ABOUT five years ago I visited General Joe Almonte in his office in Greenhills. I told him about the plans of my young Philippine Centrist friends to set up a principled Centrist Democratic Party with the purpose of overcoming the patronage system with all the misery it brings to the Filipinos. His spontaneous reaction: “Peter, you must be crazy! Do you know what you are up against?” I asked: “OK, but what other options do you have to overcome the hardening poverty, failing judicial system, violence, impunity, lack of perspectives for the young people?”
It took him a minute before he answered: “You are right, we have tried all other options and it did not work. I think it is impossible, but I support you. You have to try it because the only other option left will be a revolution, and this could be very bloody.”
Here we are, and the revolution has come, faster and in another form than probably most of us could imagine. My centrist democratic friends have failed during the last years, as predicted by Joe Almonte. They have tried to get the “Political Party Development Act” adopted, which would have enforced programmatic profile, internal democratic procedures, transparency and a strict limitation of funding from outside for registered political parties. The bill was adopted early 2013 in the House, but the day before the second reading in the Senate, Malacañang intervened and got it out of the agenda—forever. They have strongly supported the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill—but Malacañang has prevented its adoption. They have supported a modern competition law. The Anti-Trust Law was adopted under pressure from ASEAN finally in 2015, but no implementation rules are in place until now. Most important, they have requested again and again the amendment of the dynasty and patronage protecting regulations in the 1986 Constitution, but they have found a complete deaf ear in the President.
They have failed also in competing with the patronage parties: days before the registration of candidates in Oct. 2015 at several places, where the Centrist Democratic Candidates were considered to be sure winners, they were literally bought by the party of the “straight path”; even in Cagayan de Oro, where the popular Congressman Rufus Rodriguez, President of the Centrist Democratic Party, was running for mayor, supported by 10,000 of committed members, they were crushed by the two money-backed patronage party candidates. Lesson learned: system change is not possible from inside …
The vision of the newly elected President of the Philippines is quite similar to the Centrist Democratic vision:
a country with a strong state, willing and able to implement its laws for the security and the decent life of its citizens and to deliver reliable services through its administration;
a country in which the centralist government structures are reduced to a minimum and the diverse regions can develop socio-economically and culturally under strong regional autonomy;
a country in which the presidential system with its poor accountability mechanisms and the blockade of effective governing between executive and legislative power is replaced by a highly accountable parliamentary system with genuine political parties;
To achieve this vision in itself would mean a revolutionary system change. But it might be done without breaking the legal rules of the actual system—if the new President is able to muster a legislative majority for his plans. But if this vision cannot be achieved within the actual constitutional system, can Centrist Democrats support a revolution? Thomas Aquinas, the great catholic teacher on human dignity, humane society and legitimate power, has told us that in a desperate situation, if certain conditions are in place, even the murder of a tyrant can be justified. In the case of the Philippines there is no tyrant to be killed. However, there is a desperate situation of enormous daily sufferings of tens of millions of its citizens under the results of a dysfunctional system, without real hope of overcoming poverty, making the judicial system work, bringing down crime and violence, providing the citizens with meaningful democratic participation rights. The noble values of the 1986 Constitution, human dignity, freedom and responsibility, justice and solidarity are violated daily under the power control and governance mechanisms established in the same Constitution. Centrist Democrats do not stand for a certain legal system, even if it calls itself democracy. They stand for these noble values of the 1986 Constitution.
A revolution means the complete turning over of a legal/constitutional system. If these values, for which Centrist Democrats stand worldwide and in the Philippines, cannot be protected and achieved in the actual constitutional/legal system of the Philippines, Centrist Democrats can and should support the announced revolution of the new President, even if it would need to be done with a revolutionary act of putting out of order existing legal provisions. It goes without saying that Centrist Democrats cannot support serious violations of core human rights in the name of the revolution. But as former President Ramos observed, much of what was said in campaign speeches was obviously only said with the purpose of winning the elections…
A revolution can go awfully wrong: look what happened with the French Revolution—which has led to unspeakable atrocities and, at the end, the restoration of the old system for many decades. It’s not enough to destroy the old structures. It will need years of strong commitment and hard work by the brains, experts and specialists of the country to develop the new system, with security, justice and jobs for all, with a delivering state and a functioning democracy. The Centrist Democrats of the Philippines has to bring in all its heart and mind to make these efforts successful.
Dr. Peter Koeppinger is the current project director of the European Union – Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (EU-KAS) Philippines Partnerships for Integrity and Jobs Project (Project I4J). He is a former resident representative of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) in the Philippines (2009-2014). He served as one of the co-convenors of the Centrist Democratic Movement (CDM) of the Philippines from 2010 to 2011, and has been the foreign political consultant of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines: Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya (CDP) since its establishment from 2012. He is also a member of the Board of Advisors of CDPI.