Thursday, September 3, 2009

So soon the retreat

In politics, a lot of things can happen in so short a period. The denouement that took place Tuesday evening at the Club Filipino was not entirely unexpected. It just happened too soon.

When the crowds swelled at the wake and funeral of President Corazon Aquino, the political observer may have had time to wonder what effect the outpouring would have on the political fortunes of the Liberal Party. While Cory was not a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party, Ninoy was. In fact, had martial law not rudely intervened, it was widely believed that Ninoy Aquino would have carried its colours to political victory as the seventh president of the Republic, the eleventh since political independence was declared at Kawit. It could in fact have been an Aquino-Roxas tandem, with Gerardo Roxas, the gentleman-senator from Capiz, running as Ninoy’s vice-president.

But something estranged the Aquinos from the party in 1978. Ninoy was on his sixth year in prison when dictator Marcos called for elections to convene an Interim Batasang Pambansa. He wanted to participate, not necessarily to win, but to show defiance, and to communicate the issues that burned in his heart while under incarceration. The party elders, led by Jovito Salonga, Ninoy’s colleague in the Senate, would not allow it. “Why dignify Marcos by participating in sham elections?”, they asked. Thus did the imprisoned Ninoy and his followers outside give birth to Laban. And thus did the Liberal Party continue to hibernate, later to fragment into a Salonga wing and an Eva Estrada Kalaw wing. Salonga never participated in elections during the long night of martial law; Kalaw, Ninoy’s cousin, was also his political stand-in, who kept the party alive by participating in electoral exercises.

To be sure, Ninoy was not a Liberal at birth. His father, Don Benigno, the fiery orator and statesman from Tarlac, was a Nacionalista, the closest political ally of Jose P. Laurel, president of the short-lived wartime “republic” under the aegis of Japan’s Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Together with Laurel, Don Benigno was vilified as a “collaborator” in the aftermath of America’s victory over the Axis power in Asia. Meanwhile, the political hegemony that began with Manuel Luis Quezon and Sergio Osmena Sr. was sundered by the founding of the Liberal Party taken from the rib of the Nacionalista Party. Manuel Acuna Roxas, together with Jose Avelino of Samar, Elpidio Quirino of the Ilocos, Eugenio Perez of Pangasinan and Hermenegildo Atienza Sr. of Manila were the founders of the party that eventually defeated Osmena of Cebu, successor to Commonwealth president Quezon who died in Saranac Lake, New York, while waiting for Douglas MacArthur to liberate the country from the Japanese invaders. Don Benigno Aquino, along with Jose P. Laurel, were then in prison, temporarily disgraced by charges of living with the enemy in the night of the occupation, their defense being that they made the best of a life-and-death situation where Filipino lives were on the dock while America suffered defeat. Both were staunch Nacionalistas.

Fast-forward to the fifties, when Ramon Magsaysay, the defense secretary of Liberal Quirino, took his oath as a Nacionalista and proceeded to trounce his erstwhile benefactor in the presidential polls of 1953. The political fortunes of the Laurel and Aquino clans were thus resurrected, and young Benigno Simeon Aquino Jr., Ninoy to us all, became mayor of the Pampango town of Concepcion In Tarlac. He was Monching Magsaysay’s political l’enfant merveilleuse, a young man in a hurry. When Carlos P. Garcia succeeded Magsaysay after the crash at Mt. Manunggal in Cebu, the political ascent of the young Aquino heightened. He became the youngest governor in the entire country, of a premiere province at that. But then, Garcia lost to his vice-president in 1961, and Macapagal of Lubao in Pampanga, could not abide having a Pampango Nacionalista as governor right beside his native province. Applying intense pressure upon Ninoy and his father-in-law, Diosdado Macapagal got the youngest governor to turn coat and swear into his Liberal Party. Thus did Ninoy, later to become the country’s youngest senator ever, become a Liberal, in the same party as Ferdinand Marcos who in 1964 was soon to become a Nacionalista turncoat, and trounced Macapagal in 1965.

Follow the few surnames I mentioned in this article. Gloria is Diosdado’s daughter by Dra. Eva Macaraeg of Binalonan, Pangasinan, my mother’s classmate at the UST College of Medicine. Noynoy is Ninoy and Cory’s son, grandson of Speaker Benigno Aquino Sr. Mar is the grandson of Manuel A. Roxas, founding father of the Liberal Party and the first president of the Third Republic. Jose P. Laurel, president of the Second Republic, was the father of Cory’s vice-president, Salvador “Doy” Laurel. Current DENR Secretary Lito Atienza and Liberal Party nemesis of Mar Roxas, is the nephew of Hermenegildo, former mayor of the city who co-founded the party along with Mar’s grandfather. Why, even Joey de Venecia, the stinking ZTE-NBN deal’s original whistleblower, is the grandson of the Liberal Speaker of the House, Eugenio Perez of Pangasinan. Note too how our elders switched parties even when we only had two, and weep at how easy this has become now that we have a multiplicity of parties.

