How Filipinos almost lost LABAN
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-02-20
The second ascendancy of an Aquino to the presidency underscored that LABAN, the legacy of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, is the most powerful political brand in our country.

LABAN was the political party founded by Ninoy Aquino for the April 7, 1978 Regional Interim Batasan Pambansa Elections. LABAN means FIGHT in Filipino but for the party it was meant to be an acronym for Lakas ng Bayan (People Power). The LABAN L sign became the icon of the LABAN Party.

The Ninoy Aquino-led LABAN candidates were vying for the 21 parliamentary seats representing Region IV-A (Metro Manila). LABAN fielded Ninoy Aquino, Jerry Barican, Alex Boncayao, Felicisimo Cabigao, Juan David, Jaime Ferrer, Neptali Gonzales Sr., Teofisto Guingona, Trinidad Herrera, Priming Lucero, Ernie Maceda, Tony Martinez, Monching Mitra Jr., Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Charito Planas, Napoleon Rama, Alejandro Roces, Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo, Ernesto Rondon and Emmanuel Santos.

The Ferdinand E. Marcos dictatorship got the shock of its life when LABAN conducted a noise barrage all over Metro Manila on the eve of the elections. The noise barrage had a massive turnout and it became the most visible and audible demonstration of support for the Opposition as well as expression of loss of confidence in the dictator. The April 6, 1978 noise barrage planted the seeds of resistance that bore fruit in the 1986 People Power Revolution.

As expected, LABAN was cheated and was not even allowed to win a single seat. Such was the power and spite of the dictator. However, that gallant fight transformed LABAN from more than just a political party. LABAN became the sum of the Filipino’s aspiration for freedom and democracy. That romantic flavor of LABAN continues to mesmerize even the youth of today, many of them not yet born in 1986. There was tremendous youth support for Noynoy Aquino during the May 2010 presidential elections.

If you were to be told that LABAN was almost discarded by the then Opposition or relegated to a minor role, you would find that hard to believe. You would likely exclaim: “What political idiot would throw away such a powerful political brand?!” However, that almost happened during the period following the August 21, 1983 assassination of Ninoy Aquino.

With the death of Ninoy Aquino, the Opposition lost its biggest and brightest political star and his LABAN political brand was almost buried with him. Emerging from the death of Ninoy Aquino was Salvador “Doy” Laurel who had earlier broken his ties with Marcos. Doy ran with the Marcos ticket against the LABAN 21-man slate.

Being on the opposite side when that political brand was made, it was understandable for Doy to be sensitive to LABAN. The Doy camp pushed for a new political brand which they called UNIDO, for United Democratic Opposition. Because Doy seemed to be better organized and funded than the rest of the Opposition forces — many of them like the Liberal Party were successfully infiltrated by Marcos lackeys — hardly anybody noticed the big blunder it would have been if LABAN was junked for UNIDO.

I impressed on Nap Rama, a LABAN original and a cell mate of Ninoy, the folly of relegating LABAN to a minor role. Not really that well grounded yet on Philippine politics, my arguments were based on marketing and mass communications principles and realities.

I told Nap that multinational companies invest hundreds of millions of dollars to build a dominant brand name like Coca Cola, Seiko, McDonald’s and so forth. Here, the Philippine Opposition is about to throw away a powerful and now historic brand like LABAN. The reality in the marketplace is that the big companies are mere reflections of the power of their brand or brands. The San Miguel Corporation would be nothing if not for that beer bottle with the brand name San Miguel which millions love to drink.

I reminded Nap that during the historic funeral of Ninoy, it was the LABAN L sign that was the most visible expression of peoples’ sentiments. The people were shouting LABAN, not UNIDO, not Liberal Party and what not. LABAN had become as symbolic to our enslaved nation as the 300 Spartans of Thermopylae were to the Greeks. LABAN and Thermopylae were romantic sagas of noble self sacrifice that inspired future decisive victories. Thermopylae inspired the Greeks to finally defeat Darius of Persia. LABAN inspired People Power in 1986 which finally defeated Marcos.

A brilliant political writer, Nap immediately grasped the validity of what I was saying. He asked me to immediately write a position paper which we will present to the original members of LABAN. Nap passionately believed in the power of the written word and will not have it any other way except that we equip ourselves with a position paper.

I wrote the LABAN position paper and soon found myself meeting with many of the original LABAN members. They were assembled by Cory C. Aquino’s brother, Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr., at the Café Ysabel along Wilson Street in Greenhills West. Peping had taken over the management of LABAN following the death of Ninoy and he too saw the folly of discarding LABAN or relegating it to a less prominent role.

With LABAN at the forefront as the standard and battle cry, the Opposition managed to win over 25 percent of the parliamentary seats during the 1984 elections. It was a beachhead for the Opposition. What that election demonstrated was that there was already a major crack in the Marcos dam that was holding Filipino freedom and democracy.

Salvador “Doy” Laurel no longer pushed for discarding or downplaying LABAN. Doy should also be credited for making the supreme sacrifice which very few Filipino politicians would ever make. Doy gave way to Cory C. Aquino in order not to split the Opposition and give Marcos an excuse to cheat in the 1986 Snap Presidential Election.

Doy gave way to Cory C. Aquino despite the fact that he had the more impressive credentials and was better known nationwide. Doy also knew that we Filipinos have not yet elected a woman as president. Those were compelling reasons for Doy not to give way to Cory but he did and we owe Doy a lot for that.

In a way, Doy’s giving way to Cory is also a manifestation that he believed in the power of LABAN. More than anything else, the LABAN brand was the most powerful political handle working for Cory Aquino.

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