FORMER SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH ONCE gave a concise definition of a party platform in 1994 when he explained the difference between his proposed “Contract with America” and the Republican party platform. “A platform,” he said, “is what we believe.” In contrast, his proposed “management contract” was a 10-bill legislative agenda that he hoped voters would support in order to achieve the numbers required in Congress to pass them within 100 days of the session.
Senate President Manuel Villar Jr., interviewed by Ricky Carandang back when he was still shopping around for a vice-presidential candidate, shared an interesting opinion about party and coalition platforms. “Lahat kami iyan lang ang sasabihin,” he confided, to Carandang’s television audience, “lahat ng kandidato sasabihin iyan. We will say the same things . . . we will have the same platform.” He added, “for after all, a platform. . . dadalawang speechwriters lang iyan tatanungin ka. Anong gusto ninyo, 3-point agenda, 10-point agenda, 15-point agenda o 25-point agenda?”
Recently, on my show, UP Prof. Prospero de Vera pointed out that the backbone of Villar’s presidential campaign isn’t the NP but rather, the network of managers of Vistaland, of which Villar told Carandang he remains firmly in charge since he doesn’t intend to divest himself until he wins the presidency. Just how seriously Villar takes the NP is shown by its website, which still includes a link to the site of Teofisto Guingona III, who is now an LP candidate.
Which may explain why the Nacionalistas, who pioneered the party platform in 1935, didn’t bother with a party platform for the first presidential contest since 1969 in which the party has come out as a serious contender. The closest thing to a platform was finally produced upon the insistence of the Makabayan Coalition, to formalize its alliance with the NP at the end of the intricate maneuvering that resulted in Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s exorcism from the KBL and being born-again as an NP guest candidate to satisfy those whom Argee Guevarra once (infamously) called “Joma’s Witnesses.”
Makabayan having done the hard work of crafting a platform, Villar signed with admirable speed on Dec. 15 a “statement of shared principles”; and though Makabayan insists the statement is not the NP platform, that may be as close as its coalition ally is going to get to producing a platform-type document (Loren Legarda’s nine-sentence platform apparently having lasted as long as the newsprint in which it appeared). After all, neither the NP nor Villar’s own site bothers to reproduce the much-vaunted shared principles statement – or Legarda’s platform, which she says Villar has adopted, too.
This tokenism, however, still puts the NP ahead of the Frankenstein coalition, which is still waiting, if the scuttlebutt is true, for Alex Magno to finish fleshing out its platform for the President’s anointed tandem. This, despite the PaLaKa convention at which – after praising the President to high heavens (“dapat nating ipagmalaki ang Presidente!” he said) – the Annointed One talked of a platform remarkably similar to the President’s current 10-Point Agenda. It must really be a headache for Magno to try to accomplish the kind of makeover the Frankenstein coalition expects: it is not enough to keep the President out of sight, and therefore out of mind; the usual suspects have to be gentrified, too.
As far as platforms go, Ang Kapatiran has the oldest, unchanged for some time now; Joseph Ejercito Estrada announced the adoption of one in Tondo; Benigno Aquino III published his platform and had his slate’s candidates sign on to a “Credo” of shared principles on the day he formally filed his candidacy, while Richard Gordon has a combined manifesto and platform. All four studiously dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s, as did the Comelec-rejected Nicanor Perlas.
PaLaKa’s platform problem is, of course, uniquely theirs to wrestle with, just as the question of a platform is one the Aquino-Roxas tandem had to hammer out because, as anyone who has bothered to watch Aquino grilling officials during budget deliberations over the years knows, he’s the sort of detail-obsessed legislator who wants facts and takes a hand in deliberations on policy. (But then hardly any member of the public has observed or noticed this because budget deliberations put media and the public to sleep.)
On the other hand, Gordon, Kapatiran and Perlas have platforms that aren’t coalition documents but rather, distillations of their personal beliefs, unencumbered by coalition dynamics. The luxury of beliefs – personal or collective – is something, on the other hand, that has been calculated as inessential to the electoral bottom line of the NP’s principal. It would be interesting, if only the tight-lipped circle of corporate types surrounding Villar would talk, how much time was allocated to the “Mission/Vision” exercises of their principal’s various corporations.
There remains some confusion about what a platform is or supposed to contain. A “declaration of the principles upon which a person, a sect, or a party proposes to stand,” is one such definition; a document “stating the aims and principles of a political party” is another. Yet there are voters who want nothing less than either a full legislative agenda (which puts the cart before the horse, as a party or coalition standing for election cannot plan without knowing what its numbers – and therefore, what is realistic – will be after the elections) or a sneak peek into a budget (when, aside from the administration candidate, other candidates won’t know the real score of the budget or the state of the bureaucracy until it enters office, particularly since so much has been kept secret by the present dispensation). Still, there’s been a healthy interest in political platforms this time around, much more so than in 2004.