(included in book, The Liberal Chronicles: 60 Years of the Liberal Party)
The Liberal Identity: A short party history, 1946-2006
Let us stop fighting today’s battles with yesterday’s weapons.
December 19, 1946
THE history of a party is more than a catalog of its winning and losing candidates and the deals they made. The story of a party, while it includes the stories of the successful and unsuccessful, is also the story of larger trends and ideas. Individuals are only useful if they come to represent certain trends, or if they attempt to personify ideas: but without trends or ideas, the individual politician is nothing. Political parties, like people, change over time; they must adapt, or perish. A party history then, should pay attention to the individual lives that came to represent the party, but it should not ignore the issues and the circumstances that transcends victory or defeat. Politics is as much an idealistic as it is a practical activity; the interplay between the pragmatic politician and the idealistic one, or even the struggle of the hard-boiled professional political operative, to become much more than that: there lies the true story of a party, which encompasses the individual but places individual histories in their proper context, within the history of the party.
In its sixty years of existence, the Liberal Party has been dominated by figures that came to represent the worst and best of their eras; it has divided, time and again, on issues and questions that have divided Philippine society; and like so many institutions in our national life, it has reacted to these great national divisions at times positively, at other times negatively but it has always managed to change, to adapt. As a result of this checkered past, there are certain things that have come to define the Liberal Party; and to understand the Liberal Party requires the identification of these broad, defining themes: the pictures formed when the various threads composed of past and present members of the party are woven together.
It is always a great error, when tackling the history of peoples and parties, to invoke the benefit of hindsight. An equally grevious error is to fail to take into consideration feelings, opinions, and widely-held views at the time certain events took place. Worst still is failure to confuse individual trees for the forest, and leave unrecognized the truly relevant themes to emerge from particular political circumstances.
What is the big picture, when it comes to the Liberal Party? It is a party whose story is composed of several recurring themes: the question of one party rule; the question of whether economic policies should embrace global trade, or insulate the country from its dangers (and opportunities); and the identification of the Liberal Party with the defense of liberty (which is only effective when motivated by a dissatisfaction with the status quo, and a desire to change it: a desire that often begins with dissatisfaction over how the party, at any given point in time, has ended up representing the most reprehensible aspects of the contemporary political scene). Most of all, the tapestry of Liberal Party history is dominated by that most natural of themes: the desire of one generation to supplant that of its elders. To identify these generations, and the political stresses resulting in fractures that arose from one generation’s desire to replace the previous one, is to immediately identify the defining epochs of party.
The political foundation of the Party: the principle of Collective leadership
A basic question seems to escape most members of the Liberal Party.What was the origin of the party’s name? What does it mean to be a political liberal? Did the name just materialize on the day Manuel Roxas decided to split the once-monolithic Nacionalista Party? Was it just a handy name for a party of convenience? The first thing to understand is that, in a democracy deserving of the name, the founding of the Liberal Party was inevitable. If it hadn’t been established, something like it would have had to be invented. An ostensibly democratic nation could not embark on independence without an opposition to contest power from the administration.
The founding of the Liberal Party, which was officially created in January, 1946, had at the heart of its reason for being, a fundamental difference in approaching governance from that of Sergio Osmeña, leader of the Nacionalista Party and incumbent president in the first post-war national elections. To be precise, the difference in opinion dated back to the year 1922, when the Nacionalista Party underwent one of the two major divisions that took place during its pre-war history. This resulted in the formation of two parties, the Partido Nacionalista, and the Partido Collectivista Liberal. The split was the result of years (1916-1922) of increasing conflict between the two houses of the Philippine Legislature, with the Senate in particular resenting the tendency of the Speaker of the House, who viewed his political role as that of a de facto prime minister, and his political and legislative powers as stemming from his leadership of the dominant party to act as sole political leader for both chambers.
Opponents of of the Speaker declared his attitudes and position as “unipersonalist”, that is, based on the argument that party leadership brought with it the sole power of decision in party and legislative matters. In contrast, opponents emphasized they upheld a liberal attitude towards power and governance, and called for a more republican type of leadership that they called “collectivist”, based on party caucuses and equality between the two chambers. One of the young leaders drawn to this more republican framework was a young governor soon to turn representative, Manuel Roxas.
In 1946, when Roxas forced a break with Osmeña he did so once again as the spokesman for a point of view that preferred a unitary, bicameral state, with a strong executive, and not run along the lines of party government in parliamentary fashion for that era, but which established a party that today espouses a profound reconsideration of these definining characteristics for the Philippine state. Thus, when he and his followers formed their own political party, the logical thing to do in moving forward, was to hark back to the genesis of opposition to Osmeña: the formation of a liberal, collectivist party in 1922. Thus the choice of Liberal as the name of the new party was proof of its being founded on a basic political principle: collective leadership.
