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Post-Halloween Reflections: Chiz Escudero And Bagong Pagbabago (Updated)

November 2, 2009


This ‘Undas’ weekend was mentally liberating with the ceasefire in political news, the typhoon watch, and quiet reflections about our departed loved ones.

Back to reality.

I’ve been chewing on Sen. Chiz Escudero’s maverick move of de-chaining himself from the dictates of big party politics while maintaining his resolve to gun for the land’s highest elective office.

The tradpols have been left in a tizzy, asking why Chiz moved the way he did, eschewing the comfort of having a national political machinery behind him, complete with all the appurtenances of a robust network of poll watchers, an array of political incumbents in Congress and at the LGUs, the muscle that from a traditional mindset all but guarantees a successful political run.

But does that ‘thought box’ really hold?

Methinks not.

Seasoned political analyst Jonathan Dela Cruz of Malaya writes:

While a lot of reports, commentators and analysts have taken to highlight the question of funding as the root cause of the Bicol solon’s departure there was something in the choice of words and the delivery of his bombshell which point to other, possibly more basic considerations. Not that funding or loyal and steady party support are inconsequential. Not at all. In fact, as the campaign comes to town, these two factors’ role will be magnified beyond recognition.

Not even the Obama campaign which was touted as the most unorthodox, out-of-the-box change and people politics campaign was spared from such basic requirements. Obama battled it out within the Democratic Party, enlisted millions to the institution and in the end outspent his closest primary rival, then Sen. Hillary Clinton, almost two-to-one and nailed down his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, by outspending him at every turn which ultimately made him the biggest election spender of all time. And these millions did not come only from the ordinary folks who contributed through his array of web based funding operations but from the high and mighty who control America’s lifelines, many of whom decided to walk away from their traditional roots in the Republican Party to Obama’s Democrats.

Jonathan Dela Cruz goes on to observe:

What shook the campaigns and, of course, Chiz’ most rabid supporters was his heavily laced rhetoric against what he called baggage in every presidential run and the almost condemnatory manner by which he denounced such baggage.
Never mind the suddenness of his decision. He was running on “change” alright. But why do so and burn your bridges as well?

These and a lot of other questions raced through people’s minds after the event at Club Filipino. What prompted Chiz to say goodbye to all? His chief political adviser, Lito Banayo, summarized in his last column in Malaya thus: “For change to be genuine and meaningful, the tired, old buzzwords and catch phrases ring empty. At a time when public despair and despondency threaten to break up the polity, new solutions and fresh ideas, this amorphously defined cry for Pagbabago (change) needed positing. And solutions offered had to go beyond motherhood statements..”
He continued: “The young Escudero saw how ‘people power’ so soon after its proud birth was compromised in the shoals of the return of traditional politics.

People power never brought power to the people. It was exploited by the powerful and wealthy few to bring them more power and more wealth. For the people to feel that to them belongs the power to a sovereign and democratic nation, then what must be practiced is ‘people politics,’ in present practice nothing else but power politics in the guise of party politics. In a time of continuing blight, with 65 percent of the population young but hopeless, reaching out for one’s North Star must be done without mental reservation or emotional qualm..”

The youthful solon has chosen to tread a new, unbeaten path by unburdening himself of all that Philippine politics — under normal, martial law and even people power times — has conditioned our people to take.

Contrary to the popular belief that he poured his frustration on NPC and its founder, SMC chairman Danding Cojuangco, Chiz actually took a dig at all those who are now busily arraying their ammunition and firepower in the most traditional and sly of ways in the run up to 2010. That includes the icon’s son, Sen. Noynoy Aquino, whom he referred to as haciendero and his partymates in the Liberal Party who have taken on the mantle of “change” only to hug and go after all the power brokers, the holier-than-thou crowd and the old liners in a bid to breeze their way into 2010 with the same old people power mantras. The baggage which Chiz referred to is not exclusive to his old party but endemic in all others who are now vying for the people’s votes.

But if I catch his drift and that of Banayo and the rest who showed up at Club Flipino, what they were more incensed about is “hypocritical politics.” The politics of double speak, of hiding behind legacies and empty rhetoric, using every chord string to play with people’s emotions only to retire to their old haunts and wine, dine and compromise the people’s interests yet again. People Power misused many times over. Which is why I suppose he used Bagong Pagbabago not just Pagbabago as his battle cry.
No to traditional politics and all the baggage it brings. No to business-as-usual and all the bondage that provides. And no to hypocritical politics and all the heartaches that it will surely bring. We will soon see how the youthful Senator Chiz’s challenge resonates with a public which has been, unfortunately, inured to such promises.

Another resonant perspective is that of
Jesse L. Bacon,writing in the Tribune last October 30:

Bacon asserted:

It’s not entirely true that a big political party can always make its bets win, prefacing his piece by citing the historical record:

When the late Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. ran for the presidency in 1992, he had the backing of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, the biggest and strongest political party at that time. It had the machinery and the funds needed to run a well-oiled campaign. It practically had a complete slate up to the last councilor in the remotest towns in the country either in the north, south, east or west.
The results of the election that year proved beyond reasonable doubt that Mitra’s party was the most well-organized, well-funded and well-managed for it produced the most number of municipal and city mayors, including their councilors, the most number of governors, including their provincial board members, the most number of congressmen and senators elected. Unfortunately, the party failed to have Mitra and his running mate, Marcelo Fernan, win in that election.
Lesson learned? It’s not entirely true that a big political party can always make its bets win.
In the same elections, business tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, also threw his hat in the presidential race. He hastily set-up his own party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition, and single-handedly bankrolled his candidacy as well as that of his other candidates in various positions. Admittedly, his presidential run was one of the well-oiled among the six aspirants in the 1992 polls. But Cojuangco, despite his money and machine, also did not win.
Miriam Defensor Santiago, who was not yet even a senator at that time, also took a crack at the presidency in that election. She put up her own political party and tried but failed to have a complete slate for senators, congressmen, governors and mayors on account of the fact that she was running her campaign on a shoe-string budget. Miraculously, however, she fared well during the run-up to the 1992 presidential elections. She had a neck and neck battle during the canvassing against then President Aquino’s anointed candidate, Fidel Ramos.

