Philippine political parties are essentially nonideological vehicles for personal and factional political ambition. The party system in the early 1990s closely resembled that of the premartial law years when the Nacionalista and Liberal parties alternated in power. Although they lacked coherent political programs, they generally championed conservative social positions and avoided taking any position that might divide the electorate. Each party tried to appeal to all regions, all ethnic groups, and all social classes and fostered national unity by never championing one group or region. Neither party had any way to enforce party discipline, so politicians switched capriciously back and forth. The parties were essentially pyramids of patronclient relationships stretching from the remotest villages to Manila. They existed to satisfy particular demands, not to promote general programs. Because nearly all senators and representatives were provincial aristocrats, the parties never tackled the fundamental national problem--the vastly inequitable distribution of land, power, and wealth.
Ferdinand Marcos mastered that party system, then altered it by establishing an all-embracing ruling party to be the sole vehicle for those who wished to engage in political activity. He called it the New Society Movement (Kilusang Bagong Lipunan). The New Society Movement sought to extend Marcos's reach to far corners of the country. Bureaucrats at all levels were welladvised to join. The New Society Movement offered unlimited patronage. The party won 163 of 178 seats in the National Assembly in 1978 and easily won the 1980 local elections. In 1981 Marcos actually had to create his own opposition, because no one was willing to run against him.
The New Society Movement fell apart when Marcos fled the country. A former National Assembly speaker, Nicanor Yniguez, tried to "reorganize" it, but others scrambled to start new parties with new names. Blas Ople, Marcos's minister of labor, formed the Nationalist Party of the Philippines (Partido Nationalista ng Pilipinas) in March 1986. Enrile sought political refuge in a revival of the country's oldest party, the Nacionalista Party, first formed in 1907. Enrile used the rusty Nacionalista machinery and an ethnic network of Ilocanos to campaign for a no vote on the Constitution, and when that failed, for his election to the Senate. Lengthy negotiations with mistrustful political "allies" such as Ople and Laurel delayed the formal reestablishment of the Nacionalista Party until May 1989. Enrile also experimented with a short-lived Grand Alliance for Democracy with Francisco "Kit" Tatad, the erstwhile minister of information for Marcos, and the popular movie-star senator, Joseph Estrada. In 1991 Enrile remained a very powerful political figure, with landholdings all over the Philippines and a clandestine network of dissident military officers.
Vice President Laurel had few supporters in the military but long-term experience in political organizing. From his family base in Batangas Province, Laurel had cautiously distanced himself from Marcos in the early 1980s, then moved into open opposition under the banner of a loose alliance named the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO). Eventually, the UNIDO became Laurel's personal party. Aquino used the party's organization in February 1986, although her alliance with Laurel was never more than tactical. UNIDO might have endured had Aquino's allies granted Laurel more patronage when local governments were reorganized. As it was, Laurel could reward his supporters only with positions in the foreign service, and even there the opportunities were severely limited. The party soon fell by the wayside. Laurel and Enrile formed the United Nationalist Alliance, also called the Union for National Action, in 1988. The United Nationalist Alliance proposed a contradictory assortment of ideas including switching from a presidential to a parliamentary form of government, legalizing the Communist Party of the Philippines, and extending the United States bases treaty. By 1991 Laurel had abandoned these ad hoc creations and gone back to the revived Nacionalista Party, in a tentative alliance with Enrile.
In 1991 a new opposition party, the Filipino Party (Partido Pilipino), was organized as a vehicle for the presidential campaign of Aquino's estranged cousin Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco. Despite the political baggage of a long association with Marcos, Cojuangco had the resources to assemble a powerful coalition of clans.
The Liberal Party, a democratic-elitist party founded in 1946, survived fourteen years of dormancy (1972 to 1986), largely through the staunch integrity of its central figure, Senate president Jovito Salonga, a survivor of the Plaza Miranda grenade attack of September 1971. In 1991 Salonga also was interested in the presidency, despite poor health and the fact that he is a Protestant in a largely Catholic country.
In September 1986 the revolutionary left, stung by its shortsighted boycott of the February election, formed a legal political party to contest the congressional elections. The Partido ng Bayan (Party of the Nation) allied with other leftleaning groups in an Alliance for New Politics that fielded 7 candidates for the Senate and 103 for the House of Representatives, but it gained absolutely nothing from this exercise. The communists quickly dropped out of the electoral arena and reverted to guerrilla warfare. As of 1991, no Philippine party actively engaged in politics espoused a radical agenda.
In 1978 the imprisoned former senators Benigno Aquino and Lorenzo Taņada organized a political party named Lakas ng Bayan (Strength of the Nation; also known by its abbreviated form, LABAN, meaning fight). LABAN won 40 percent of the Manila vote in parliamentary elections that year but was not given a single seat in Marcos's New Society Movement-dominated parliament. After Aquino went into exile in the United States, his wife's brother, former Congressman Jose Cojuangco, managed LABAN. Cojuangco forged an alliance with the Pilipino Democratic Party (PDP), a regional party with strength in the Visayas and Mindanao, that had been organized by Aquilino Pimentel, the mayor of Cagayan de Oro City. The unified party was thereafter known as PDP-LABAN, and it--along with UNIDO conducted Corazon Aquino's presidential campaign against Marcos.
In its early years, PDP-LABAN espoused a strongly nationalist position on economic matters and United States base rights, aspiring to "democratize power and socialize wealth." Later, after Aquino became president, its rhetorical socialism evaporated. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, PDP-LABAN had the distinct advantage of patronage. Aquino named Pimentel her first minister of local government, then summarily dismissed every governor and mayor in the Philippines. Pimentel replaced them with officers in charge known personally to him, thereby creating an instant pyramid of allies throughout the country. Some, but not all, of these officers in charge won election on their own in the January 1988 local elections.
PDP-LABAN was not immune from the problems that generally plagued Philippine political parties. What mainly kept the party together was the need to keep Aquino in power for her full sixyear term. In June 1988 the party was reorganized as the Struggle of Filipino Democrats (Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino). Speaker of the House Ramon Mitra was its first president, but he resigned the presidency of the party in 1989 in favor of Neptali Gonzales.
In 1990 Aquino announced the formation of a movement called Kabisig (Arm-in-Arm), conceived as a nongovernmental organization to revive the spirit of People's Power and get around an obstinate bureaucracy and a conservative Congress. By 1991 its resemblance to a nascent political party worried the more traditional leadership, particularly Mitra. Part of Aquino's governing style was to maintain a stance of being "above politics." Although she endorsed political candidates, she refused to form a political party of her own, relying instead on her personal probity, spirituality, and simple living to maintain popular support.
|Country Studies main page | Philippines Country Studies main page|