And so, when the Liberal Party first announced itself (initially as a faction, and eventually, as a party), it proclaimed its antecedents in the Great Split of 1922:
In one sense the present conflict in the ranks of the Nacionalista Party is not different from that which occurred in 1922 when President Quezon organized the collective wing of the Party in order to overthrow the Unipersonalista or one man rule of President Osmena. The conflict was caused chiefly by the reactionary policies of the then fascistic leader of the Party; and the liberal wing of the Party under President Quezon appealed to the people and overthrew the leadership. The same conflict has now occurred. Under the present leadership, the Nacionalista Party has been drawn back to the old one-man rule system that was overthrown in 1922. It is the old conflict between the elements of progress and the forces of reaction, but the aggravating difference is that whereas in 1922 the leadership was actually exercised by a responsible leader, the leadership has actually fallen into the hands of a clique now exercising governmental powers behind the scenes of the country. It is invisible government sanctioned neither by law nor by the votes of the people. In the current conflict within the Party, substantially by the same men that supported the present leader in 1922 and who have been ignored if not persecuted by the present administration since the liberation have aligned with the Liberal Wing of the Party.
In this founding declaration, the Liberal Party defined the five basic themes that have come to define its history as a party: dissatisfaction with the status quo; the question of one-party rule; the defense of liberty and freedom; support for free enterprise; and leadership by the youth, representing the desire of one generation to supplant another.
I. Dissatisfaction with the status quo
There are three urges that tend to characterize political participation. There is the conservative instinct, which looks backwards: nostalgic, cautious, mistrustful of the present and of emerging trends. There is the radical instinct: impatient, ruthless, heedless of the past and recklessly eager to replace anything and everything. And there is the liberal urge: reformist, constructive, consultative and interested in incremental but enduring change. The conservative is concerned with the preservation of the status quo; the radical, with its destruction; the liberal, with the evolution of the status quo into something at the very least marginally better than that which came before.
The Liberal Party began as an expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo as it existed at the time of its founding. In particular, the founders of the party found government dangerously adrift at a time when World War II’s aftermath was obviously a serious, and dangerous, erosion of the national solidarity that existed prior to the war. Too many questions of uniting a society divided on the issue of collaboration, of rehabilitating a devastated economy, of trying to put a government soon to be independent on a sound footing in terms of international relations- were pending. Then, as now, there was a mounting impatience with grave questions festering while the government seemed enfeebled and incapable of summoning political will.
When the country went to the polls in 1946, the Liberal Party represented an alliance of leaders viewed as younger and more vigorous, more modern and dynamic, than those comprising the leadership of the former mother party they now opposed: the Nacionalistas, on the other hand, were driven to an incongruous alliance with radical parties and had little to show by way of achievement since October of 1944, when the Commonwealth leadership returned from exile. The best the Nacionalista leadership could offer was to decline to campaign, proclaiming its inaction as statesmanship: the Liberals, on the other hand, understood the modern need to go out and actively court the support of the electorate. What was need was not a referendum on the past, but prescriptions for the future.
The atmosphere of the times was characterized by dissatisfaction; this dissatisfaction would continue to be expressed during the remainder of the Liberal grip on power. It was a remarkable achievement of both parties that under the virtually lawless circumstances surrounding the elections of 1946, neither fraud nor terrorism became issues. And yet the origins of the party, as one representing political will, soon resulted in political behavior that would haunt the party until purged of these instincts during martial law. In particular, the decision of President Roxas to demonstrate political will by breaking the deadlock in Congress over the approval of American conditions for providing economic rehabilitation and other assistance, became a negative example of this Liberal Party characteristic. Faced with a lack of necessary votes, the Liberal leadership engineered the removal from office of independent senators such as Ramon Diokno and radical representatives such as Luis Taruc. So ruthless, and negative, was this example that no Liberal president attempted to duplicate the feat.
The viability of a party is demonstrated by its ability to learn from its mistakes, just as the vigor of a party is shown by the initiative demonstrated by its membership to correct party abuses. Under Roxas and Quirino the perils of political success became manifest: tayo-tayo government emerged as the embarrassing hallmark of the first two Liberal administrations, though curiously, neither Liberal president (Roxas, Quirino) was ever successfully accused of personal avarice: rather, the perpetual complaint was that they were either incapable of controlling the greed of their partymates, or turned a blind eye to the sort of behavior that enshrined graft and corruption as the defining issues of every presidential election since 1949.
The party knew this, and much of the internal division within the party during the Roxas and Quirino years was caused by attempts to come to grips with the problem. The behavior of two Liberal Party Presidents, Senate President Jose Avelino (of “what are we in power for?” fame), and House Speaker Eugenio Perez, in particular, served to discredit the party with the electorate until the party took measures to expel Avelino because of his intramurals with President Quirino. In the end, the Avelino-led rebellion against Quirino was settled in 1949 with the reunification of the party leaving Avelino played out, discredited politically, and out of politics soon after; while Perez gradually faded from the scene (his reported willingness, after being inducted into the Council of State by President Magsaysay, to leave the party, helped accelerate his fading from the scene).
On the whole, however, the years of Liberal Party dominance became a period during which the elders of the party demonstrated the limitations of leadership, rather than its virtues. The party, in particular, suffered from a deficit of charisma after Roxas passed from the scene, and it would take decades for Quirino to finally achieve the credit he deserved. This negative period, however, proved ultimately far more beneficial for the party, as its years of success created a cohesion that enabled it to rebuild its fortunes in the only way a party can by reclaiming the confidence of the electorate.
