In Memory of Lorenzo Tañada

Mr. Sta. Ana is Coordinator for Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published on August 11, 2008 in the Yellow Pad column of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4-S1/5. It was written on the occasion of the 110th birth anniversary of Lorenzo Tañada.

Many have asked what ails the opposition. Despite its unrelenting campaign to oust Mrs. Gloria Arroyo, the opposition hasn’t knocked her out.  Some posit that a major weakness of the opposition is the absence of a rallying figure.

The opposition does have the moral beacon in the person of Cory Aquino and the mass appeal of Joseph Estrada.  But conscience and charisma are not enough to galvanize a broad range of forces from Left to Right, the organized as well as unorganized. Also important is a person who can steer and command the different squabbling anti-Arroyo forces to act as one solid unit.

In such a circumstance, we wish the reincarnation of Lorenzo Tañada.  Ka Tanny, as he was fondly called, was the complete leader. An orator full of fire, he swayed thousands of spellbound citizens in public demonstrations.  An astute strategist and tactician, he forged consensus on the key objectives, coined fighting slogans, and cobbled together otherwise unwieldy alliances.

Ka Tanny earned the respect and admiration of all the major political players—reactionary, liberal, or revolutionary.  In the first place, his public and private life was beyond reproach.  His was a consistent, unblemished record as a lawyer, a senator, and later as a parliamentarian of the streets. Throughout his life, he fought good causes; some were spectacular; others were inconspicuous but just as significant as his famous battles.

Ka Tanny fought against foreign discrimination, the Japanese war of aggression, graft and corruption, Elpidio Quirino’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, Ferdinand Marcos’s dynasty and dictatorship, the tainted Bataan nuclear power plant, and the US military bases.  He fought for the prosecution of Japanese collaborators during World War II, clean and honest elections, the release of political prisoners, economic independence, and civil liberties.

Some of his crusades were far-sighted, if not quixotic. He was a co-founder of the Civil Liberties Union, which published an underground paper as a form of resistance to the Japanese occupation forces.  In 1949, he, together with idealistic young politicians (Soc Rodrigo, Raul Manglapus, Manuel Manahan, Jess Paredes et al.), formed the Citizens Party to combat the rampant corruption of the Quirino administration.

The Citizens Party subsequently allied with Claro M. Recto, leading to the formation of the Nationalist-Citizens Party, whose program was anchored on nationalism.  Recto and Tañada ran unsuccessfully for president and vice president, respectively, in the 1957 elections. Nevertheless, their party became the progenitor of the third force in Philippine politics and elections.

Ka Tanny was the renaissance man.  He was a topnotch student and an alumnus of  De La Salle, University of the Philippines, University of Sto. Tomas, and Ivy-League Harvard. He was an orator, a reserve officer, a thespian, a sportsman and Olympian (goalie of the Philippine football team), a fine statesman and upright politician,  a radical democrat and civil libertarian, and a freedom fighter.  In his Indian summer, he was the “Grand Old Man of the Opposition.”    He was the all-time crusader, even using unconventional means to fight for the public good and the national interest.

In a manner, Ka Tanny was a superhero, the Batman of his period.  Unlike Batman though, he was not the dark knight but perhaps the knight in shining armor; not the playboy but a devout family man.

Amidst Ka Tanny’s many accomplishments, many of his contemporaries and the younger generations define him for his invaluable contribution to modern Philippine nationalism.  He belongs to the pantheon which counts a select few, especially Claro Recto and Jose Diokno.

Ka Tanny’s nationalism was firm and assertive but not grating and hysterical.  The neoliberals, however, would shudder from some of Ka Tanny’s thoughts on economic independence.

Ka Tanny took the lead in legislating the nationalization of retail trade, advocated the nationalization of banks, lambasted the country’s dependence on foreign investments, and emphasized the primacy of the home market to international trade.

Some of Ka Tanny’s nationalist positions may seem old-fashioned for the 21st century.  Yet, we must view such positions from the historical context, from the economic and political conditions obtaining immediately after the conclusion of World War II and the granting of nominal independence.

The challenge then was nation-building, which in the economic arena meant engineering a take-off, propelling a backward agrarian economy towards high productivity and industrialization. The formation of the nation state was not divorced from removing all the vestiges of colonialism, which continued to assert itself through iniquitous institutional arrangements.

In the Philippine case, the struggle for independence and the building of a nation had a sacred but turbulent history dating back to Rizal’s propaganda movement and the Katipunan revolution.  The task then, upon gaining nominal independence from the US in 1945, was to complete the unfinished nationalist and democratic revolution.  Nationalism, said Ka Tanny, “ has become a historical necessity for all Filipinos.”

Moreover, in the period just before and immediately after World Was II, politicians, intellectuals, and policy-makers throughout the world leaned towards a dirigist government.  This arose from the success of the Keynesian intervention that licked the Great Depression and the fascination with the experiment of the Soviet command economy, which created growth (in hindsight, unsustainable) at the same time a supposedly egalitarian society.

But Ka Tanny’s nationalism was not doctrinaire.  For instance, he rejected a bill that demanded the Filipinization of all heads of schools, for he argued that it contravened the Philippine Constitution.

Ka Tanny’s nationalism was likewise influenced by Gunnar Myrdal. In one essay, Our Suicidal Attitude Towards Foreign Invesments, Tañada adopted Myrdal’s view, which is still relevant as a frame in dealing with the current globalization processes:

“In the absence of a world state, their policies have to be nationalistic in the sense of being directed with single-minded intensity to raising their own economic standards and reaching greater equality of opportunity with the rest of the world.”

Clearly, this is nationalism that is neither inward looking nor chauvinistic. Said differently, given that global institutions are absent or weak, it becomes the principal responsibility (and accountability) of the nation-state to ensure that its citizens will gain from economic integration as well as insulate them from the risks.

In another essay, The Future of Philippine Nationalism, Tañada concluded:  “The true end of Filipino nationalism would then mean the promotion of the welfare of all the people, and not only of a few—the reduction of the wide gap that separates the few who are rich and the multitude who are poor.  The sovereignty would not only mean a state independent in spirit as well as in form, but also a country where sovereignty resides in the community of the citizenry.”

Ka Tanny’s economic nationalism cannot be reduced to forms of Filipino control or regulation over our resources, which vary in the course of history.  It is first and foremost a vision of attaining prosperity for the Filipinos, promoting an equitable society, and “reaching greater equality of opportunity with the rest of the world.”

And so, when we wish for the reincarnation of a Ka Tanny to lead our struggles today, what we really want is for our leaders to put into practice with passion and creativity Tañada’s progressive politics and Tañada’s brand of nationalism.

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