Former UP President Abueva joins a political party at age 85 Not to run for office, but to mentor Centrist Democrats (and to practice what he preaches)

By Susan Claire Agbayani

IT WAS CLOSE TO THE END of the occupation of the Philippines by Japanese forces. Having heard that his parents Teodoro and Purificacion were captured by Japanese soldiers and Filipino aides in their mountain hideout in Duero, Bohol, the young Jose Veloso Abueva — then 16 — set out with two young cousins to look for them.

They sailed westward in an outrigger to neighboring seaside towns: Jagna, Garcia Hernandez, then finally Valencia. He found his parents sprawled on the grassy hillside on Balitbiton cliff; recognizing them from their skulls, soiled clothes, and broken rosary.

“We put my parents’ remains in a box. As we sailed 25 kilometers east back to our hometown Duero, I still could not cry,” recalls Abueva. “I imagined a heroic rescue of my parents and their miraculous escape. We hid the box in my grandparents’ home. Upon reaching our hide-away, I told my siblings that we failed in our search for Papa and Mama.”

“The so-called Liberation of the Philippines came too late for all of us: parents, and seven orphans of World War II,” Abueva states.

Japan, and the Abuevas’ peripatetic adulthood etched in wood

It is thus interesting to note that four decades later, after having worked with UP, taught as visiting professor at the City University of New York, Yale University, and then at Tribuvan University in Kathmandu as Ford Foundation adviser, Abueva would serve the United Nations University in Tokyo and New York for a good ten years; only to come home in 1987 to assume his post as the 16th President of the University of the Philippines. 

In his six-level home in a former mango orchard in Beverly Hills, Antipolo, which has been home to him and his wife since 1969, one wall in the living room has adjacent narra panels carved by younger brother Billy (Napoleon), the national artist —  documenting the Abueva family’s peripatetic years: from his roots in Cebu and Bohol (and his wife’s Surigao and Manila), to his having studied in Diliman and Michigan, their years of stay in Hawaii, Tokyo, New York, among other places in the world.

Legacies in UP

As President of UP from 1987-1993, Abueva introduced outstanding reforms in the State University and the national government. For one, he stopped the practice of granting “U.P. presidential discretion (P.D.),” which gave the UP President the power to allow high school graduates entry into the University even if they did not pass its college admission test (UPCAT).

He introduced the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP, (which is now very much in the news) which provides free tuition and stipends to qualified and deserving students from poor families. It also raised four times the tuition for students from the most better-off families.

He “initiated the UP language policy to promote the use of Filipino at par with English,” and set up the Sentro ng Wikang Filipino (SWF) “to promote the learning and use of Filipino and our various regional languages.” He also established the UP Women Studies Center and the highest faculty rank of University Professor for the most distinguished faculty. He then initiated the UP Public Lectures of outgoing Philippine presidents beginning with President Aquino in 1992. The  project enables every president to be accountable to the people through the books on the published lectures and assessments. Theretofore, there were no published records of presidents from Quezon to Marcos.

As UP president and Chair of the Legislative-Executive (Military) Bases Council under former President Corazon Aquino, Abueva led in preparing the master plan that guided the successful conversion of our various military bases to peaceful uses.” He would also led UP in opposing the proposed treaty that would have extended the use of Subic Naval Base by U.S. forces.

Having passed the torch to the next UP President — in 2000 Abueva and colleagues at UP founded Kalayaan College “to offer quality education to our youth, including those who are unable to enroll in UP because of its limited college quotas.”

Joining political parties in modern societies

Abueva notes, “In mature democracies and industrialized countries, many citizens readily join political parties as they join their professional and civic organizations. I remember that as a graduate political science student in the University of Michigan, most of our professors were members of the Democratic Party. In fact, one of my professors had been Mayor of Ann Arbor, Michigan.”

Even Filipino political scientists do not join political parties!

Thus, he points out, “It seems a paradox that – like most Filipino political scientists who teach the importance of political parties as a major form of participation in politics in a modern democracy – I did not join any political party from the time I began teaching political science in UP in 1950 until last year, 2012.” As a matter of fact, he says, “my fellow scholars in political science and public administration in UP, Ateneo de Manila University, De LaSalle University and many other Philippine universities do not join political parties!”

“Have we then failed to practice what we preach?” asks Abueva.

“All these years, we have known our political parties to be loose alliances of– very personal and opportunistic – politicians. These parties do not seriously uphold, promote, and implement what their leaders may adopt as their political platform. Members tend to leave their parties and join another one for personal political convenience and advantage – usually after a presidential election.  They join the political party in power for the patronage, political support, and other advantages it is able to dispense.”

He furthers, “So, like many political scientists I know, I had not found it desirable, necessary, or honorable to join any of our political parties, even when I found one or more of their highest leaders to be honorable and extraordinary, like Ramon Magsaysay, Emmanuel Pelaez, Raul Manglapus, and Jovito Salonga.”