The elections of 1949 marked a low point in post-war politics; for the first time, charges of terrorism and fraud marred a presidential election; 1953 witnessed the transformation of Liberal Party stalwart Ramon Magsaysay into a candidate for the Nacionalista Party, and the rejection of the Liberals at the polls. Yet Magsaysay became dissatisfied with his new party and was reported as being on the verge forming a new party, composed of reformist elements of the Nacionalistas and Liberals, an undertaking nipped in the bud by his untimely death.
The elections of 1957 marked the beginning of Philippine politics as we know it today; their foundations shaken by the charisma of the Magsaysay years, coupled with the dismantling of the support structure for a strong presidency, the first minority president in the history of the country was elected: in reaction to President Quirino’s perpetual battles with Congress, the legislature systematically stripped the presidency of many privileges and powers carefully built up by previous presidents, including the ability to juggle funds within the budget and the president’s power to point many mayors. Party cohesion and authority was fatally eroded by the elimination of block voting, instituting the tendency to have a multi-party system which was formalized in 1987.
In 1957, Carlos P. Garcia, an old guard Nacionalista, became president by virtue of a plurality. Both his party and the Liberal Party had hemorrhaged members and even leaders with the rise of a third force of Magsaysay loyalists under Manuel Manahan, who tried to accomplish Magsaysay’s plans to create a new, super party; but devoid of The Guy’s charisma, the Magsaysay loyalists failed; while armed with the vast patronage resources of the presidency, and enough residual goodwill from the death of Magsaysay, the Nacionalistas squeaked through; for the Liberals, the result was mixed: its Old Guard, led by former Speaker and Chief Justice Jose Yulo who ran for president, were repudiated at the polls; but one of its rising stars, Diosdado Macapagal, was elected Vice-President. The first Vice-President elected from a different party than the President, Macapagal’s victory signaled a generational shift in the Liberal Party, foreshadowing a generational shift in the leadership of the country.
When the Liberal Party reclaimed the presidency in 1961, its membership tried to demonstrate that it had learned from the past. It did so in two ways: the first being a more flexible and positive attitude towards demands for changes in Philippine society; the second was in a more pragmatic attitude towards international relations.
The Liberal Years from 1946 to 1953 saw a mailed fist approach to external (that is, non-party and coming from outside the status quo) demands for social and political reform. President Roxas inaugurated an anti-dissidence campaign that heavily relied on the armed forces; Congress had followed suit in the early Quirino years with the creation of the Committee on Un-Filipino Activities modeled on similar committees in the US Congress. Only after 1949, when his previous efforts to alternate between all-out courtship and all-out war versus the Hukbalahap, did President Quirino engage the services of a young Liberal Party congressman, Ramon Magsaysay, to come up with a more subtle, and effective, approach to rebellion: defeating insurgents on the field while attending to their legitimate grievances in the countryside. The new policy was eminently successful and, indeed, propelled Magsaysay to the presidency.
But the Liberal Years from 1961 to 1965 were more daring yet, and found the leader of the party seriously resisted by both his partymates and nearly every one else. Diosdado Macapagal announced an ambitious land reform program and attempted every means within his grasp, ranging from stubbornly calling Congress into special session to force passage of the land reform law, to actively raiding the ranks of the opposition to recruit members, a practice formerly more characteristic of the Nacionalistas than it had been of the Liberals. In the end, Macapagal’s reformist efforts failed, resulting in a watered-down law; however it did prove the party capable of answering the challenges arising from marginalized sectors.
The evolution of the party’s attitudes towards the United States, too, proved an enduring example of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Manuel Roxas had gambled on a policy of aggressive cooperation with the United States, and his efforts were of a line with Philippine policy towards the United States predating World War II. That policy was close military cooperation subject only to two preconditions: the first being that any formal agreements would antedate the recognition of Philippine independence, and the second, that the continued presence of American forces in the Philippines would be restricted to naval and air bases (Roxas had learned prior to the war that public opinion didn’t favor US Army bases, due to a residual dislike of the American army because of the Philippine-American War). World War II had only served to validate the belief that the national interest was served by instituting close military cooperation with America (and, indeed, American prestige prior to the Cold War was high: Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh among others, considered alliance with America a desirable possibility at first).
The Liberal Party’s policy of close cooperation with the United States in military and economic matters, was ratified by the public and in the beginning, popular; it remained so during the Cold War when the partnership was seen as an antidote to Communism. The shifting of American interest from its ally, the Philippines, to former enemies such as Japan, and the preoccupation with Europe on the part of American policymakers, however, resulted in increasing friction between the Philippine and American governments: veteran’s compensation and benefits, and a lingering desire to put Philippine-American relations on a more equal footing, pushed political leaders toward a more assertive and independent attitude towards the United States.
