much, if not all, of our gains during the Liberal Family days.

And the Civil War goes on today.

The question now is… does Mar Roxas have the will and the courage to bring all of this to a resolution that is not only satisfactory, but one that is just as well? Or has he been taken by the propaganda and the sweet-smelling incense of the Blessed Pedigreed to clearly see the real causes of this Civil War and how he can swiftly end it?

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5 Responses to The LP Civil War

  1. meinardus says:

    hi, rob: i read your post with interest and a sense of nostalgia. you are still the old writer of … very long posts. this one is particularly enlightening for somebody like me who was part of the process and, at times (maybe too much) involved. looking back, i enjoyed my work in manila and cherish the memories particularly with the liberal philippines group and all they represented. i wish you well and am so happy to see your active blogging. say hi to the “guys”. i certainly hope our ways may cross again in the future. mabuhay from cairo!

  2. phoenixeyrie says:

    Glad to hear from you again, Dr. M. I’m rather touched that, despite your hectic sched there in Cairo, you still have time to read my blog. Yes, even its signature oh-so-long posts ^_^

    I guess a measure of nostalgia really accompanies difficult times. Oh, for sure, even the Liberal Family days had its difficulties – creating something good and lasting is always hard – but I think we all enjoyed that time.

    I fear nothing will bring it back again, Dr. M. Too much blood has been spilled, too many harsh words spoken.

    I think it was fine that you involved yourself as much as you did in our troubles. You always had the best interests of us Filipino Liberals at heart, and we in KALIPI at least saw that.

    You’re missed here, Dr. M. Hopefully, our parts shall cross. Perhaps, if funds and time allow, I’ll drop by Cairo. I think I need a change of scenery ^_^

  3. Pingback: Manuel L. Quezon III: The Daily Dose » Blog Archive » The ones who got in the way

  4. Pingback: causes of the civil war

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