political parties

[ANALYSIS] Vestiges of authoritarianism and return of Marcos dynasty

Julio C. Teehankee
[ANALYSIS] Vestiges of authoritarianism and return of Marcos dynasty
One of the puzzling outcomes in most countries that underwent democratic transitions is the return to power of parties and personalities who have deep roots in dictatorship

First of three parts

The declaration of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of former president and ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, that he would seek the presidency in the 2022 national elections was not surprising to most observers. Insistent historical revisionism and persistent social media propaganda over three decades of a campaign for the family’s political rehabilitation had been preparing for a capstone return to the presidential palace.

What was surprising was the openness of a faction of the Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and the Lakas Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas CMD) to support the late dictator’s son. Both PDP-Laban and Lakas CMD have roots in the anti-Marcos struggle and the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.

One of the puzzling outcomes in most countries that underwent democratic transitions is the return to power of parties and personalities who have deep roots in dictatorship. It is confounding to note that after gaining the right to pick their leaders in free and fair elections, people would vote for candidates identified with the authoritarian regime.

According to James Loxton, rarely does the transition to democracy abolish all vestiges of the preceding dictatorship. While democratization is frequently portrayed as a “big bang” moment in which one regime collapses and is immediately replaced by another, the reality is that those remnants of the previous regime nearly always persist in the next. Following transitions, remnants of the previous regime may persist in the new in a variety of ways: organizational, institutional, and territorial. Each of these three relics is extremely prevalent. They all point to what might be regarded as a fundamental premise of regime transitions:  almost never does democratization produce a clean slate.

Scholars have studied various forms of authoritarian vestiges in democratic regimes, such as authoritarian successor parties, authoritarian-era constitutions, sub-national authoritarianism and, more recently, authoritarian diasporas. In tracing the vestiges of authoritarianism in the Philippines, this three-part series would discuss authoritarian successor parties, authoritarian dispersion, and authoritarian contamination.

Legacy of the KBL

Authoritarian successor parties operate after the democratic transition. They may begin as authoritarian ruling parties, but upon transition into the democratic regime, they become authoritarian successor parties.

These parties lose their access to the repertoire of electoral manipulation (i.e., fraud, coercion, abuse of state resources) accorded to authoritarian regimes. In order to survive, these parties must win votes abiding by the democratic rules of the game. Successor parties may emerge from authoritarian parties in two ways. First, they are former ruling parties that continued to exist as authoritarian successor parties. Examples of these types of parties in Asia are the Kuomintang (KMT) of Taiwan, the Democratic Justice Party (DJP) of South Korea, and Golkar of Indonesia. Second, authoritarian successor parties may be created in reaction to democratic transition by former personalities associated with the authoritarian regime. These personalities may create new parties to reposition themselves in the political market, often distancing themselves from the dictatorship to which they were beholden. 

All authoritarian successor parties carry a mix of inheritance and baggage from the previous authoritarian regime. Scholars have pointed out that authoritarian successor parties can also have mixed effects on democratic transitions. They may continue to be a threat to democratic consolidation since they possess greater authoritarian political skills, and they may hinder transitional justice. Allowing authoritarian successor parties into the democratic system also promote intra-party competition and keep the former authoritarian personalities within the system rather than outside undermining it.

As part of Marcos’ authoritarian consolidation after placing the Philippines under Martial Law, the Bagong Lipunang Kilusan ng Nagkakaisang Nacionalista-Liberal Atbp. was formed and later renamed Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) to recruit former members of the Nacionalista Party (NP) and Liberal Party (LP) to support his so-called “New Society.”

At the height of the Marcos dictatorship, droves of former NP and LP members transferred their loyalties to the KBL. Marcos appointed the most influential provincial clan leaders and warlords to serve as members of the central committee of the KBL. They included Benjamin Romualdez of Leyte, Ali Dimaporo of Lanao del Sur, Jose Roño of Samar, Felicisimo San Luis of Laguna, Felix Fuentebella of Camarines Sur, Lorenzo Teves of Negros Oriental, Vicente Cerilles of Zamboanga, Roberto Benedicto of Negros Occidental, Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. of Tarlac, and Antonio Floreindo of Davao.

Utilizing its unbridled control of state power and resources, the KBL dominated all the lopsided elections organised under the Marcos dictatorship, such as the 1978 Interim Batasang Pambansa elections; the 1980 local elections; the 1981 presidential elections; and the 1984 Regular Batasang Pambansa elections. Marcos succeeded in consolidating all political power and authority around himself and his wife, Imelda. The couple dominated the KBL as an instrument of their “conjugal dictatorship.” Hence, the authoritarian presidency provided a centripetal force that hindered the growth of factionalism within the dominant party. Their dominance was ended at the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution.