Defining a more independent foreign and economic policy began tentatively under President Quirino, continued even during the Magsaysay presidency with Liberal participation in the renegotiation of economic and security matters as demonstrated by the approval of the Laurel-Langley Agreement, and was vigorously pursued with Macapagal’s support for Maphilindo and party support for his decision to transfer the observance of independence day to June 12 (supported, among others, by Gerardo Roxas). The critical reexamination of the status quo with regards to Philippine-American relations, however, took place during martial law. American support for the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos made it clear that one of the greatest obstacles to restoring democracy was American indifference to the democratic ethos and its active support for the Marcos kleptocracy.
In the pre-Edsa days of opposition to Marcos, a common position with regard to the US bases remained elusive. Liberals proved instrumental in drafting a policy that took into account the needs of the times. In 1984-85, oppositions attempted to put together a statement of principles; the shift in Liberal opinion was demonstrated by the original draft of the opposition position on the US bases, which was written by Jovito Salonga: the opposition would comply with the US-RP Military Bases Agreement of 1947… which will expire in 1991, and oppose the continued existence of foreign military facilities in the Philippines. No military bases should thereafter be allowed.
Unido leader Salvador H. Laurel opposed the draft. He was open to the renewal of the bases agreement, subject to a plebiscite. Jose W. Diokno was dead-set against recognizing the validity of the bases agreement altogether. And so it went, until, finally, on November 21, 1985, an agreement was reached and the platform approved. The bases provision finally read, “Consistent with our rights and duties under international law and the sovereign rights of our people, foreign military bases on Philippine territory must be removed and no foreign military bases shall be thereafter allowed.” This became the Liberal Party credo with regards to the presence of American bases in the Philippines; it would mean that the Party that had pushed through approval of the American military presence, became instrumental in eliminating that presence. There was no contradiction between the two: both were what the times called for, and it was the Liberal Party that proved itself far more capable of learning from the history it had helped make.
Martial law, too, in a sense, had resulted in a liberation of the serfs. Every voter after 1987 was for himself; the old loyalties had dissolved; everyone was a free agent, though ironically all too many, as in the past, were purchasable at the right price. Party discipline had been a fiction since the 1950s. The Liberal Party had had its shares of internal conflicts during its times in, and outside power. The martial law period had proven that a party’s identity had to depend less on the pragmatic flexibility to regain power after losing it and depended more on establishing a clear identity with the electorate as a party representing principles worthy of sacrifice. If martial law was a period of individual achievement for many Liberal Party members, the post-Edsa years demonstrated that the party was more about a long-term vision than the temporary enjoyment of power.
If the party was reinvigorated and enjoying influence in both houses of Congress beginning with the national elections of 1987, by 1992, having been instrumental in institutionalizing the lessons of martial law through the rejection of the Bases Treaty, the party was prepared to suffer reverses at the polls. The individual political misfortunes of party members could not tarnish the achievements of 1991, and enabled the party to retain its identity thereafter, inevitably resulting in the restoration of its political fortunes. An insistence on the proper training and education of party members, the decision to establish a think tank and a youth wing, the cultivation of links with like-minded parties overseas, has enabled the party to retain its identity, increase its membership, and establish itself as a party capable of not only respond to, but molding, its times.
II. The question of one party rule
DIOSDADO Macapagal once said, “The greatness of a ruler lies in his ability to exercise restraint in the use of tremendous power. The essence of a democrat consists of the patience to secure his wishes through the complex machinery of the system of checks and balances which is the indispensable life-blood of the democratic system and not through the expediency of crushing all opposition. The essential trait of a democracy is not power but responsibility, not authority but duty.”
Manuel Roxas had observed that prior to World War II, the Philippines had a one party state. The Liberal-dominated years (1946-1953) saw a healthier interaction between the administration and opposition parties, but the tendency for the political class to prefer one party government persisted. Roxas himself showed no inclination to regret the resumption of one party rule should it fall into his lap; his death, however, prevented his almost-certain reelection and the possibility, thereafter, of the creation of a super party. President Quirino proved less capable of upholding party solidarity, though in retrospect his political defects (a taste, at times reckless, at other times stubborn, for asserting executive dominance) and virtues (a dedication to democracy that proved, in the end, complete, as well as the ability to eventually demonstrate he recognized that power has its limitations) enabled Philippine politics to mature.
The tendency for Filipino politicians and even the electorate to prefer one-party government became pronounced once more, when a leader with charisma again emerged. When such a leader did appear upon the scene, it became almost a matter of time before a president would, once more, be poised to achieve reelection, and reestablish a super party.
Writing in 1957, Teodoro M. Locsin observed in the Philippines Free Press, “So absolute was Magsaysay’s domination of the political scene that men who should have fought him did not dare; better a live coward than a dead lion; They had to be practical; The Liberals, who were supposed to constitute the official opposition, betrayed the cause of the two-party system, so essential to democracy, by crawling to Malacañang and pledging the President their abject support. So a Liberal, Primitivo Lovina, viewed the action of his colleagues; another Liberal, Tony Quirino, called it “prostitution.” Anyway, the Liberals, too, were being realistic. If you couldn’t fight RM, join him “if he would have you.”
