WE just came from a hectic vacation in Iloilo, Roxas, Jawili and Boracay. We flew roundabout Davao-Cebu-Iloilo by Philippine Airlines, as the Cebu Pacific direct flight schedule for Davao-Iloilo was inconvenient. I was to acquaint my wife Sylvia with the delights of each area’s famous seafood cuisine on this gastronomic tour. We decided we needed to do this with urgency, while still ambulatory and can still remember each other’s name. We rented a van at the Iloilo Airport to take us around the city for sightseeing. Iloilo was more beautiful than the last time I saw it. The Esplanade was something that Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio can emulate for the Piapi district and Quezon Boulevard in her city, or in the Bankerohan area beside the Davao River. All it takes is the vaunted Duterte “political will” or short of it, punching her way through the quagmire of informal settlers.

Coastal Road turo-turo
But as to the main purpose of the tour, I will reprint my Facebook post: “Lunch in the Iloilo Coastal Road resto was a disaster! No diwal, no lobster, no fat alimango, the oysters were catatonic and the pasayan were anemic. And while eating, you have to compete with the ubiquitous flies. This is what I get for relying on a gourmet, our hired van driver to Roxas, who convinced us to eat at his favorite place. Hahaha! We definitely went to the wrong place. The Iloilo I knew was elegant, grand and snobbish! Well, win some, lose some. Babawi na lang kami in Roxas tonight with Jimmy.”

Jimmy San Agustin, my grade and high school classmate was the perfect host in Roxas, backed up by Tony Santos — his coffee buddy, an amiable man who gave us a 10-cent tour of the 770-hectare township right in Roxas City, owned by his son-in-law married to his graceful daughter Tina. He showed us the image of Christ on the highest promontory of Roxas, boasting that the statue was taller than the Cristo Redentor in Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro. Tony could be the perfect tour guide except for some minor flaws; “I don’t know!” was the standard answer to the four or five questions about the interesting sights and statistics: height of the Christ statue, name of the sculptor, how much it cost, who made the development plan of the township, etc. But this good and likable man gave us a river tour of his fishpond holdings.

Intermarriage of cousins
Jimmy has to rely on his three wonderful ladies, wife Baby and daughters Liza and Mariel, to give us a better grasp of the history of the place. The first thing one learns in Roxas and the province of Capiz is that the landed gentry are practically all related. The San Agustin-Balgos families are kissing cousins of the Tirol-Kimpo-Carpio-Gonzales-Santos-Roxas, just to name a few. To preserve their vast landholdings, the old families in the Philippines intermarry. I suspect some incestuously, with offspring hidden in the proverbial attic rooms, just like the old European bluebloods.

But back to that which we came for, the crustacean offerings at Jawili, Jimmy’s idyllic beachfront resort with cascading waterfalls behind his property on the road to Kalibo, are to die for — fresh and succulent, raw oysters, fat crabs, pasayan, various seashells and cockles and yellow-corn-kernel-sized lato (seaweed). Apparently such abundance is chiefly caused by Capiz fronting the Sibuyan Sea to the north of Panay Island, where Jawili and other coastal towns are strategically located towards Caticlan, the jump-off point to Boracay.

Boracay – a political will
And Boracay is something to admire after the Deegong decided to close it for six months last year to clean up the area. As the country’s premier seaside resort, it had “become a cesspool” and an environmental blight with open sewers and untreated sewage leaking out to sea. Trash was everywhere and untrammeled beachfront construction of hotel, stores, bars and restaurant flaunted commerce over public order. This is a microcosm of the Filipino at his undisciplined worst. After DU30 exercised his stern leadership and political prerogatives over the objections of the merchants, hoteliers and local politicians — a certain sense of discipline has now descended on the resort island. Roads are being improved and sidewalks have been laid over for pedestrians. But the wide beaches with the famous white fine sand is still the main come-on. This is one of the Deegong’s successes in applying his iron fist toward the pre-eminence of the rule of law.

The culture of impunity
If only he could apply this toward the second part of this article. This time I write in anger at the impunity being displayed by our uniformed men sworn to protect the people and the Constitution. Even in the languid days in Boracay, one couldn’t escape the headlines of the torture and death of a Philippine Military Academy (PMA) plebe and the culture of abuse inculcated early on our cadets, our future protectors who follow the lead of officers like Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and Gen. Oscar Albayalde, who see nothing wrong with hazing.

A declaration by Senator Bato, a PMA graduate himself and former chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), admitted that hazing was one of the factors that made him “tough and disciplined” as an officer. “Tine-train ang mga tao diyan para maging warriors (People are trained there to become warriors).” Now we know where DU30’s “berdugo of tokhang’ acquired his chops and his cavalier attitude toward human rights abuses!

General Albayalde, the current PNP chief, noted that “hazing is a matter of personal perception, parang (just like) accusation. These are all matters of personal perception on how you will accept it as a person and how you will accept it as a cadet.” Huh!? And this he said after the death by torture of a PMAyer. This statement is simply vague and inane — hopefully not reflective of the best of that military academy.

Albayalde explained that he was even thankful to his squad leader at the PMA, a former major general, for helping in molding him into what he is now. Which begs the question: What is he now? He has been summoned before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee for his alleged protection of 13 policemen subordinates who were accused of being “ninja cops,”or cops who sell back in the market the illegal drugs they confiscate from drug pushers, dealers and smugglers.

With these current crop of generals and leaders, graduates all of the premier military academy from which President Rodrigo Duterte has been recruiting for leadership in his Cabinet and government agencies, one begins to question whether there is madness to his method, or just simply madness

And these are the type of people whom the President must rely on, brainwashed in the classrooms and marching fields of Fort del Pilar, instilled with the tools, method and mindset of torture protected by their own code of omerta — just like any secretive mafiosi.

The corps often boast that as officers and gentlemen, “they do not lie, cheat or steal.” True, but they may have absorbed the esoteric art of “torture and mind perversion.” We didn’t buy into this!
The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.
“You are good if you can uplift Filipinos from their current condition. But you are greater if you bring them to a condition beyond where they need not be uplifted.” – Lito Monico C. Lorenzana (LMCL), Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippine (CDP) Founding Chairman

I’M prepping up to write a treatise on Centrist Democratic Party’s arduous journey from a fledgling “Successor Generation” movement to a nascent political party and interpolate the “Centrist” concepts of some of the brilliant minds, our mentors, who started it all and my own ideas built on experience from the “roots of the grass,” as political action officer. I hope to draw the attention and persuade idealistic segments of society and the public at large that the way to good governance and participatory decision-making is through Centrist Democracy’s brand of political technocracy and to which they are invited to join as party members. Will it be relevant to present realities? With the flowering of the initiatives, will national redemption be at hand? Can it leave a legacy that will shape a secure and prosperous future for the succeeding generations? The essay hopes to give pragmatic answers as well as insights from party stalwarts, fodder to the grist mill, hoping that the by-products would contribute to the development of real political party institutions and advance the cause of nation-building. This article will just be a glimpse of that work.

Centrist Democracy’s roots can be traced from as far back as the French Revolution in 1789 when “democratic passions were unbridled throughout Europe” and supported for the greater part by Catholic Church’s teachings. It was then called Christian Democracy, with the application of Christian principles in ordering society’s political, economic and social life. In the Philippines, the Federation of Free Workers (FFW) in 1950 and Federation of Free Farmers in 1953, started out as associations exhibiting “definite Christian democratic orientation” and, with the Church, worked for reforms. The birth of the Christian Social Movement, the major political repository of the Philippine version of Christian Democracy, under the guidance of the initial movers led by the preeminent Raul Manglapus and the support of Filipino Muslims in Mindanao, soon paved the way for what would become Centrist Democracy, although unraveling political events in the country preempted the flourishing of the Centrist movement. There were many groups who followed the Christian democratic path although none were able to rise to national prominence. We hope that this generation, comprised of knowledgeable and patriotic young Centrists, imbued with Christian values and principles will rise to the challenge and bring about genuine reforms in this country, an economic laggard behind its mostly non-Christian Asian neighbors.

CDP started as Centrist Democratic Movement, a federation of young professionals and sectoral groups which have attracted a good number of adherents who believe in democratic ideals tempered with social concerns. The proponents, comprised of the founding Chairman Lito Monico C. Lorenzana and several others sought accreditation from COMELEC which granted them a national political party status in September 12, 2012 under the able guidance of Congressman Rufus B. Rodriguez who eventually became its National President. I boarded the political ship just as it left port so to speak, to field candidates for the 2013 midterm elections, an experience which left an enduring impression and paved the way for my eventual entry in politics and the first electoral exercise where I actually campaigned for party candidates. It was like finding a missing thread that would be intimately woven to complete a patchwork quilt defining my life’s work.

One of the party’s goals is to institutionalize political reforms to eradicate the patronage-oriented parties which dotted the political landscape. Unlike most political parties with leanings to conservative standards and strong liberal (capitalist) inclination, CDP follows the “mixed economy” principles of a Social Market Economy (SME), the political ideology which ensures the rise of Germany from the ashes of two devastating world wars. The essay I am about to write will have a good portion discussing the subject including the Centrist Democracy’s adherence to a truly functional democracy and the rule of law, the principle of subsidiarity and decentralization and a sustainable political party system to ensure effective governance.

Centrist Democracy hews close to the Christian ideals promoting human dignity, which in the words of Dr. Peter Koeppinger, one of the guiding pillars of Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Germany, also means self-determination. According to him “all must be free to determine the course of their lives and be able to take care of themselves; it is freedom of personal development, initiative and decision-making”. The Centrist way is by no means the be-all and end-all in the political discourse and offers no quick fix to the nation’s ills. Nevertheless, as we are facing political problems, just so we proffer political solutions. A close friend and colleague, Ben Contreras, a mayoral candidate asked: “If our government is being ran by people from the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP), do you think we will be better off than under PRRD?”. I answered unequivocally, “under the present unitary, centralized system, with an aberrant political and electoral system, unbridled corruption and oligarchic control, uncontrolled political dynasty and patronage, (with) no transparent and accountable government bureaucracy, ignorant citizenry and bribable officials, a categorical NO”. There has to be institutional reforms which will usher a society and government that uplift human dignity, tempered with the rule of law, social justice and genuine people empowerment.

This is a centrist’s challenge to my age, to the youth, the Church, the politicians, the civil society organizations, the government officials, to those who hold the welfare of mendicants, the poor and the “hungry poor” in their hands, the people displaced by war, the landless, the indigenous people whose future are made uncertain by land-grabbing oligarchs and to the people’s protector, the vanguard of the defenseless, an impartial military establishment who will ultimately decide if they follow the rule of law or take matters in their own hands or support a revolutionary government and lay more chaos in the land: take responsibility and help shape the future of this country for our posterity’s sake. Do it the centrist way.