One other reason that he sees why Filipinos in general do not join political parties is because the Civil Service law prohibits civil servants – including UP and other State and local government university faculty – from engaging in partisan political activities. “The prohibition practically excludes some three million civil servants from joining political parties,” he noted. 

Centrist Democracy and CDM

It is interesting to note how Abueva became a Centrist Democrat. “I had long been an advocate of political reforms – including structural and institutional reforms involving amendments to our 1987 Constitution to help bring about an effective and inclusive democracy and a just and humane society.” For this, he works with the Citizens’ Movement for a Federal Philippines (CMFP), and served as Chair of the 2005 Consultative Commission on Charter Change.

In fact, Abueva was elected  secretary-general of the 1971 Constitutional Convention that Marcos captured in 1972 when he declared martial law. Thereby the dictator would have a constitution (the 1973 Constitution) to justify his authoritarian rule that extended his term from a maximum of eight years under the 1935 Constitution, to a total of 20 until 1986.

Centrist Democracy, Abueva says, “is inspired by the ideology of the Federal Republic of Germany’s political party, the Union of Christian Democacy, inspired by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. As Filipino political leaders involved Muslim Filipinos in the movement for Christian Democracy, they changed “Christian Democracy” to “Christian-Muslim Democracy,” and eventually, Centrist Democracy.

“I joined former DENR & DILG Undersecretary Lito Lorenzana and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Country Representative Peter Koepingger when they formed the Centrist Democratic Movement (CDM),” says Abueva.

The Centrist Democratic Party: Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya

CDM eventually morphed into the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines, Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya (CDP), which is now chaired by Lorenzana and has Cagayan De Oro Congressman Rufus Rodriguez as its President.

Asked about how he sees the party in the next two elections (2013, and 2016), Abueva replies: “We are working hard to recruit more members and train them and our officers in various regions. We have chosen a few candidates for local offices, and a handful for Representative. We are also supporting three senatorial candidates: Sen. Koko Pimentel, Senator Chiz Escudero, and Mr. Bam Aquino.” Individually, we support the ablest other senatorial candidates.

“Having helped in founding CDM and CDP, we see ourselves as planting the seed of a serious, modern political party in our troubled democracy,” Abueva says.

“We should not just criticize and complain about our weak democracy and backward country. We should do something concrete and constructive as serious and patriotic Filipinos who believe in democracy. We want CDP to be visible and a practical model of a modern political party; for our citizens to know and join in order to make a difference in our democratic political development,” he said.

He furthered that we should be the example of what we preach and promote about political parties and institutional reform. “We should learn by doing; by gaining valuable practical experience in reforming our political parties, elections, and democratic governance and politics.”

CDP members pay yearly dues, abide by Party rules, elect their Party leaders, select Party candidates for office. Loyal to the Party, all members are committed to its common vision, ideals and proposed reforms for our country.

Embodied in the Party’s core principles are Human Dignity, Subsidiarity and a Social Market Economy (SME). The Party wishes to replace our highly-centralized Unitary System into autonomous regions (Federalism); and discard our Presidential Government and replace it with a Parliamentary Government.

Distinguished forebears

Actually, Abueva comes from a family of leaders and educators. His father, fondly called “Papa Doro,” was once elected Representative of the 3rd District of Bohol. He also served as  Bohol Provincial Sheriff, and as provincial board member in the underground guerrilla government.  His mother, “Mama Nena,” finished education at UP. She headed the women’s club, and Bohol’s campaign for national women’s suffrage in the late 1930s.

Abueva’s paternal grandfather, Manuel Abueva (“Capitan Awing”), was successively mayor of Duero who built the Duero Elementary School and the Municipal Waterworks System. Grandma Leocadia was a teacher, “Maestra Cadia.” 

Abueva as a mentor to Centrist Democrats

Lest people think that he is running for an elective position, Abueva hastens to add, “As a political scientist and reform advocate, I volunteer my services in the training and organizational activities of the Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI),” the political institute that trains, moulds and mentors Centrist Democrats.

And really, there’s no stopping the still vigorous 85-year old, Boholano former UP President and Professor Emeritus. He continues to champion the dignity of his fellow Filipinos in so many ways.

On to his other passions in life

With friends from the Visayas, he helped found Kadugong Bisaya, an organization that promotes the learning and use of Visayan languages and the advancement of Visayan music, arts and culture. This, he said, “is part of the national movement to preserve our various languages and cultures as part of our national heritage, and to learn and use the mother language in the early years of schooling as a bridge to learning the national language, English, science and mathematics.” He believes we should all build national unity in our rich cultural diversity.

With colleagues from various universities and peace organizations, Prof. Abueva conducted and published peace studies that led to the founding in 2009 of the Movement for a Nonkilling Philippines. Incidentally, he serves on the Governing Council of the International Center for Global Nonkilling based in Hawaii (www.nonkilling.org).

“Don Quixote,” says Archbishop Orlando Quevedo in admiration of Jose Veloso Abueva. 

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