Bacon most succinctly notes:

If Sen. Chiz Escudero had this historical facts in mind when he decided to sever his ties with the party he belonged to for 11 years, then he is on the right track. And if he had in mind the Obama experience of raising his own campaign funds from the most ordinary American so he will not to be totally beholden to party interests, he is on the right track even more.

This is the kind of mindset the country needs at this crucial point in our nation’s political history where wheeling and dealing by various interest groups with our elective officials have become the order of the day.

Escudero’s thoughts are very salvific or liberating. Go on and wage that battle for true and real change, Chiz.#

Let me loop off this scan on the MSM by noting the comments of foremost Noynoy Aquino supporter Conrad De Quiros.

His take today on what Sen. Escudero did:

…what he has done to stake his claim is pretty startling. He is either a high-stakes gambler or a man transformed. To go against patron, that’s been done before. But to go against patron without sheltering under another, that hasn’t. To go against one’s party, that’s been done before.

But to go against parties in general, that hasn’t.
Time will tell if Chiz will be true to his word, or has the fortitude for its consequences. But whether he does so or not, he’s done us the no small favor of drawing attention to a plague that’s been ravaging our shores far more bitterly than the recent typhoons. Even if he himself doesn’t greatly enlighten on the subject. (Emphasis mine.)

That is the tyranny of parties.
Is he right to say parties shackle, blindfold and gag?

That is a very tricky question. My answer to it is: Yes, in this country they do. But that is only because we have no real political parties, except the Communist Party and Kapatiran. Those are the only political organizations that compel loyalty from its members on the basis of principle. The rest compel loyalty only on the basis of a strong patron, normally the president.

That was so even before martial law, when there were only two parties, the Liberal and the Nacionalista. The ease with which people transferred parties testified to the lack of hold of the parties on their members beyond their ability to advance personal ambitions. Indeed, the ease with which Ramon Magsaysay and Ferdinand Marcos transferred from Liberal to Nacionalista in the last two minutes to become its standard-bearer testifies to those parties being little more than fitful alliances or temporary (in)conveniences.

Local parties act as fetters, shackles, or yokes because they are run by powerful central figures who are bigger than the parties and whose word is law. You are Gibo, Arroyo’s wishes will be your commands. You are Chiz, Danding’s wishes will be your commands. Villar and Erap of course are their own parties, or dictators. If People Power hadn’t arisen like Lazarus with Cory’s death, the LP would have been the same.
In other countries, you don’t join political parties unless you believe in its principles, be it social democracy, Christian democracy, liberalism, socialism, or Utopia. In other countries, you don’t leave political parties just because your standard-bearer lost the elections. In other countries, the party’s will is not dictation, it is consensus.

How to end the tyranny of parties in our own unique, specific, perverse circumstances? Chiz’s stated solution is to abandon them. There is another, and that is to start building real ones.

Neither is easy, which is a humongous understatement. But the latter, for all its epic strenuousness, seems to me the more inevitable, or inescapable, one. It’s not just that abandoning parties seems suicidal, though there’s that too. It’s also that it can subvert the very thing it means to achieve. Look at the way Chiz phrases it: “I just want to run as me, as Chiz Escudero.” That is not without its virtues. But that is not without its vices too, chief of them reinforcing personality politics, which is the essence of the tyranny.

Building real parties, the kind whose members share beliefs, principles and convictions and hold on to them for dear (political) life isn’t easy. But in these days of miracle and wonder, where one candidate at least is managing to run a genuine people’s campaign, one that is not shackled, blindfolded and gagged, one that is not dependent on, well, dictation, you never know.

From the mainstream pundits I go to my mailbox:

A reader of At Midfield writes:

This will be a daunting job considering that majority of our voters are still bound by loyalty to a person, to a political party and to the root of all evil, money. However, I am convinced that the good senator has all the good intentions to do what is best for our beloved country and wishing him well.

Another view:

Alam namin dito na nagsimula na ang mga demolition job laban kay Chiz. Sana huwag
magbago ang kaniyang paninindigang tunay na inspirasyon ng mga kabataan.

Most insightful is this feedback:

Perhaps Chiz believes that it is party politics, which has really gotten in the way of good governance. He perhaps chafed at the “powers brokers…  inside the NPC and has recognized their desire for power (not necessarily self-preservation) runs contraire to what is currently needed by the country.

Almost everyone has seen that these political parties (LAKAS, NPC, etc.) have miserably failed the citizenry during the past two decades. We no longer have any statesmen, but politicians at every level of government (yes, including the barangay level).

We’ve witnessed how various members of different parties ally with GMA’s Lakas-KAMPI-CMD to trounce the justifiable impeachment of the current Ombudsman without consultation or consideration for the minority party’s views.

We have seen this play out in the House as they discard their own party’s mission statements, and proceeded to shove GMA’s agenda down the minority’s throat without any thought of what’s best for the country.

The message I is that Chiz Escudero is igniting new hope among our countrymen.

Across the spectrum, thinking Filipinos are saying that there is, indeed, a need for new change: Bagong Pagbabago.

I agree.

And 2010 could be the occasion.

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