Magsaysay’s death, and the removal of a national leader with the charisma that would have made one-party government inevitable, merely postponed the inevitable. In its years outside of power (1953 to 1961), the Liberal Party proved more obsessed with reclaiming that power at all costs, rather than living up to its responsibility to be an effective opposition party. Its leadership, for one, had come to be dominated by the once young and vigorous, but now tired, cynical, or jaded. While the Nacionalistas had finally put forward the first presidential candidate born in the 20th Century (Magsaysay, in 1953), the 1957 elections found both the Liberals and Nacionalistas fielding pre-war politicians born in the 19th century as their candidates. This tired, last hurrah for the prewar elite marked a shift to a more aggressive, populist kind of democracy in 1961, when the leadership of the Liberal Party clearly shifted from the prewar leadership to the generation that had earned its electoral spurs as freshmen congressmen in the late 1940s.
President Macapagal, during the Liberal restoration of 1961-65, was in many ways an executive along the lines of Elpidio Quirino: aggressive, ambitious, capable of bold but politically ill-fated action. Unable to forge a consensus with party elders, he proceeded to raid the opposition for recruits to support his administration. The result was the tempering of his reformist credentials with an unhealthy tendency to copy the opportunistic raiding that had achieved temporary success for the Nacionalistas at the expense of party identity, solidarity, and respect (as a party) with the electorate. If the Nacionalistas had done more to degrade party solidarity in the 1940s and 1950s (restricting its leadership to a clique of prewar leaders dominated by family ties: the Liberal vice-presidential victory was made possible, among other things, to the stubborn insistence of Jose P. Laurel to run his unpopular son, Speaker Jose B. Laurel, Jr. as Carlos P. Garcia’s running mate; and achieving success in 1953 was only made possible by raiding the Liberals for a candidate, just as the Nacionalistas would again do in 1965), the Liberals did their share to erode to the point of irrelevance, party loyalty and identity once it regained power.
However the Liberal leadership under Macapagal was also capable of statesmanship. Macapagal himself devoted time and energy to proposing a reexamination of the 1935 Constitution, and began with four concrete proposals that he himself argued with help deprive presidents of the institutional temptation to assert executive dominance over the rest of the government. His four proposals -1. The reduction of presidential power over local governments and the release of funds; 2. Limiting the presidential term to a given period without reelection; 3. Election of senators by district instead of at large; 4. Making the vice-president the presiding officer of the senate- were greeted with skepticism, as would Macapagal’s later espousal of parliamentary versus presidential government. But his proposals have remained remarkably enduring: in one form of another, from reforms to the presidential system to adopting the parliamentary option, they have been the focus of national debate both within and outside the party ever since.
It took yet another transition of leadership, from the generation that entered politics in the 1940s to that which entered the political scene locally in the 1950s and came of political age in the 1960s, for the party to once more define itself as representing the needs of the times. If the party of Roxas, Quirino, and Yulo inevitably gave way to the party of Macapagal, it would now become the party of Gerardo Roxas, Benigno Aquino, Jr., and Jovito Salonga. Prior to martial law, Liberal thought in politics was more concerned with traditional concerns over graft, corruption, and limiting executive authority (increasingly a defining concern of Liberals) but after the 1969 elections, with preventing the dismantling of the democratic system. If the beginning of the Third Republic had been marked by an assassination attempt against Manuel Roxas in Plaza Miranda, the end of the Third Republic was also marked by an assassination attempt: this time against Liberal Party leaders including Gerardo Roxas, Jovito Salonga, and other party candidates in 1971. This marked the the eve of martial law, with the newspapers disenchanted the public and itself with democracy by printing Eduardo Quintero’s expose of the bribery of Constitutional Convention delegates by Malacañang. Bombs had already been going off throughout the city, the grenade attack on the Liberal Party’s miting de avance at Plaza Miranda on August 21, 1971 was the culmination of the second stage of a profound political crisis (the first was the revolt of the youth in 1970; the third and final stage would be martial law itself). That the government was suspected of most, if not all of the bombings, merely deepened the public gloom and sense of helplessness.
When Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law on September 23, 1972 (antedating it, for good luck, to September 21), the Liberal Party was one of the political organizations that bore the brunt of the dictatorship’s tyranny: the first politician arrested was Benigno Aquino, Jr., one of the leading contenders for the presidency in 1973. In Filipino Politics: Development and Decay , David Wurfel wrote, “Throughout the late 1970s, martial law prompted essentially three types of opposition: the reformist, the religious, and the revolutionary.”
Opposition politicians, who met in different houses after Ninoy Aquino’s arrest, but more to console than conspire. In one of those meetings, the idea of convening a special session of Congress to declare Proclamation 1081 null and void was brought up. The following day the legislative building was occupied by troops who “dismantled the offices, carting away equipment, tables and chairs.” Someone had squealed or the room was bugged.
The first decade of martial law saw the political opposition in contrast to the Communist insurgency- the hardest hit by martial law. Writing after Edsa, Rigoberto Tiglao said, “The [political opposition’s] highly personalized structures, based primarily on the expectation of material gain, were suddenly deprived of access to fuel for their machines. They faded rapidly, collapsed even, in the face of arrests, cooptation, and initially severe restrictions. The parties’ fate thus contributed to the illusion, reported by the foreign press as late as 1973, that there was no significant opposition to the New Society.”
