A long time ago, I heard a famous musical band leader say that he “owned” his rock band. I thought it strange that he used the word “owned”.
Later I would learn that indeed, using the claim “owned” in referring to a group was more the common practice than a fatuous claim. Someone would “own” the New York Knicks, or the Dodgers, or whatever. Just like a franchise. So Donald Trump can claim to own “Miss Universe”, and that Morley woman from Britain owns “Miss World”. Here in the Philippines, though she never used the word “own”, Stella Marquez Araneta controls the Binibining Pilipinas, atbp. annual parade of beauties, once exclusively Filipina, now Filipina-plus other bloodlines. And so on, and so forth.
Now let’s go to the political scene.
Before martial law and the proclamation of one-man rule, we had a two-party system. There was the Grand Old Party, the Nacionalista Party, founded by Manuel Luis Quezon of Baler, Sergio Osmena Sr. of Cebu, Jose P. Laurel of Batangas, Manuel A. Roxas Sr. of Capiz, Jose Yulo of Negros and Canlubang, and many others. It was the most powerful political party which controlled our politics, and subject to the policy imprimatur of our American pro-consuls, the Commonwealth government at the time.
After the end of the Pacific War, when Sergio Osmena Sr. was busy at reconstructing lives, limb and the little that was left of our economy after the devastation wrought by the Japanese invaders and the American liberators, internal rivalries wracked the NP, as the “liberators” had decided to leave us be, “independent”, as the likes of Quezon and the NP demanded a decade back.
Of course, not after demanding their pounds, nay tons of flesh, such as Parity Rights and some ninety American bases “owned and controlled’ as territory by the “liberators”. In form at least, the Filipinos will now “own” the Philippines. And because it was “created” in the image and likeness of America, we needed “democratic” elections.
The political rivalry within the Nacionalista Party between the taciturn and quiet Osmena and the fiery orator Roxas split the party. Thus, from NP ribs was born the Liberal Party, led by Roxas, Jose Avelino Sr. of the singular Samar, Elpidio Quirino of Ilocos, the Atienzas of Manila, the Lucmans of Lanao and others.
Left with Osmena in the NP were the Laurels of Batangas, Amang Rodriguez of Rizal, the Alontos of Lanao, the Romualdezes of Leyte, the Aquinos of Tarlac.
In the elections preceding the birth of the Third Republic on July 4, 1946, Roxas beat Osmena, who then quietly retired in his native Cebu. The Liberals assumed power and the Nacionalistas became the opposition.
But nobody then claimed “ownership” of the political parties. Roxas was referred to as the “founder” of the LP. Years later, Magsaysay and Garcia’s Senate President, the colorful Amang Rodriguez, was referred to as “Mr. Nacionalista”, but never did he “own” the party.
Martial law changed that. Not only did Ferdinand Marcos virtually own the country, he fashioned the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) from the NP which made him win as president in 1965, and the LP. Very few nursed the remnants of the grand old parties, and refused to join the KBL. Instead, they meekly coalesced, until Ninoy Aquino was murdered in the tarmac of the international airport in the hot and humid afternoon of August 21, 1983.
These NP and LP remnants eventually forged an alliance and called it the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO), and elected Salvador “Doy” Laurel to head the opposition against Marcos. In 1984, less than a year after the murder at the tarmac, Marcos called for elections to the Batasang Pambansa, then the unicameral parliament. Of 180 seats, the UNIDO won 59—a third —despite the authoritarian hold of Marcos. (It was actually 60, based on their certificates of candidacy, but one swiftly returned to the KBL right after his proclamation).
Of course Marcos “owned” the KBL. And although Cory Aquino was “elected” in the snap elections under the UNIDO, with Doy Laurel as her vice-president, she junked all political party affiliations after Edsa Uno, and declared a revolutionary government (much like what Rodrigo Duterte keeps warning the porkers in Congress about).
The UNIDO fell into hard times, and eventually, Laurel resurrected the NP. But even that was wracked with dissension, and from it was born Eduardo Cojuangco’s splinter Nationalist People’s Coalition. Cory’s brother, Peping Cojuangco, along with Speaker Monching Mitra, revived the martial law flag of Laban, and renamed it Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP). Nene Pimentel nursed his Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino (PDP) and later coalesced it for 1992 with Jovito Salonga’s Liberal Party. Imelda, fresh from New York, rallied the KBL remnants and launched her own presidential attempt in 1992. And Fidel Ramos, smarting from defeat in the LDP convention he joined, formed Lakas with a core group of just a handful of elected congressmen and governors.
Lakas won, and is still around after its defeat in 2010. Mercifully, nobody claims to “own” the party, not FVR, not GMA, neither the self-effacing Martin Romualdez, its current CEO. The LDP used to be “owned” by Senator Edgardo Angara Sr., but it has seen better times after the defeat of Mitra in 1992, and the ouster of Erap with which it had coalesced in 2001.
But the NPC is otra cosa. It has always been viewed as Ambassador Danding’s political hacienda. It is viewed as an “owned” party by political observers. These days, with the ambassador in semi-retirement, his business CEO, Ramon Ang, is likewise active (albeit sub-rosa) in party affairs.
What about the Nacionalista Party, which business tycoon Manny Villar resurrected after Doy Laurel’s death in 2004, and built into the strong vehicle he used for the 2010 presidential elections? While it is likewise viewed as “owned” by the Villars, there is a reign of consensus-seeking and liberality within, unlike the NPC where everyone waits for the “boss”.
Which is why the sudden press conference where its president, Georgidi Aggabao of Santiago City, by affinity related to the Cojuangcos, declared party support to a Grace-Chiz tandem for 2016 was met with quizzical eyebrows. Was it with the blessings of the “boss”, or was it a Chiz-initiated trial balloon, or better yet, an attempt to steal the thunder from PNoy’s end-July political anointing of Mar Roxas? Or to invoke the metaphysical—just to pre-empt the Chinese ghosts of August, which incidentally, begins on the 12th, not the first.
The NPs led by Senadora Cynthia cried foul over a tabloid-ish banner by a major broadsheet, claiming the NP and the NPC had gone overboard to a Grace-Chiz tandem. “We haven’t even consulted with our members yet on who to support in 2016”, the lady fumed. At least the NP is not “owned”.
As for the NPC, “anonymous” congressmen and leaders disclaimed Aggabao’s declarations on radio. So the real “boss” has not yet decided.
And the Liberals? Because he is president, PNoy is seen as the “owner”. There will be no conventions, no consensus-taking even. Not even a “secret” survey of its now humongous membership base. It will just be the president’s anointing. And Mar Roxas, grandson of the founder of the party, sits nervously while waiting the final word.
What a system. What a country.