Bernardo M. Villegas
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Advocating A Philippine Labor Party (Part 1)

            Although Philippine political parties are generally bereft of ideology and are based on personalities and individual vested interests, my late brother Jose (Joe) Malvar Villegas, always dreamt of the day when the Philippines would have the equivalent of a labor government that has been predominant in Western Europe.  The Labor Party was born at the turn of the 20th century as a result of the frustration of working-class people at their inability to field parliamentary candidates through the Liberal Party, which at that time was the dominant social-reform party in Britain.  According to an article by Paul David of the University of Sussex, England, in 1900 the Trades Union Congress (the national federation of British trade unions) cooperated with the Independent Labor Party (founded in 1893) to establish a Labor Representation Committee, which took the name Labor Party in 1906.  The early Labor Party lacked a nationwide mass membership or organization; up to 1914 it made progress chiefly through an informal agreement with the Liberals not to run candidates against each other wherever possible. 

After World War I the party made great strides, owing to a number of factors:  first, the Liberal Party tore itself apart in a series of factional disputes; second, the 1918 Representation of the People Act extended franchise to all males aged 21 or older and to women aged 30 or older; and third, in 1918 Labor reconstituted itself as a formally socialist party with a democratic constitution and a national structure.

           The party’s new program, “Labor and the New Social Order,” drafted by Fabian Society leaders Sidney and Beatrice Webb, committed Labor to the pursuit of full employment with a minimum wage and maximum work week, democratic control and public ownership of industry, progressive taxation, and the expansion of educational and social services.  By 1922 Labor had supplanted the Liberal Party as the official opposition to the ruling Conservative Party.  In 1924, with the support of the Liberal Party, James Ramsay MacDonald formed the first Labor government, though his minority administration was brought down less than a year later over questions of its sympathy for the new Soviet state and over alleged communist influence within the party.  Labor emerged from the 1929 election as the largest party in Parliament, though again it lacked an overall majority and had to form a coalition government with the Liberals.  The future would see similar coalitions of the Labor Party with Conservatives and Liberals.  Up to the present,  labor parties have to coalesce with others to be able to form a government, as has happened  recently in the Federal Republic of Germany when the successor of Angela Merkel, Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), had to form a coalition with the Greens and the Free Democrats to be able to attain a majority.

           This political reality has to be taken into account by those have taken the cudgels from my late brother who was Chairman of  the Lapiang Manggawa.  They have to emulate the talent of Joe Malvar Villegas in putting together disparate forces in the political world that can support the  cause of the Filipino workers but have other important items in their political agenda like espousing better protection for Filipino farmers, protecting the environment, or improving the quality of Philippine education.  All over the world integral human development has become a multi-faceted objective. In the Philippines much progress has been achieved in promoting the welfare of workers (thanks to a succession of very pro-active Department of Labor Secretaries).   There is still much to do, however,  in increasing the wages or salaries of workers.   Recent demands for higher incomes from teachers and health workers, among others, are signs of continuing discontent among people in the labor sector.

           At least in the near future, it is unlikely that a full-blown Labor Party will be able to govern with a majority.  That is why, being the realistic politician that he was, my brother Joe was a consummate broker putting together different political parties into winning coalitions.  Without his very active participation, we would have not enjoyed the leadership of the best President the Philippines has had in the last forty years.  In 1992, the LPP coalesced with the Lakas-NUCD-UMDP and helped Fidel V. Ramos win the Presidency in those elections.  In 1998, the LPP  fielded former Secretary of Defense Renato de Villa as its presidential candidate in the Reforma-LM Coalition, the third major party accredited by the COMELEC.  Although de Villa lost, the coalition won hundreds of positions in Congress, provincial, city, municipal and district elective positions.  LPP had the most number of senatorial candidates in the 2019 elections.  In the 2016 national elections, the LPP was accredited as the fifth major political party in the Philippines.  The LPP is presenting a complete line-up in the May 2022 elections, with the aim of moving closer to a labor government in the Philippines.

           From the day it was founded on February 3, 1963, the Lapiang Manggawa has devoted its members to defend democratic principles in the Philippines.  During the martial law regime imposed by former President Ferdinand Marcos, it fought for human rights and mobilized the people to resist dictatorial rule.  Credit should be given to the founders of Lapiang Manggawa who stood out for their defense of individual freedoms during the 14 years of martial law.  These were labor leaders Roberto Oca, Felixberto Olalia R., Cipriano Cid, Ignaio Lacsina, Vicente Rafael, Pelagio Villegas Jr., Jacinto “Jack” Tamayo and Amado Hernandez.

           The LPP was accredited by the “Labor International” based in London, then headed by Willy Brandt, former Chancellor of Germany in the 1980s.  At that time, the President of the Lapiang Manggawa (LM) was Jacinto Tamayo and Joe was the Secretary General.  They were introduced to almost all the heads of labor parties in Europe and Israel.  They also had occasion to attend the International Labor Organization (ILO) assembly  in Geneva, Switzerland, together with other officials of LM.

           Under the personal initiative of Joe Malvar Villegas, the LPP organized the Anti-Crime/Corruption Affiliate Federation.  Retiring from active participation in politics, Joe devoted the last twenty years of his life in leading the fight against corruption and crime.  He became a role model for those who define politics in the original sense in which the Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle defined politics as actively working for the common good.  Joe always maintained that one can be active in politics in its original sense without being directly involved in partisan politics.

Through the Katipunan Kontra Krimen at Korapsyon (KKK), a Federation composed of 50 NGOs led by Citizens Crime Watch (CCW) and coordinated by KKK Vice President for Legal Affairs Atty. Pete Principe, Joe led the filing of the most number of corruption cases against officials of government, particularly in the pork barrel-PDAF corruption cases and in many heinous crimes resulting in death penalty convictions, before the death penalty was abolished by Congress.   Future generations of local government officials will also have to thank Joe for his having lent his legal expertise to then members of the House of Representatives, Hermilando Mandanas and Enrique Garcia Jr., who were co-petitioners in the Supreme Court that led to the now famous Mandanas ruling releasing close to P500 billion to the LGUs from  the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) of Government units.  Now Governor of Batangas Dodo Mandanas, in acknowledging the contribution of Joe in the winning of the Supreme Court case, has humbly suggested that the ruling should be more appropriately  called the Mandanas-Garcia-Malvar Villegas ruling.  To be continued.