Marcos’s most effective weapon against the politicians was their own cupidity. He paid them off and recruited them into the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan finally, the super party had emerged. To its credit, while decimated of members, its activities forbidden, many of its leaders jailed or deprived of power, the Liberal Party refused to merge itself into the KBL, nor did it merely “go to sleep,” as the Nacionalistas decided to do. The party, instead, defined itself as opposed to martial law, and the dictatorship, and the idea of one party rule. It divisions, such as they were, during the period, was on the basis of which principles of opposition to adopt, rather than which means of collaboration to support. Certainly a far more ennobling exercise than deciding between disbanding or surrendering.
What the Liberal Party, both by force of circumstances and out of a desire to establish a more principled basis for opposition did, was to set aside its partisan interests in support of the need to create a broader opposition to martial law. The leading Liberals of pre-martial law days, Gerardo Roxas, Benigno Aquino, Jr., Jovito Salonga, were instrumental in defining the rules of engagement, so to speak, with regards to the Marcos dictatorship.
The party, however, was insistent on retaining its identity rather than create a new party: indeed, it maintained that to participate in the dictatorship’s farcical elections would be counterproductive. Party leaders such as Jovito Salonga and former president Macapagal lent their authority to CORD, which called for the boycott of all sham elections. For that reason, the Liberal Party under Gerardo Roxas, upon the urging of Jovito Salonga, opposed the hasty formation of a new party, LABAN, under the chairmanship of Tanada. With Ninoy as its star candidate to contest the 1978 parliamentary elections, Jose Diokno argued for a boycott and was supported by the Liberal Party.
On the evening of April 6, 1978, at eight o’ clock residents of the metropolis came out into the streets and banged on pots, pans, and washbasins, stoked bonfires in the middle of the roads, drove at random through the city in cars, jeeps, and trucks, honking horns and shouting above the mechanical din, “LABAN! LABAN!” This event heralded the rebirth of the “reformist” opposition, and the begining of the war for the hearts and minds, actually, the manhood of the citizenry. For the issue came down to this: could the people be made to fight, or at least stand up, for their lost freedoms? The results of the election showed it was rigged. But something had been demonstrated about access to a source of political power, never suspected. That of the common man, particularly the middle class. The Catholic Church saw an alternative to radical politics for the faithful.
On January 29, 1981, Marcos announced he would seek reelection. The Liberal Party had gone so far as to accept a coalition of sorts with other oppositionists under the banner of UNIDO. Its President was Gerry Roxas who opposed putting up any candidate at all, against Marcos. Doy Laurel, Ninoy Aquino, in exile in the United States, and Reuben Canoy of the Mindanao Alliance argued in favor of participation. Ninoy said he would return to be Doy’s campaign manager.
UNIDO first decided on qualified participation, and even held a rally on March 21 at Plaza Miranda. Eight thousand people attended, an impressive number given the times. A rump session of the old Constitutional Convention was convened by Diosdado Macapagal, who had been impotent to prevent aproval of the sham that was the 1973 Constitution. But this time Macapagal’s rump declared that Constitution void. Then UNIDO called for a boycott. Marcos had to revive the Nacionalista Party, put forward a retired and aged ex-defense secretary as his opponent, and then cheat anyway. It was Roxas’ moment of vindication; by 1982 he would be dead, and the party leadership passed to Jovito Salonga, then in exile in the United States.
It was during his period of exile that Salonga began to revitalize the party, by putting together a party platform taking the lessons of the dictatorship into consideration. The old party had to transform itself into a party institutionally capable of living up to the lessons of martial law; it had to have a modernized ideology, relevant and concrete proposals, a more cohesive and disciplined membership. It would continue to support efforts to unify the opposition against Marcos, but would have to be prepared to participate in normal, democratic elections once they were restored. The shock of having to evolve led to a party split in 1983 (which became irrelevant after 1986 and the defeat of former Senator Eva Estrada Kalaw, who had split the party on the issue of participation in the Marcos-era parliamentary elections and various unification attempts). The Liberal Party maintained its decision not to actively participate in Marcos’ elections as a party, but help in other ways: most notably in putting together Laban ng Bayan as an alliance backing the candidacy of Corazon C. Aquino. With her victory, the Liberal Party reactivated itself as a party contesting political power, within the bounds of a democratic, multiparty system.
III. The identification of the Liberal Party with the defense of liberty
IDENTIFYING the Liberal Party with the defense of liberty was most notably accomplished prior to, and during, martial law; but it was a tradition of long standing within the party and would remain so even after martial law. The party itself was characterized by opposition within its ranks, whenever the party leadership became heavy-handed, including support among some Liberals for the impeachment efforts against Quirino; or in reaction to excesses on the part of the party. If the 1949 elections, for example, were notorious, Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay, with the full support of President Quirino, made the 1951 elections remarkable for their peacefulness and honest conduct to the the extent that the Nacionalistas swept the Senate polls. Examples of brutality, such as the murder of Moises Padilla in Negros Oriental, were dealt with forcefully by Magsaysay and Quirino followed the advice of his cabinet, punishing the perpetrators of the murder.
