In June 1960, Raul Manglapus and I were invited to a cultural conference in West Berlin. There, we met Willy Brandt, the charismatic mayor of the city, and some of his colleagues in the Christian Social Democratic Party. Communism was on the rise in Western Europe and the Christian Democrats had taken on some of the populist programs of the Communist Party to defang it.
On our return to Manila, Raul decided to form a similar party. He asked the Hukbalahap leader, Luis Taruc, and I to construct the party's ideological platform, a job I enthusiastically accepted although I had objected to the word "Christian." In my view, it was important for the party to embrace all Filipinos, regardless of their religion.
At the time I was already familiar with the Iglesia Ni Kristo. In 1943, when I was working as a peon in Floridablanca, Pampanga, one of my co-workers was an Iglesia convert, and he often took me to a house in the town where the Iglesia services were held.
Then, in the early 1950s, when I was a journalist at the Manila Times, I had a long interview with Iglesia founder Felix Manalo at his first big church in San Juan. He was in the beginning very reticent but I was able to thaw his reserve and he eventually opened up. There were many aspects of that interview that I didn’t appreciate, among them his reason for declaring the world would end in the 20th century and only the Iglesia members would be saved.
I did see, however, a lot of positive programs in the Iglesia, among them the building of a real community among its members to encourage helping one another in times of need. I also studied the dynamics that held the Iglesia together. Members paid their dues, and their leaders came from within their ranks. In time, however, cracks in the Iglesia structure appeared, brought about by overwhelming success and power.
Raul’s new political party would have adopted some of the Iglesia’s structure. We were going to identify the most depressed areas in the country and start from there, recruiting the cadres from the brightest in these areas. For the members to have a stake in the party, there would be membership fees. I told Raul that the very poor don’t have pesos, but they have centavos.
The party would be active the entire year and not during the campaign season only. Whatever money the party collected would be used for the party itself. The first four years would focus on nationwide organization; party members could not run for any public office and detract from this focus. On the fifth year, the party would field candidates for local positions only. And, perhaps, after six years, when the organization had solidified, it would field candidates for national office.
But, alas, Marcos declared Martial Law. Raul went into exile in the United States, and his dream political party never really took off.
LET US RE-EXAMINE today’s political system and political parties. There was a time when our political parties were ideologically based. Independence from the United States formed the core of their ideology. However, after we became independent in 1946, that ideology disappeared and was replaced by what would become tired, old clichés, such as the upliftment of the lower classes, and opportunism.
It was only the Communist Party that had a firm ideology, but like I have said from the very beginning, both the old and the new communist parties were hobbled by objective realities. Like the big Communist Party of Italy, they did not and cannot ever win any election.
Yet a political party is a necessity not only as such but as an instrument to unite people, and through which they can express themselves and their aspirations. A political party is also a necessity as a government communication system that reaches all levels of society.
As it stands today, however, our political parties cannot attract the really purposeful and the idealistic. It has been proven time and again that winning in an election depends on a politician's personal popularity, and that our political parties are simply escalators to power and privilege. There are no nationalists in the Nacionalista Party, no liberals in the Liberal Party. And is there any fight left in Laban?
Recently, I attended a meeting of young hopefuls who wanted to establish a similar party that Raul Manglapus envisioned sixty years ago. I am doubtful it can attract followers for, by its very platform, it is not revolutionary enough. And this, precisely, is what we need today -- a truly revolutionary party whose programs embrace all classes so as to change the rotten political system and the equally rotten elite that supports it.
It is always possible, of course, for all the political parties to unite. But we have no Angela Merkel in our political horizon. And Duterte? He had started out with so much promise to bring change to this country. He has four years to get back on track, otherwise he will succeed in dividing this nation. Remember that old Roman injunction: divide et impera. Divide and rule.