The Philippines' once-dominant party scrambles to regroup

The once-dominant party of the Philippines is in disarray, with its members scrambling to regroup and to insure a role for themselves under the new government of President Corazon Aquino. Many members of the New Society Movement (or KBL) are uncertain about what to do next, since their party leader, deposed President Ferdinand Marcos, has fled the country.

``The resources of the party are nil, and it's in some sort of a diaspora,'' said Richard Gordon, a mayor who was elected on the KBL ticket in 1980.

So far, the boldest attempt by KBL members to get off to a fresh start was announced last weekend. Blas Ople, former labor minister and long-time Marcos supporter, declared that 14 members of the National Assembly had broken away to form a new party called the Philippine Nationalist Party (PNP). He called the decision ``an act of contrition.''

Mr. Ople claimed that a substantial number of KBL members believed Marcos had betrayed their trust.

``One important lesson learned is that there is no substitute for a democracy based on a strong two-party system, with the checks and balances that it provides and the complete freedom of debate and public accountability that it ensures,'' Ople said.

To make good on its claim to be a legitimate opposition group, the new party is ready to cooperate with President Aquino, Ople said. He added that there were several dozen ``faint-hearted'' assemblymen who had shown an interest in forming a new party but have failed to give their open support.

But ``faint-heartedness'' may not be the reason for that lack of support. The majority of KBL assemblymen appear to be waiting for the outcome of an effort from within the party to refurbish the KBL image. Assemblyman Manuel Garcia said yesterday that some 26 assemblymen and several other party members were working to reform the old KBL and would present their new manifesto to other leaders Wednesday.

Mr. Garcia said the reformed KBL would put forward a new and younger leadership.

``Of course this is still subject to proof, but most of those in the forefront of this new leadership have not been identified with the things President Marcos and the First Lady are accused of doing,'' he said.

He described the restructured KBL's objectives as similar to those of Ople's party. Other sources said that the new KBL may offer to form a coalition with the United Nationalist Democratic Organization, Vice-President Salvador Laurel's party. Such a coalition would give Mrs. Aquino a working majority on the Assembly floor and make it easier for her to establish quickly a clear constitutional basis for her government.

But if Aquino does not reconvene the Assembly, efforts by Ople and the reformers will be less important, and the party's future will be even more uncertain.

Both Ople and Garcia affirmed that their groups had broken all ties with Marcos last week.

The new political alignments now taking shape won't be complete until popular elections are held, says Mayor Gordon. A large number of KBL politicians will find themselves at a loss without the financial and organizational resources the KBL had under Marcos, he said.

``Many people got used to the idea that just because they were KBL they would win, and many did not do their homework,'' Gordon said.

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