MANILA, December 11, 2003  (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven - By now, it’s evident there is only one Party in the Philippines which is reliable, unchanging and faithful to reality. This is the Birthday Party. Year after year, the Birthday Party is consistent, celebrated on schedule – until death do you part. Some families, of course, persist in celebrating "birthdays", calling them "anniversaries", long after the subject has departed this earthly plane.

I say this to point out that, in contrast, there is no such thing as a Political Party. The term "political party" means that it is composed of men and women banded together in a common cause, with a common agenda, a common statement of principles, and a common goal. If this is the measurement, then no existing "party" or "coalition" of so-called parties fits the bill today. The only thing common to our present "parties" is that they are vehicles of convenience for persons seeking election or re-election. In these organizations, wannabes are clustered under the aegis of a leader whose charisma and clout, they hope, will bring them to glory and public office. Thus, what we have are not actual political platforms, but launching pads, in which political astronauts board a space ship (space cadets?) captained by a man or woman with the booster-power to propel them to the stars.

Thus we have parties jerry-built on the basis of a Cult of Personality. President Macapagal-Arroyo’s group is, of course, described as "the ruling party", but only because GMA rules. Her challengers are the FPJ Party, the Raul Roco Party, the Panfilo Lacson Party – never mind the alphabet soup of Lakas this, Laban that, Aksyon here, and Zarzuela that.

There used to be a heated debate in the pre-war Commonwealth between the adherents of the late Manuel L. Quezon and Don Sergio Osmeña Sr., with the former emerging triumphant, over whether party leadership ought to be Unipersonalista or Collectivista. The denouément was that the principle of Unipersonalista was what prevailed, while everybody tried to make it appear that decisions were arrived at collectivista.

Quezon even broached the idea of "partyless demo-cracy", which, judging from his own imperious actions, was a joke, because what he probably meant was that everybody should unite behind MLQ; i.e., Quezon as Political Caesar, no need for the formality of a political party. In the end, the great Quezon and his merry men conceived of "block voting" as a mans of perpetuating their Nacionalista Party in power.

I recall this vividly because my late father, a two-term congressman, then National Assemblyman from the 1st district of Ilocos Sur (having just defeated Elpidio Quirino two-to-one), was the only Nacionalista who opposed block voting.

Quezon had angrily summoned Papa to the Palace. "Sullivan" (he always called dad "Sullivan"), MLQ boomed, "you are embarrassing me and your party. You are the only NP publicly attacking ‘block voting’, and insulting us by calling it a weapon of deception and dictatorship. Don’t you know that ‘block voting’ will get you elected to the Senate?"

"But, Mr. President" my father had replied, "it was you who declared that ‘my loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins’! This made Quezon even more furious: "Punyeta, I hate it when people try to quote me against myself."

"What about your Senate nomination?" MLQ insisted.

"If block voting is needed to elect me to the Senate," Papa said, "then I would rather not be elected Senator."

"So be it," Quezon said, and struck dad’s name off the senatorial line-up. They shook hands courteously, and Papa remembered, even cordially, when they parted – because they liked each other. (Quezon had verbally supported Papa against Quirino, though my father had politely returned the blank cheque MLQ sent him.) Then Papa went home to Vigan to announce his retirement "for the nonce" from politics, expressing his disappointment – and his continued opposition to "block voting".

In a few months, though, the Japanese attacked, and political wrangling and the resultant acrimony became immaterial. My father went off to war, fighting in Bataan as a major. Quezon went with General Douglas MacArthur to Corregidor, then was spirited off to safety in the United States where he died in wartime exile.

The above just goes to show that the confused politics of today are nothing new. The difference is that the political throat-cutting and acrimonious debate were conducted with more class, politesse, and elegance than the out-and-out eye-gouging, knee-in-the-gonads, dirty infighting of today.

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There will be many interpretations as to why Fernando Poe Jr. "absented" himself from the proclamation of his own candidacy as the official standard bearer of the coalition which calls itself the "United Opposition" in the Inter-Continental Hotel yesterday.

Senator Ping Lacson maintained FPJ’s being a "no show" at the Inter-Con meant that Poe was keeping his word, which was that he would first meet with him (Lacson) before doing anything further and that FPJ would not accept a "rigged" selection process. Lacson’s assertion was, it has to be said, self-serving, particularly that reference to "rigged" selection.

