Ben Kerkvliet

The LABAN-Liberal rivalry

Remnants of the progressive struggle are locked together in a dance of mutual political survival.

As the news dailies ran stories on the increased scrutiny being placed on the presiden’ts pals, some within the movement that elected him have begun to voice some reservations or outright indignation at the way he has handled the situation so far. Following the Luneta incident and the firing/resigning of Secretary Jose De Jesus, many cannot reconcile the behavior of their “white knight” towards those in his camp that have not acquited themselves all that honorably.

It will one day make for an interesting study to look at the rivalry between the Balay and Samar factions, or what I would like to call the LABAN-Liberal rivalry. Although as Manolo Quezon once put to me commitment to political parties has yet to take root in the Philippines, these parties come close to approximating such a tradition. They were borne out of the struggle against martial law and the two opposing poles of how to bring it to an end.

To understand how or why the Aquinos behave in relation to these rivaling camps, you have to first go back in time to the 1970s, to 1978 when the imprisoned Ninoy Aquino was “abandoned” by the LP and left without a party to run in the parliamentary elections scheduled that year. Having none of the stalwarts of the party like Jovito Salonga or Gerry Roxas to provide a stiff challenge to Marcos, Ninoy turned to more junior people. This is how LABAN was formed.

Explaining the Aquinos

The man who helped create the name, Lakas ng Bayan, the late Alfonso Policarpio, in his book Ninoy: The Willing Martyr coined a very poignant phrase to capture the mood of the Aquinos during this period of their struggle. A caption of a photo of Ninoy and Cory standing together during his military trial reads, a time when so few cared. This perhaps is one of the reasons why the Aquino children have gravitated more to the Samar group, the ones that had supported the “Noy-Bi” ticket. They had been there during their darkest days. To quote a once popular beer ad iba ang may pinagsamahan.

Secondly, one has to go to the early days of the first Aquino presidency to discover why PNoy took the unpopular decision to support his close friends. In The Aquino Management of the Presidency: In the Face of Crisis (1992) published by the presidential management staff, one finds a vivid recount of those early days from the point of view of palace insiders. According to the document, Cory convened her cabinet on July 9, 1986 to assess the aftermath of the “Manila Hotel incident” the first coup of her several months’ old presidency. After their deliberations, Presidential Spokesman Rene Saguisag was quoted saying

In hindsight (Minister of Local Governments), Nene Pimentel was correct about removing the incumbent local chief executives and replacing them with OICs. Had the duly elected Mayors of Metro Manila been retained, they would have been able to mobilize in support of the Marcos loyalists. There would have been a greater likelihood that the government would have fallen.

In response to a reporter’s query on why he had not accepted in full DOJ Sec De Lima’s recommendations in the aftermath of the “Luneta incident” regarding Mayor Alfredo Lim and Usec Ricardo Puno, PNoy gave a very cryptic remark about sticking with your allies because of counter revolutionary moves to unseat them. Using the preceding bit of history you can easily decode his message.

This siege mentality on the part of PNoy can also be understood by recalling that Noynoy was ambushed and nearly perished in 1987 during the “God Save the Queen” rebellion staged by renegade RAM soldiers that nearly toppled his mother from office. His appreciation for allies and the need for self-protection led him to the firing range where he no doubt established strong bonds with his shooting buddies.

Thirdly, to understand the accommodation of Binay’s faction within cabinet, one has to go back to the local government elections of 1988. In the book From Marcos to Aquino: Local Perspectives in the Transition in the Philippines (1991) by Ben Kerkvliet and Resil B Mojares, one gains a “street-level” view of the rough and tumble world of politics immediately following EDSA I.

The OIC’s appointed by Interior Minister Nene Pimentel were made to defend their positions a mere 18 months after their appointment. Many of them were novices (like PNoy’s inner circle) but had replaced long-standing provincial and municipal warlords. The strategies for bringing the fruits of people power to the grassroots as observed by Kerkvliet and Mojares in the book either took the form of a hard-line approach or a soft, conciliatory one.

To illustrate their point, they turned to the experience of one OIC governor in Central Luzon, a PDP-LABAN member (in the interest of full disclosure, that man was my father Noli), who had employed the soft approach in the face of repeated assassination attempts. After the election, he along with many of Pimentel’s party had been decimated through the ballot either legitimately or illegitimately . In contrast, Mayor Binay whose house was strafed with bullets in the run up to the elections survived by employing tough ward politics in Makati.

The social experiment involving the soft and hard approaches and the lessons learned from that period help to define the philosophy of the PDP-Laban to this day. The Pimentels themselves have suffered at the hands of “dagdag-bawas”. Like some battle-weary revolutionaries that later get accused of employing the same tactics that they had once raged against, the idealism of these players has been tempered by real world events. PNoy knows this, and he knows he can count on them when the going gets tough.

Where to from here?

Finally we ought to consider where this rivalry is likely to lead. Having formed a coalition ticket back in 1992 (Salonga-Pimentel), will its current incarnation be counter-productive or supportive of the president’s agenda?

Vice president Binay with his vast experience in providing effective government service at the local level and who has had one year to settle into his new role might have a head start. DOTC Sec Mar Roxas might struggle at first. He has never been in this type of role before, nor does he have a technical background.

The handing over of the DOTC to a politician may not necessarily have been an astute move from the policy angle given the pricing and subsidy schemes that it involves. Being more sensitive to public opinion with regard to fare rate hikes might cost the government more than it can afford.

On the other hand, both the housing and the transportation and communications portfolios rely on private financing; and both involve projects that are labor intensive and employment generating. Their managerial abilities in moving investments through the project pipeline and securing local content for projects will determine their success at generating employment. Here perhaps Mar Roxas will have an advantage having worked with big investors at the DTI.

The developmental state’s dual role

If we are to use the developmental state as a model for what the Philippines should be striving towards, then apart from delivering services to the socially disadvantaged, the other, and often neglected role of the state, which is to channel resources to the more productive ones, has to be attended to. The growth sectors of the economy are after all the main sources of additional taxes used for expanding redistributive programs.

If one looks at the Philippine Development Plan, the main objective of which is to generate faster, deeper and broader growth, one finds a succinct diagnosis of the current situation:

Low growth is due to low investment and slow technological progress because of inadequate infrastructure, as well as glaring gaps in governance. Narrow growth, meanwhile, is largely attributed to lack of human capital formation among the poor and the failure to transform output growth to job creation.

To address this, the Plan aims to unlock investments in infrastructure through PPPs and better governance frameworks and re-distribute the growing revenues from a more productive economy through social development. If one looks at the 2011 budget, this intent is backed up to some extent by an increase in allocation to the secretaries of transport and communication (of about P14 billion), education (about P20 billion) and social welfare and development (about P20 billion).

To manage these resources and implement the Plan well will require dedication and perseverance from all the president’s men. Let us hope that this rivalry within his cabinet produces the kind of healthy competition or constructive engagement required to produce positive outcomes. If it doesn’t, it could spell the end of the people’s faith in their brand of governance.

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