The defeat of the Liberal Party in 1953 and1965, helped restore the reputations of two defeated presidents, Quirino and Macapagal, when they accepted the public’s verdict at the polls. Both presidents were accused of having devoted the vast resources of the presidency to ensure their reelection; yet both held back from outright terrorism, there were no widespread allegations of fraud, and both men handed power to their successors with virtually no public recrimination. These examples would serve the party well in the 1970s, when it demanded the same thing of Ferdinand Marcos.
However, it took the period in the political wilderness from 1953-1961, and once more from 1965, for the Liberal Party to begin to be thoroughly identified with the cause of championing the people’s liberties. The party practically collapsed in 1969, with the defection of 400 Liberals led by Speaker Cornelio Villareal, to the Nacionalistas. By 1971, the party’s leadership had once more placed the party on the brink of reclaiming the presidency, in large part due to the sensational exposes of Ninoy Aquino and the success of Liberal candidates in the Senate. Martial law, however, which put the party firmly in Marcos’ sights, finally conferred the mantle of statesmanship and sacrifice on the party’s surviving leadership and membership.
The political opposition during martial law was clearly down but not out. A few voices continued to heard, echoing the continuing protests from his prison cell of Ninoy Aquino. They were those of Lorenzo Tanada, elder statesman and lawyer to detainees; Jose Diokno, after Ninoy the one detained longest by the government; Jovito Salonga, also counsel for political prisoners, then a prisoner himself. And, of course, Ninoy Aquino, Marcos’ longest political detainee and his sharpest critic. Raul Manglapus and others in America denounced the dictatorship to a handful of decent Americans who would listen, among them Stephen Solarz.
Adversity made these leaders into men of far higher principle than they were thought to have been previously. Ninoy Aquino, in particular, transcended a reputation for facile, self-centered brilliance and of being a too-ambitious and fluid politician.
Aquino’s court martial trial for violations of the Anti-subversion law and the common crimes of murder and illegal possession of firearms became a cause celebre, after Ninoy declared that he would not dignify it with his active participation.
His case was temporarily shelved in 1974 and resurrected in 1975, during which he undertook his famous fast. He ended his fast after the 40th day, having become the focus of international attention. The sham trial was started again in 1977, and got as far as the rendering of the sentence of death on November 25. Critical foreign opinion was again aroused, and Marcos held back the execution for another time.
Then, in 1983, on the anniversary of the Plaza Miranda bombing, Ninoy Aquino came home to die. The man who was hustled down the side stairs of the airport tube, where his China Airlines flight had docked, was a man far different from the ebullient senator of 1971.
He was a man purified of any suspicion of self-interested action; a proven patriot. He had returned not even to fight, but to try and make peace with the dictatorship and hopefully make it relax its grip. Marcos returned his offer of reconciliation with a bullet. Except Marcos said it did not come from him, but from the communists.
A few days after Ninoy’s death oppositionists formed JAJA: Justice for Aquino, Justice for All and declared: “We demand the immediate resignation of President Marcos, the entire Cabinet, the Executive Committee, members of the Batasang Pambansa, and top generals of the military. A responsible transition government composed of men and women of unquestionable integrity should be established to pave the way for the realization of genuine democracy in this country. We demand the immediate restoration of the writ of habeas corpus throughout the country, the immediate release of all political prisoners, and the grant of unconditional amnesty to all political dissenters and dissidents. We demand a fair, open, independent and impartial investigation of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. We demand the complete restoration of freedom of speech, the press, of peaceful assembly, and all other constitutional rights and civil liberties. We demand a stop to US or any other foreign intervention in Philippine affairs. We demand an end to the militarization of our society and to repression and terrorism. we demand the restoration of the independence of the judiciary.”
These objectives would remain the aim of the opposition from then on. Whoever thought of it, was a genius for it cut across party lines and personal agendas, if any still remained in the opposition after 14 years in the desert of anonymity. The gap left by the refusal of the middle and professional classes to take part in sordid, not to mention, dangerous political affairs was now closed. From one end of the political spectrum to the other was a solid band of opposition to the murderous dictatorship.
When Emmanuel Soriano, Dr. Alfredo Bengzon, Ricardo Lopa, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, and Ramon del Rosario Jr., all members of Manindigan! met with the Convenor Group, composed of Tanada (representing the “Left of Center”), Jaime Ongpin (representing moderates), and Cory Aquino, the “symbol of unity” on November 13, 1984,and came up with a list of “potential standard bearers,” it included prominent Liberals as potential leaders: Butz Aquino, Jose Diokno, Teofisto Guingona, Eva Kalaw, Salvador Laurel, Raul Manglapus, Ramon Mitra, Ambrosio Padilla, Aquilino Pimentel, Rafael Salas, and Jovito Salonga. A month later these people met with the Facilitators and the Convenor Group, and agreed to sign a Declaration of Unity.
