The roots of the current ruling party PDP-Laban are as “yellow” as can be. Lakas ng Bayan was founded by Ninoy Aquino and Lorenzo Tañada et al. to contest the April 1978 Interim Batasang Pambansa elections in Metro Manila; Laban was winning in the count until a news blackout was imposed, and Ferdinand Marcos engineered a victory for his wife Imelda and everyone on her slate. The Partido Demokratiko Pilipino was founded in 1982 by intrepid civil libertarians, many of them from opposition circles in Cagayan de Oro and Davao, including one of Aquino’s fearless candidates in 1978: Mayor Aquilino Pimentel Jr.
If I remember correctly, it was in 1986 when the two parties merged, and served as a motive force behind Corazon Aquino’s presidential campaign. (Officially, she ran under Doy Laurel’s Unido, with PDP-Laban as part of a coalition.)
Even more than the historical personalities involved (any account of whom must include the likes of Irene Santiago and Rey Magno Teves of Davao and Mordeno Cua of Cagayan de Oro), the roots of PDP-Laban lie in the antidictatorship struggle. The “enlightened nationalism” and “democratic socialism” it offers are best understood in the context of the freedom struggle out of which it emerged; the great convulsions that shook the party in its first decade (the takeover by and eventual split with Rep. Jose Cojuangco Jr.) and in its fourth (the conflict and eventual split with Vice President Jejomar Binay) were resolved in favor of the party’s oppositionist tradition.
Another way of saying that is to state that PDP-Laban is most itself when it is in the opposition, or when it is a small party in a governing coalition. At those times, it is a credible advocate of its core principles, including “participatory democracy”; when it raises issues which the political class resists, such as election reform after the “dagdag-bawas” scandal or accountability in Makati City at the height of Binay’s popularity, it does so with authority.
When it is the dominant party, as it was in the early years of Corazon Aquino’s term and now, under party latecomer President Duterte, it attracts all sorts of politicians who do not understand its roots, who are lured mostly by the prospect of power. To be sure, all dominant political parties in the Philippines suffer from this defect; it is one reason party politics remains at an immature stage. But the left-of-center ideology that animated PDP-Laban at its creation seems especially vulnerable to traditional politicians who (as Pimentel, the party founder, warned only the other week) swarm the party during its proverbial, periodic seven years of feast.
Perhaps it was this search for party discipline that drove Senate President Koko Pimentel, the current PDP-Laban president, to embrace an agreement for “party-building” and “policy training” with the Chinese Communist Party. He has kept his options open, telling reporters, in a mix of English and Filipino: “We enhance our relationship. We use imagination on how to do it. There were no specific activities listed.”
No doubt, the largest political party in the world is a model for party discipline. What it isn’t is a template for developing political parties committed to participatory democracy or enlightened nationalism.
Of the scholarship on the CCP readily available, the research work by Steve Tsang on “consultative Leninism” as the defining framework of Chinese politics after Deng Xiaoping, hits home. The framework has five characteristics: The Party is “obsessively focused on staying in power” (indeed, it is the only one allowed by China’s constitution). It is focused on governance reform “to preempt public demands for democratization.” It is enhancing its capacity to “direct changing public opinion.” It is committed to “rapid growth and economic development by whatever means.” And it promotes “a brand of nationalism that integrates a sense of national pride in a tightly guarded narrative of China’s history.”
That narrative includes expansive claims to Philippine territory. This means that each of the first, second, third, and fifth characteristics of the Chinese Communist Party betrays PDP-Laban’s highest ideals. A relationship like this is abusive. Do not enhance it; end it.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand
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