In any event, it’s imperative that Lacson and FPJ should meet in an attempt to forge a common front, instead of ruinously slugging it out with each other. As everybody will concede, in a four-cornered contest – with FPJ, Lacson, and Raul Roco competing and dividing the "opposition" vote, President GMA will gallop to the finish line, and be re-elected (not necessarily, even, with the help of God and the Comelec, were she enjoys the equity of the incumbent – the incumbent Chairman being Ben Abalos).

It doesn’t take political savvy to figure this out. All one requires is arithmetic. If the grand old man of politics, the late Senate President Eulogio "Amang" Rodriguez used to say that "politics is addition", by the same yardstick, "division" means defeat.

If you ask me, were she more Machiavellian (or Pidalistic), GMA or her courtiers might do well to encourage popular ABS-CBN newscaster-cum-Senator Noli de Castro to run – not for Vice President but for President. Noli would snatch so many votes away from FPJ and Ping Lacson, that for the two of them, it would not be Magandang Gabi, but a terminal Buenas Noches.

When all is said and done, what will also count is which of the Opposition parties will be awarded "election inspectors" by the Commission on Elections – on the basis, er, of the Election Code. You may field the most guapo candidate, but if he doesn’t have "inspectors" to guard his ballots – or, for that matter, a support network of partymen to ferry his fans and sympathizers to the polling precincts – his "votes" may never be counted.

Many will remember the late Nicaraguan Dictator Anastacio Somoza, who taunted his rivals post-election with the sneering words: "You won the election, but I won the count!"

You may not recall what happened later to Somoza. The Marxist Sandinista guerrillas blew him out of his bullet-proof limousine with a bazooka. (By that time, Somoza had already been overthrown, it has to be noted.)

* * *

Now for the "no-show" Poe.

Is it possible that FPJ is trying to distance himself from the trapos and wheelers-and-dealers who wish to attach themselves to his pangkat? Take a closer look at the bunch gathered at the Inter-Con. Even his "de facto spokesman" Senator Vicente "Tito" Sotto?

I am fascinated by the term "de facto". Does this choice of words imply that somewhere there is a genuine spokesman, de jure possibly? FPJ can’t keep ducking the spotlight forever. The public will demand: Will the real FPJ please stand up? They’re clamoring for Ang Panday, not The Sphinx.

However, it’s right for FPJ to stand back a little and review who gets on his bandwagon. Give way to Ping Lacson? If that were his intent, why should FPJ have announced his candidacy at all?

Oh, well. As I’ve said before, amor propio and pride may doom the prospects of the Opposition – so GMA, like Handel’s Messiah, could reign forever and ever. And what’s this Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) they’re now calling their branch of the Opposition, so they can include the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (Angara wing of the LDP), PDP Laban and the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) of Erap, under the FPJ banner?

What’s dismaying is that with GMA, you see her surrounded by the Hungry Ghosts of Christmas Present, while, around the Opposition bets, meaning Roco, Lacson and Poe, you spot The Ghosts of Christmas Past – who want to be around the Christmas Tree, and, more importantly, the Money Tree again.

Has democracy failed in the Philippines? One wonders, at times, whether it has ever been tried.

* * *

THE ROVING EYE . . . Today, Pampanga celebrates its 432nd anniversary as a province. Pampanga has produced two Presidents (Father and Daughter) within 40 years – i.e., President Diosdado Macapagal and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Also such stalwarts as the late Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, Senate President Gil S. Puyat, several Justices of the Supreme Court, and the first Filipino Cardinal (the late Rufino Cardinal Santos), to mention a few. Other eminent persons, while they hailed from adjoining Tarlac province, were ethnic Kapampangans like our hero, Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr. Pampanga is a virtual enclave, surrounded by Tarlac, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Zambales, and Bataan, and yet it has managed to preserve its own dialect, culture, customs and cuisine (the latter regarded as the haute cuisine of the Philippines). Pampangos do not forget and are proud of their individuality. Ninoy, who came from Conception, Tarlac, used to describe his kabalen as mayabang about their excelling in every undertaking they pursue, be it in politics, government service, the arts, entertainment, cooking, and even tailoring. They were also the backbone of the first "Philippine Scouts," fighting for the Americans during the Revolution. What a contrast this was to the post-Pacific War era, in which Pampanga was a hotbed of Huk (Hukbalahap, then HMB) Communist rebellion. In sum, the Pampangos strive to excel in what they undertake, whether go-vernment service, enjoyment, or rebellion. Hats off to plucky Pampanga today! It’s a spicy, exciting province, all told.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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