LAST Monday December 5, I had the privilege of meeting with President Duterte in Malacañang at 10 p.m., a “not so ungodly hour” considering that the last time I had this privilege was at 2:30a.m. in Davao’s Malacañang of the South. But this time, the President had directed his presidential kitchen to provide a simple dinner at around 9:00 p.m. – very timely indeed as hunger pangs overtook me as I had to rush to Malacañang from the airport at 7 p.m. for this appointment.
I accompanied an American philanthropist Henry Howard, my business partner, to meet with the President in Malacañang. It was also an opportunity for the President to renew a friendship and congratulate Mr. Howard for having been awarded the Most Outstanding Alumni of Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, the other week. He handed to the President an invitation to speak before the prestigious US-Philippine Society of New York and Washington D.C. The President accepted the invitation when he visits President Trump in the United States next October.
Among the topics we covered were his initiatives toward a shift to a federal-parliamentary system which he knows has been my 40-year advocacy from when he was still our mayor in Davao. He intimated that he will sign an Executive Order composing a commission/committee to help revise the 1987 Constitution (he already signed this on Dec 11, 5 days after this meeting), one of the proposed provisions being a strong President elected universally within a parliamentary system, a hybrid model. And he wants the federalization process accelerated through a constituent assembly (ConAss), directing his allies in Congress to do so. Even before the end of his term, he wants the Federal Republic of the Philippines in place–and he will resign his presidency to give way to the new Parliament, a newly elected President as head of state and a Prime Minister as head of government. This is to be part of his legacy.
I had so many questions in mind but I didn’t argue with the President. I just wanted to absorb within the one hour that we had with him as much information as he could give. (My arguments will be my paper on the 4 Preconditions for a Federal Republic. Please access www.cdpi.asia)
An important point taken up with him was the pivotal role of political parties in the development of Philippine democracy, particularly in “party government”, a prerequisite in a parliamentary system. He was aware of my part as one of the founders of the PDP-Laban along with former Senator Nene Pimentel, our mentor way back in 1982. I explained to him too the emergence of a new political party in 2012, with a Christian/ Centrist Democratic philosophy with dues-paying membership, with an internal democratic structure and one that exists in between campaign periods. He may have been familiar with the CDP as his Davao local party, “Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod,” and the CDP were given a hearing by COMELEC on the exact same day in November 2012 and both of us appeared before the body as the respective chairmen of the newly minted parties.
It was therefore gracious of him to grant an audience with leaders of the CDP and its youth arm, CDYAP, and the CDPI, its political institute sometime in January in Malacañang to discuss their support for his federal-parliamentary initiatives. He appreciates that PDP-Laban, his party, the CDP and the DU30 CORE have been the leading edge in building a consensus for federalism, having fielded teams of speakers going all over the country at their own expense-–no government subsidy involved.
An important point he also mentioned was the formation of a mass-based organization that will support his policies and development goals for the country. Conceptualized by his closest comrade and confidant, Cabinet Secretary LeoncioEvasco, the “Kilusang Pagbabago” will penetrate government structures up to the barangay level. Speculation is rife that the KP is his national political party aborning for the next political combat in 2019. This was not verified nor confirmed during this conversation with the President but he advised that I meet with his “ideologue” Evasco. It was unfortunate that the Cabinet Secretary left early after the Cabinet meeting so I missed the chance to speak to him. Special Assistant Bong Go however is arranging for an appointment with the good secretary within the next few days.
But whether the speculation is true or false, it would be for the benefit of all if the KP were to really go down to the lowest stratum of government to harness consensus and support for the policies, targets and goals of the President. But this will need massive political education of a scale compressed within a short span of time.
Presidents are wont to create grassroots movements upon assumption to office, for them to leave an indelible legacy of their rule. We have in recent memory the “Kabisig Movement” of President Cory where current Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and I served. Inspired by the people power revolution, it failed to take off and has not drastically changed the poverty profile of the people. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s KALAHI (Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan), an anti-poverty initiative to assist government in strengthening the capability of local government units (LGUs) fell short of targets. Marcos “Masagana ‘99” was a much-touted showcase for the then “Green Revolution Movement” with the intent of achieving self-sufficiency in rice production for the country. Such ambitious program, but it remained just a showcase. And President PNoy’s Public Private Partnership (PPP), again another anti-poverty format that called for the administration to identify and give priority to big-ticket infrastructure projects—of a scale large enough to generate jobs for the country’s almost 3 million unemployed—and for private investors to be invited to fund their construction and operation. This stratagem died in-vitro.
Presidential schemes over several administrations are left strewn over the bureaucratic graveyard once the current power occupant leaves office. But this could be different this time with a genius of a taciturn ex-priest who propelled a local city mayor to the presidency despite the odds.
For what’s it worth, the KP could, if converted into a political party with left to left-of-center ideological underpinnings could be a tremendous boost to real political parties emerging in the country, a critical building block for diversity in a democratic federal-parliamentary set-up. But then, what of the current party of the President, the PDP-Laban? It is a known fact that the original PDP-Laban grew from three elected congressmen and one senator to become a major force in both houses of Congress just weeks after the May 8 elections, with the surge towards the winning brand, the President-elect’s PDP-Laban. There was an en masse abandonment of the erstwhile powerful Liberal Party. The “political butterfly” phenomenon in Philippine politics may be the norm but the entrance of the KP as a political party with ideological perspectives anchored to the ground may alter politics in this country. It could in fact create a new normal, an ideologically based cadre of political operators out to go for real change – a real pagbabago. Perhaps like the CPP of old.
The CDP would love to work out an alliance with this group, or any group, out to free the Filipino from centuries-old shackles of injustice and poverty
(The second part of this article will appear next Thursday.)
Lito Monico D. Lorenzana served under four Philippine Presidents in various capacities as a member of the Cabinet and several commissions. A Harvard-educated political technocrat, he was one of the prime movers of the Citizen Movement for Federal Philippines (CMFP), one of the founders of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines (CDP, Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya, and the Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI).