NICANOR P. PERLAS: New governance goes beyond gov’t
By DJ Yap
Philippine Daily Inquirer
(Editor’s Note: The presidential profiles will be running in no particular order but as the stories come in from our reporters in the field.)
(Sixth of a series)
MANILA, Philippines—“My first lady is the Philippines, Inang Bayan,” independent presidential candidate Nicanor Jesus Perlas III wrote on his Twitter account, “InaNickofTime,” on April 10.
But Perlas, who is separated from his American wife, did not type the “status update” himself. He had only relayed the message to a staffer via text message.
These days, Perlas hardly gets any time on the Internet like he used to, busy as he is traipsing across the country to woo voters in a no-frills campaign that runs on a budget of P4 million. The last time he checked his e-mail was “four to six weeks ago.”
But some habits are hard to break, even for the 60-year-old Perlas, a health buff who doesn’t smoke, drink and eat red meat.
He still tries to get at least five hours of sleep despite a hectic schedule and even if it means dozing off in the airport, his car or wherever his itinerary brings him. “I make sure (I get) no less than five hours of sleep,” he said, although he admitted that this was getting harder and harder to keep up.
For breakfast, he gets something light and fruity, like one Friday morning, when he started his day with a yogurt banana shake with a honey-calamansi-coconut juice drink on the side.
His main source of protein is fish. “No pork, beef or chicken for me,” he said.
When in the city, he stays in the Ortigas flat of his 20-year-old son Christopher Michael, a business management student at De La Salle University. Two years ago, he parted ways “by mutual, respectful and friendly agreement” with his wife Kathryn Carpenter, a teacher.
“I’m not dating,” Perlas said in a recent visit to the Philippine Daily Inquirer office.
Perlas’ son, who looks American and speaks with an American accent, recently started to campaign for him full time now that his classes at De La Salle had ended. Christopher also promotes his dad on Facebook, helps run his website and tries to recruit his schoolmates to the cause.
On his way to meetings with staff, presidential forums and campaign sorties within Metro Manila, Perlas drives a Honda City. “I usually drive alone. No bodyguards,” he said.
On out-of-town trips, he brings only a photographer and one staff member, or none at all. He describes his campaign style as “decentralized.” In most sorties, he does not bring his Manila staff to Cebu or Davao or Iloilo—or the other way around—as he has his own staff and volunteers there.
No labels, please
A first-time candidate, Perlas does not want to be boxed into the cut-out labels that typical politicians are known by. He is not a liberal and at the same time not a conservative; he is neither rightist nor leftist nor centrist.
“I’m unpredictable,” he said. “My friends in the Left have a hard time understanding me. My friends in the Right don’t understand me at all,” Perlas said with a laugh.
The only label he said he would accept is “nontraditional.”
Perlas is advancing a kind of politics rarely seen in these parts—a politics of platform and issues, and in his case, one grounded on environmentalism, reform and a more participative civil society in government.
He hopes a simple, low-key campaign will help win him the presidency without the pomp and pageantry of the big tickets. His performances in presidential debates have helped raise his profile among voters, but up to now Perlas remains at the bottom end of most political surveys.
In every other interview, he is asked: does he honestly believe he can win? His answer has been a consistent yes.
Perlas said his campaign had not relied on celebrities and the usual song-and-dance routines, but he would instead opt to simply, sincerely introduce himself to voters from house to house, street to street, in public markets and town plazas, around the country.
Raised in an upper class family, Perlas was born on Jan. 10, 1950, in Manila to the late Jesus C. Perlas Sr. and Anunciacion M. Pineda.
He finished his elementary and high school education at Ateneo de Manila University, and earned his agriculture degree, major in agronomy, at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City, in 1972.
“I sacrificed nuclear physics for agriculture, because I realized I wanted to help the 80 percent of Filipinos who were living in poverty at the time,” Perlas said.
He pursued his master’s studies in botany (environmental sciences) at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna. But he was forced to abandon it in 1978 and went into exile for his opposition to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) under the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.
“I really did not want to leave,” he said. “But my family told me not to return because the military under Marcos was waiting for me.”
In the United States, Perlas continued his anti-BNPP work. He gathered the signatures of 15,000 people opposed to the project and presented their sentiments to the US Senate. In 1987, he returned to the country after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship.
He served as consultant of the Presidential Committee on the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant and of the Philippine Council of Sustainable Development during the Aquino and Ramos administrations, respectively.
Alternative Nobel Prize
He was a member of the steering committee of Kompil II, a civil society umbrella group that helped oust President Joseph Estrada in 2001. He also served as cofounder and spokesperson of Pagasa 1.0, which was among the groups that called for Ms Arroyo’s resignation at the height of the “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal in 2005.
In 2003, Perlas received Sweden’s Right Livelihood Award, considered the Alternative Nobel Prize, for his “outstanding efforts in educating civil society on the effects of corporate globalization, and how alternatives to it can be implemented.”
In 1994, he received the Global 500 Award from the United Nations Environmental Program and the Outstanding Filipino Award from the Philippine Jaycees and the Insular Life Assurance Co. for his campaign against the use of poisonous pesticides by Filipino farmers, which led to the banning of 32 harmful pesticide formulations in the country.
Civil society secretary
Perlas said one of the first things that he will create once elected president is a new Cabinet position on civil society affairs.
“For me this is important because we are going to introduce a new concept of governance that goes beyond just government,” Perlas said at a recent debate organized by the Inquirer.
In this new concept, he said he would shift the balance of power in Philippine politics from the usual triumvirate of executive-legislative-and-judiciary to government-business-and-civil society.
“This is important because we can’t have genuine democracy if we don’t empower citizens to participate in shaping the destiny of this nation,” he said.
Philippine Agenda 21
“The traditional powers of the state, which are executive, legislative and judicial, are no longer working. The new balance of power should now go to civil society as cultural power, the state as political power, and business as economic power,” he said.
Perlas first used this “societal three-folding” framework in crafting the Philippine Agenda 21, a blueprint for sustainable development, during the term of President Fidel Ramos.
It was presented and adopted during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in 1996, and has been adopted by the United Nations as a strategy in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
This, according to Perlas, is the achievement he is proudest of.
Getting to know you
He may not be from a poor background, but Perlas said his campaign would focus more on the poor than those belonging to the middle and upper classes.
“In fact, I was surprised that they are more receptive to my campaign than the AB crowd,” he said. “The AB crowd has already written me off. They’d say I’ll never win because of the surveys and so on,” Perlas said.
“But when I go to the poor communities, I’m surprised that they would recognize me. They would actually listen to me and be receptive to my ideas.”
This, he admitted, might not necessarily translate to votes, but “the important thing is they’re willing to get to know who Nicanor Perlas is.”
Perlas’ hobbies include reading books on philosophy, history, farming and health, listening to music—classical, pop and even rap—and watching DVD movies with his son. His favorite films are “Chariots of Fire,” “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” “The Matrix” and “AI.”
Does he watch pirated movies? “Yes, but not local,” he admitted.
Perlas, a disciple of organic vegetarian food, is president of the Center for Alternative Development Initiatives, a trailblazer in the agricultural field, which “set in motion, organic farming in an otherwise chemical-intensive agricultural system.”
He has written over 300 articles and monographs on a variety of subjects, as well as a best-selling book, “Shaping Globalization: Civil Society, Cultural Power and Threefolding,” which, according to his website, has been translated in over nine languages.
One of his favorite quotations is by American anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever did.”