October 23, 2019
MANY years after Sen. Nene Pimentel published his book Martial Law in the Philippines: My Story in 2006, we got to talk about some of our friends who were no longer with us. “Lit, write also a book about your take on our experiences together. There are some details that I forget…tingalig mahinumduman pa nimo ‘tong mga ni-agi”(maybe you will remember some past details). I told Nene (he never wanted me to call him by his formal name, the first time I met him in 1967) that I had already started to write a book in 1998, but couldn’t quite finish it. Aside from our talks on some of the details, I never did show him even excerpts. The reason was simple. I couldn’t finish writing my book — for strictly personal reasons. But I thought, I would publish in my column some excerpts of this unfinished book. It’s the best I can do for a friend who passed away on Oct. 20, 2019.
I met Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. in the summer of 1967, while I was then only 22 years old. I was introduced to him by Rey Teves, a very close friend who practically lived in our house as an older brother to my nine other siblings (Rey has a whole chapter in my book — if ever it is published).
Nene, Rey and I were recruited to the Christian Social Movement (CSM) by Raul Manglapus — who like Nene was among some of the few great men in the Philippine political firmament — whom Rey and I idolized.
As my experiences with Nene span more than five decades, I thought to highlight, a chapter in the late 1970s in my unfinished book, on the founding of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).
The bridge builder
PDP can trace its immediate beginnings in the early 1981 when the mayor of Cagayan de Oro, Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr. (AQP) broached the idea to Samuel “Sammy” Occena, his colleague at the 1971 Constitutional Convention from Davao City. Sammy with some members of the Konsumo Dabaw board shortly after met with leaders and organizers from Cagayan de Oro at the Davao Best Restaurant in August of 1981 to start shaping the political party.
It was an enticing idea that a Mindanao-grown political party was to be established. Over the next several months, a flurry of activities ensued with leaders from both cities hammering out the details of the party platform. The Davao group was tasked to come up with the themes for a basic membership seminar (BMS). Rey, Cris Lanorias and I, with inputs from “Inday” Morada Santiago, chief executive officer of Kahayag, a Mindanao-based nongovernment organization (NGO), soon came up with an acceptable draft. A caveat was arrived that no one could be accepted as a member unless he adheres to the principles of the party and undergoes a three-day BMS. Activities accelerated the next few months, expanding to Davao del Sur with “Dodo” Cagas, and Davao del Norte with Baltazar Satur. Similar efforts were underway in Cagayan de Oro and Northern Mindanao. At the same time, Pimentel started recruiting in the Visayas from among his colleagues in the 1971 Constitutional Convention.
The idea of establishing PDP was in no way a spontaneous act by NGO activists and oppositionists. This was a logical consequence to a long simmering anger against the injustices of several decades exacerbated by the repressive Marcos regime. The Philippine socio-political-economic system was dysfunctional.
The Mindanao opposition
Nene provided the spark that ignited the idea at the right moment. He was this charismatic city mayor, a feisty lawyer and an activist leader who started to shine in the 1971 Constitutional Convention.
In 1972, when Martial Law was declared and Manglapus went into exile in the US, our CSM group sort of drifted apart until Nene reentered the political scene.
We met late one evening in my residence in Davao City in 1979. He was then a practicing lawyer in Metro Manila who already cut his teeth in the political firmament pre-martial law. His standing was enhanced after he ran under the Laban Party of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. in 1978, and the year before when they endured the full brunt of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’ anger. The noise barrage in Manila during the 1978 elections led by Ninoy Aquino inspired us in Davao. This emboldened those who were anti-Marcos/Martial Law and saw reinvigorated efforts to organize for what we believed was the beginning of the fall of a dictatorship. The old CSM/Young Christian Socialist Movement began to reconnect with us — Manny Cruz, Mon Tagle and ‘Bote’ Jose.
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Our Davao group was then fiercely parochial as to the type of leader we wanted to lead us. After the likes of Raul, we preferred one from Mindanao. We had our sights on two other major names, Reuben Canoy and Homobono Adaza — both from Northern Mindanao. We had from southern Mindanao the likes of Zafiro Respicio, Sammy Occena and Dodo Cagas, but they had not acquired the type of gravitas that the three Cagayan de Oro-based politicians possessed. With no major elective charismatic leader in Davao in sight, we were left with NGO leaders — tyros in local politics.
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The Pilipino Democratic Party (PDP) formally came into existence in February 6-7, 1982 in its first convention in Cebu City, where the party constitution was ratified. Ribomaphil Holganza, the convention secretary-general with the enthusiastic support of Antonio Cuenco, the convention chairman and the Visayas delegates proposed the name Katipunan. This was the first big issue confronting the convention as a caucus of its leaders couldn’t settle it — until the convention decided to drop Katipunan, retaining Pilipino Democratic Party but keeping the logo/image of Lapu-Lapu. It was also agreed that the Filipino version Partido Demokratiko Pilipino, with a cognomen, Pilipinas Dapat sa Pilipino may be used. Pimentel the prime mover keynoted the convention with a rousing speech titled “The Bridge Builder.”
With the inauguration of the PDP in Cebu in 1982, the opposition in Northern Mindanao was in disarray: Canoy with the SDP, Adaza with the MA. But we in Davao kept our hopes alive with Pimentel and the PDP.
By the time the question of a coalition of the PDP and Laban surfaced shortly after the first convention, the Davao group was fighting a losing battle. The notion that Mindanao needed to be strengthened first before expanding was no longer tenable. The political realities unfolding then called for the Mindanao and Visayas PDP to work with the Metro Manila opposition. Davao’s underlying objection was the entrance of Peping Cojuangco and Monching Mitra and the possible watering down of the ideological purity of the PDP. The Cojuangcos were members of the oligarchy and Monching was known to be a close ally of Danding Cojuangco. The preeminence of Cory Aquino after Ninoy’s death somewhat assuaged our fears but she was an unknown factor. We knew nothing about her ideology.
The party’s second national convention in Cagayan de Oro on Feb. 5-6, 1983 ratified the PDP-Laban merger but curiously, the constitution was not amended, for lack of material time or was simply forgotten in the excitement of the moment.
And thus, was born, the PDP-Laban with Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. as our leader.
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