The Explainer: Nacionalistas Then and Now

That was Governor Ferdinand Marcos Jr. with Senator Manuel Villar Jr. announcing the KBL-NP alliance for 2010. Not since 1969, when Ferdinand Marcos was the standard bearer of the Nacionalistas, and 2009, when Manuel Villar Jr. stands today as one of the two top contenders for the presidency, has the Nacionalista Party been so prominent in presidential politics.

Las week we looked at the broad powers and roles presidents play; tonight, we’ll start looking at the parties that have propelled candidates to the presidency, starting with the oldest party of them all. It’s Nacionalista Night on the Explainer. I’m Manolo Quezon.




As the President prepares to walk out the door of power,

You have to wonder what she thinks of a man like Manuel Villar Jr., the first presidential candidate since Manuel Roxas who can boast of having been both Speaker of the House and Senate President, and who has enough money of his own not to need the funding of other people.

Villar’s also head of a party who’s roster includes the following presidents: Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmena, Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos P. Garcia and Ferdinand E. Marcos. And it’s an interesting roster because it shows the history of success and division of the Nacionalista Party.

Here are the NP leaders who became president. Notice the way we arranged the pictures: that’s because Quezon split his own party twice, and here, below, Garcia sided with Quezon both times, and against Osmena, here in the middle. So it can be said only Osmena was the perfectly loyal NP president ever produced; here on the other side, Magsaysay and Marcos were both Liberals for their entire career, until their joining the NP made their presidencies possible –but we’ll see later on that while Quezon, Osmena, and Garcia built the NP into a strong party when they were president, Magsaysay and Marcos nearly destroyed the party they joined.

The Nacionalista Party was founded in 1907, on the platform of absolute, complete, and immediate independence in opposition to the Federal, later, Democrata Party, that first proposed making the Philippines a State of the USA and then wanted independence only in stages. The Nacionalista is the oldest surviving political party in the Philippines today.

It split twice: in 1922 over the twin questions of whether the House should have precedence over the Senate, and whether party officials should be responsive to public opinion or not.

It split again in 1933 over the question of accepting the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Independence Act; party rebels believed a better law could be secured and succeeded in obtaining the Tydings-McDuffie Act.

The Nacionalistas have competed in every national presidential election since we held the first one in 1935, at that time competing as a coalition of the two wings of the party. Its platform of national defense, social justice, and industrialization was a successful one

so that in 1938, it achieved what no other party has achieved since: 100% control of the legislature, plus control of the executive department.

World War II, however, split the country over the question of collaboration with the Japanese. President Osmena returned from exile to find the party hard-pressed to recover its prestige and power. He was unable to prevent a split in the party, with a faction breaking off to form the Liberal Party.

President Osmena embarked on something we’re seeing repeated today. Just as Manuel Villar Jr. opened talks with the Leftist Makabayan, so did President Osmena campaign in 1946 with the Leftist Popular Front as his allies.

From then on, the two-party system held sway from 1946 to 1972. The NP was out of power with the LP under Roxas and Quirino ruling the roost from 1946 to 1953.

And here enters the patriarch of one of the most durable political families, Jose P. Laurel, who, together with his sons, came to dominate the Nacionalistas. Laurel was president of the Japanese-sponsored Republic but who was never a Nacionalista President: that’s because during the Japanese Occupation, all political parties were abolished. Instead, the KALIBAPI, a movement, not a party, was set up in its place.

After World War II leaders like Laurel sought vindication by election and so he ran against Quirino in 1949.

Other prominent prewar figures continued to dominate the NP, too, whether the sardonic Claro M. Recto, seen on the left, or, the second longest-serving president of the Senate, Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez, who’d been Osmena’s 1946 running mate.

These leaders saw the meteoric rise of Ramon Magsaysay and made it possible for him to switch parties. Quirino had expected to defeat Laurel in 1953 the way he’d beaten him in 1949; instead, Laurel gave way to Magsaysay and he beat his old boss in the biggest first term landslide our country’s ever seen.

While he was a stranger to the NP, the old guard in the party ensured that on the whole, Magsaysay’s administration would adhere to the Nacionalista view of things. The Nacionalistas prior to martial law were more concerned with industrialization and the protection of Philippine industry than the Liberals. Even before Carlos P. Garcia’s “Filipino First” Policy, Jose P. Laurel was appointed by Magsaysay to negotiate the Laurel-Langley Agreement, reducing some of the inequalities as a result of the Bell Trade Act; and Magsaysay himself arranged for greater signs of Philippine sovereignty over US Bases.

But Magsaysay died before he could secure re-election, and it may be what was a tragedy for the country was a blessing for the Nacionalistas; for Magsaysay was widely expected to junk the NP and even the LP, and form a new superparty of his own.

Instead, in 1957, a loyal party man, Vice-President Garcia became president, but his term lasted only four years and after that the Liberals were again in power.

Enter another, until that point, lifelong-Liberal, Ferdinand Marcos, who was adopted by the Nacionalistas and led them to victory twice: something last seen by the Nacionalistas when they won the presidency and reelection in 1935 and 1941. And this brings us back to the Laurels and the NP.

Two of Laurel’s sons would play important roles in the story of the Nacionalistas and Ferdinand Marcos.

Ironically, Marcos was an admirer of Laurel, and who gained many of his political ideas from the era of the Japanese Occupation, tried to do to the Nacionalistas what the Japanese did. In 1978, President Marcos proposed the abolition of existing parties and their merger into his proposedNew Society Party, or Lapiang Bagong Lipunan.

Former Speaker Jose B. Laurel Jr., in a meeting in Malacanan, suggested instead that the NP be allowed to go to sleep, or be placed in suspended animation, and that, instead, a movement, not a party, take its place. And so the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan was formed.

Another Laurel, former Senator Salvador, respected his brother’s commitment and so formed a new party, the UNIDO, to compete against Marcos’s KBL; it was this party that he, from a long line of Nacionalistas, and his running mate, Cory Aquino, whose husband had been a stalwart of the LP, ran.

After Edsa, UNIDO faded away and with Marcos gone, the Laurels revived the Nacionalista Party. But it would have two more difficult experiences between then and now. In 1992, Laurel did dismally in his run for the presidency; and the son of Amang Rodriguez led a rebellion that created yet another party that can trace its origin to the Nacionalista Family Tree: the Nationalist People’s Coalition, in turn dominated by this man, Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr.

But shortly before his death, perhaps with the kind of strategic vision his father possessed when he identified the potential in Ramon Magsaysay, Doy Laurel bequeathed the leadership of the NP to Manny Villar: who, in turn, has taken on as his running mate, Loren Legarda of the NPC, itself the political offspring of the NPC. In a sense, a reunion of the party has been accomplished.

When we return, we’ll meet one of our regular guests, for his insights on the Nacionalista Party of today.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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