The KBL was so decimated after the fall of the dictator in 1986 that continued affiliation with the party carried a lot of authoritarian baggage. Hence, its key leaders and personalities opted to form new parties or migrated to other parties through the common practice of party-switching. The primary mode of authoritarian party reproduction is through a process of authoritarian inheritance, underscoring the many remaining resources that dictatorships may bequeath to their political successors.

Authoritarian successor parties

After Marcos fled the country, the once-dominant KBL crumbled rapidly. Its leadership broke into a few factions and lost a large number of supporters. Immediately following the revolution, the KBL national leadership began assessing the new circumstances and formulating a response. Marcos attempted to retain control of KBL from Hawaii via close allies Nicanor Yñiguez and Jose Roño.

But the original KBL has become a husk of its former self, often fielding token candidates in the various post-authoritarian elections as an authoritarian successor party. Former KBL personalities and Marcos loyalists (including Salvador Panelo) competed in the 1987 congressional and 1988 local elections. After returning from exile, former First Lady Imelda Marcos ran for president in the 1992 election. She placed fifth in a field of seven candidates.

For the next two decades, former KBL members would rebuild the subnational authoritarian enclaves of the Marcos-Romualdez dynasty in the northern Ilocos region and in southern Leyte. Different members of the clan would be elected in these bailiwicks, which reemerged as subnational, territorial and authoritarian enclaves reviving after a national-level transition to democracy. Together with the KBL, two other authoritarian successor parties have emerged since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship – the Nacionalista Party (NP) and the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC).

NP and Marcos dynasty

Several attempts were made in the early post-authoritarian period to resurrect the dormant NP. The post-Marcos NP was divided into four factions: the Roy wing, led by former defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile; the faction of then-vice president SalvadorLaurel; a former governor Isidro Rodriguez faction backed that backed Eduardo Cojuangco Jr; and a faction known as the Partido Nasyonalista ng Pilipinas, led by former Marcos labor minister Blas Ople. In 1991, attempts were made to unite the NP groups. These attempts failed because the respective leaders all wanted support as the NP presidential in the 1992 election. Finally, Laurel obtained a Supreme Court ruling establishing his faction as the sole legal NP. Laurel contested the 1992 presidential election under the NP banner. He landed last in the seventh place. 

This signal another period of decline for the country’s Grand Old Party, until Laurel bequeathed the party to billionaire politician Manny Villar in 2004. Under the leadership of Villar, the party has grown in size and influence and is currently the second-largest party in the country. Aside from having served as House Speaker and Senate President, Villar is currently the richest man in the Philippines. In the 2019 midterm elections, the party won 3 national positions (senators) and 2,682 local positions (district representatives, governors, vice governors, mayors, vice mayors, and local legislators).

The Marcos dynasty has a long history with the NP. After serving as a congressman, senator, Senate President, and party president of the LP, Ferdinand Marcos switched to the NP to capture the presidency in 1965. In 2010, his son, Bongbong, would also affiliate with the NP to finally win a Senate seat. The same feat was followed by the dictator’s daughter, Maria Imelda “Imee” Marcos, in 2019. Bongbong mounted his failed vice-presidential bid in 2016 under the NP.

The durable NPC

One of the NP factions, led by billionaire politician and Marcos crony Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., formed the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC). A number of pro-administration legislators and former KBL stalwarts shifted allegiance to the NPC in support of Cojuangco’s presidential candidacy in 1992. Although Cojuangco came in third in the election, his vice-presidential running mate, Joseph “Erap” Estrada won under his party – the Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP). In 1998, the NPC, in coalition with the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) and the PMP, would successfully field Estrada for the presidency in 1998. 

The NPC became the party of choice for many former KBL stalwarts. Bongbong Marcos would fail in his first attempt to win a national Senate seat in 1995 under the NPC.

The NPC became the most durable authoritarian successor party in the post-Marcos period. The NPC has maintained its strength and numbers and has consistently served as a junior partner to most presidential administrations. Ideologically, it can be considered as a right conservative party. The party is now identified with Cojuangco’s protégé, Filipino-Chinese billionaire Ramon Ang. Currently, it is the third-largest party in the country. In the 2019 midterm elections, the party won one national position (senator) and 1,908 local positions (district representatives, governors, vice governors, mayors, vice mayors, and local legislators). – Rappler.com

This three-part series is an abridged version of the chapter The Legacy of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan: Authoritarian Contamination in Philippine Party Politics written for an edited volume marking the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law to be published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press in 2022. The full version of the chapter will also be released as a working paper by the La Salle Institute of Governance .

Julio C. Teehankee is professor of political science and international studies at De La Salle University. He appears regularly as a political analyst for local and international media outlets and in his YouTube channel – Talk Politics with Julio Teehankee.

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