It’s still the same “old” names that dominate the politics of this benighted land. Plus ca change, the French would remark. For better or for worse.

Now enough of the historical footnotes.

Mar astounded everybody when he blew the bugle of political retreat, not entirely unexpected, but because it came too soon. The party his father founded had pinned its hopes of political redemption after being out of complete power for 45 years, on the survey fortunes of Mar. And they watched over the past excruciating year how those survey rankings just could not seem to move upwards. There was a sudden spurt of energy in April, after Mar announced his engagement to Korina Sanchez, and did so in the popular noontime show Wowowee, after unveiling a maka-masa type of television advertisement called “Padyak”. But the novelty of these political tidings wore off all too soon. Worse, the fortunes of a most unworthy person, Manuel Villar, the ersatz Nacionalista to whom the successors of a great man, Jose P. Laurel, sold their party franchise to, were rising from survey to survey, even as his huge media budget papered over corruption charges most gross. The Liberals were on the verge of panic as they read the tea leaves of Pepe Miranda and Mahar. Until Cory Aquino died, and a glint in the eye of the grieving Noynoy caught their attention. That glint in the eye the Liberals have quickly turned into moist eyes for a presidency they covet in 2010.

And so, groups allied with the LP’s like Black and White, along with a few columnists, turned up the heat on a still grieving family. Noynoy felt like a challenge was upon him, and there was a legacy of leadership the burden of which he had to face. Meanwhile, Mar saw his support base in the LP quickly turn askance. Men who earlier cheered him with every padyak of his pedicab, and cried with him when he proposed marriage to Korina in unworthy Willie Revillame’s show, were suddenly looking beyond his shoulders, and Mar felt sick.

Like the investment banker that he was, Mar decided to cut his losses, and throw in the towel. But unlike the wily politician he never has become, Mar threw in the towel way too soon. A trapo would have first calculated the numbers, watched the numbers of Noynoy appear in the cards, and then sit down for negotiations. That was how Don Manuel and his cautious son Gerry and Don Amading Araneta, Mar’s maternal lolo, would have played the game. But Mar Roxas must have felt like he was on sinking sand while facing the rush of a giant wave threatening to drown him forever. (I eerily experienced this in April, in the shores of Sablayan upon the waters of Batanes, when the softness in my feet felt like quicksand, and mercifully the waves that rushed were far from being a tsunami. I remember this because of its close serendipity to Mar’s putative campaign manager, Butch Abad of beautiful if perilous Batanes).

But there is science to the timing, if the Liberal panic is to be interpreted with political calculation. A Metro Manila survey is ongoing right this minute, and its results will be quickly announced next week. Potential moneybags want to test Noynoy’s appeal, and unlike Mar, they want to see the numbers first. If Noynoy still hemmed and hawed, those numbers would not appear magical. So Mar had to go. He understood this as much as his confreres in the party and his fast diminishing “Friends of Mar” did. To their panic, Mar felt depression.

And then again, opinion pollsters would be on the field starting the middle of September, nationwide this time, and Noynoy’s numbers had to be magical, at the very least least hopeful. The survey timelines explain the haste, and Mar chose to decapitate himself, both out of a sense of honourable seppuku and surrender to reality.

Even Noynoy was surprised by the suddenness of it all. He knew it was forthcoming, and the burdens it imposed upon him grew heavier by the day, but he did not expect the denouement all too soon. Whether it was because, like Chiz Escudero who bound himself to a birthday timeline (Chiz turns 40 on October 10 this year), Noynoy bound himself to a post 40-day grieving deadline, or because the Chinese tradition from his maternal bloodline taught him never, never to make a major decision before the ghost month is over (that’s August 20 to September 18 this year, when the mooncakes flood us all), his silence underwhelms. It casts gloomy spell upon Mar’s surrender.

But let us continue this tomorrow.

* * *

Meanwhile, let me condole with the brethren of the Iglesia ni Cristo on the demise of their Pangkalahatang Tagapamahala, Ka Erano G. Manalo, whose leadership kept the religious powerhouse strong and ever-united in almost two generations of political turbulence and socio-economic decline.

We marvel at the strong sense of unity and discipline that the Iglesia brethren show the nation and the world, and see that it is not just their faithful adherence to religious doctrine, but also the firm and steady hands of purposive leadership that has kept them united in purpose and disciplined in conduct.

Would that it were likewise so in this benighted land, so bereft of discipline, so divided, so absent in upright leadership. From the founding by Ka Felix to the growth years of Ka Erdie, the strength of the Iglesia ni Kristo must be positive lesson to us all. Only a nation united in purpose, bound by fierce love of country, and disciplined as a singular community, can bring us to national greatness.

Ave atque vale, Ka Erdy. You have cared for your flock well and beyond mortal standards. And surely it will remain in steady hands, ever ready to face the vicissitudes of every temporal challenge.