EDSA, the apotheosis of the middle class (in contrast to Marcos’ hollow self-apotheosis in 1981) followed, and culminated in the inauguration of Cory Aquino and Doy Laurel at Club Filipino. The people who had marched and fought alone in the 70s and 80s grumbled about those who suddenly swelled the ranks of the opposition after Ninoy’s murder. But it was these people, the middle class, businessmen- who had decided that the time for involvement had come precisely because the things the Left despised but which they valued order, decency, the safety of property were in grave peril. They, who were leery politics, had taken over it completely to restore everything to the way it was, and put politics and power again in its subordinate place.
The time had come to bring back political parties. That the Liberal Party was in a position to field candidates was testimony to the preparation and thinking that took place during the dictatorship the hallmark of a genuine party.
IV. The question of whether economic policies should embrace global trade, or insulate the country from its dangers (and opportunities)
PRESIDENT Roxas founded the Liberal Party as a political entity supportive of free trade and economic decentralization; his vision of development became the defining one of the Third Republic. Industrialization, in particular, was a key objective resulting in policies carried out fairly successfully by the end of the Quirino administration. Indeed, Liberal Party economic policy was the defining policy for the Philippines: the economic debate between Liberals and Nacionalistas was over a profoundly different attitude towards the causes and means of achieving economic growth.
The Liberals believed that the country required a sound fiscal footing, to inspire foreign investments and stimulate growth in the local economy. It was flexible, and adaptable: it was a Liberal administration, for example, that instituted import controls as a means of protecting the national currency and local industries, a policy carried over, then fiercely protected, by the Nacionalistas. The Nacionalistas preferred a closed economy, based on import substitution; the Liberals preferred a more prudent combination of support for local industry to help get it on its feet, but then a resumption of freer commerce with the rest of the world, in order to establish a competitive national economy. Liberal economic policy has always been characterized by an integrated approach, combining the creation of institutional mechanisms (the Central Bank is an example), policy (the concept of integrated development plans), attention to all, and not just a privileged few, sectors of the economy (Roxas, Quirino, and Macapagal in their own ways kept the question of agricultural development on par with industrial development; Macapagal, for one, brought the contribution of tourism to the national economy to public attention).
Liberal Party economic policy has always sought a careful balance between unfettered free trade, and the dangers of protectionism, which can stunt the growth of industry. Over-reliance on government intervention, in the Liberal Party’s way of thinking, is as dangerous as abandoning the public to the tender mercies of unfettered market forces. Entrepreneurial spirit, the party’s economic thinkers have always maintained, is an essential part of a vigorous economy; and the duty of the state is to foster as many opportunities for growth as possible.
Indeed, this more subtle approach to economic policy is what set apart the Liberal Party from its competitors. In contrast, Nacionalista economic policy, such as it was, was reactive and dogmatic: protected industries kept in infantile dependence on government; perpetual and perennial tight controls, even when the controls had become a notorious breeding ground for corruption; the favoring of industrial magnates at the expense of entrepreneurs, and a reluctance to welcome foreign investment became dominating fetishes of Nacionalista policy. The result was the the brief relaxation and opening up of the Philippine economy under Macapagal was reversed by the Nacionalistas under Marcos, and then eliminated altogether when Marcos assumed absolute power, conferring in the process, absolute control over key industries to his allies, family members, and friends.
Since the restoration of democracy in 1986, Liberal Party economic thought has concentrated on finding a fine balance between the imperatives of social justice, and the impersonal requirements of a truly modern economic policy. Ahead of other parties, the Liberal Party has long put a premium on academic and intellectual excellence, resulting in a more successful and effective collaboration between policy makers and experts in economics and other fields.
V. the desire of one generation to supplant that of its elders.
The first decade after independence defined the Liberal Party as an organization that focused on attracting and nurturing political talent. Just as he had been identified as the leading light of his generation by Quezon, so did Roxas seek out young leaders to groom as candidates for the party: it is no coincidence that, regardless of their later political affiliations, the majority of presidents during the Third Republic came from the ranks of the party. If the first two presidents, Roxas and Quirino, came from the founding generation of the party, then Ramon Magsaysay (identified as a man of potential by Elpidio Quirino), Diosdado Macapagal (a protege of both Roxas and Quirino) and Ferdinand Marcos (given his leg up in politics by Roxas) spent the majority of their political careers within the party; indeed, of all the Third Republic’s presidents, only Carlos P. Garcia built his career from within the ranks of the Nacionalista Party, although Magsaysay and Marcos would find it convenient to enter the NP.
While the party had its share of venerable leaders dating back to prewar days, Jose Yulo, Camilo Osias, in particular come to mind- who remained active until the 1970s, the history of the party has been one of cooperation between generations as well as the rapid replacement of one generation at the helm with another. Gerardo Roxas and Ninoy Aquino were the political wunderkind of their day; the transition of leadership from the pre-martial law generation exemplified by Jovito Salonga to that represented by Butch Abad and Noynoy Aquino brought in younger leaders to the party leadership ahead of other parties, where the dominance of party elders proved more stubborn (and harmful). By the 1998, 2001, and 2004 elections, the Liberal Party successfully managed the integration of all politically-active generations into positions of responsibilities within its ranks. The result has been a successful combination of candidates representing a family heritage of Liberal Party membership, and new leaders attracted by the party’s history and platforms, including its manner of party governance.