The Nacionalista Party (NP) has the distinction of being the most enduring political party not only in the Philippines but also in Asia. This April 2005, it celebrates its 98th founding anniversary with an honor roll of producing six Philippine Presidents as well as a stellar cast of congressmen and senators.
At its birth, the Nacionalistas fought for independence from colonial rule through peaceful means. The venerable Claro M. Recto provided the clear vision of what a nation should be at a time when certain sectors were agitating for being simply a federal state.
When World War II broke out, the Nacionalista leaders, notably President Jose P. Laurel, sought to ensure that the welfare of as many Filipinos were first secured, even as a Nacionalista government-in-exile led by President Manuel L. Quezon was established to coordinate the struggle for freedom by many of its countrymen.
When Gen. Douglas McArthur returned on the beaches of Leyte, he was accompanied by Nacionalista leaders like Sergio OsmeÃ±a Sr. to retake the Philippines.
The end of the war in 1945, however, saw the near-total destruction of the City of Manila, which according to some historians was only exceeded by the damage done on the City of Warsaw. Rather than be depressed by the situation, the Nacionalistas - led by the "Man of the Masses", President Ramon Magsaysay - rolled up their sleeves to earnestly begin rebuilding the country.
By the 1950's, the economy of the Philippines was the pride of democracy in Asia. It regained its status as the Pearl of the Orient when the Nacionalista President Carlos P. Garcia launched the Filipino First Policy.
In the late 1960s, President Ferdinand Marcos ran and won his second term under the Nacionalista flag at a period of international tension due to the Cold War. Fearful of the communists taking over the country, he created his own party, declared Martial Law in 1972, and abolished Congress.
Through the dark period, the Nacionalistas struggled to keep the flame of freedom alive. Its motto "Ang Bayan Higit Sa Lahat" (The Nation Above All Else) was the guiding principle of its leaders in building an opposition coalition.
To unite the opposition in the 1986 snap elections, then Nacionalista Party President Salvador "Doy" Laurel, did not hesitate to set aside personal ambition and make the sacrifice to give way to Corazon "Cory" Aquino as the opposition standard bearer against the sitting Dictator. Both ushered in a peaceful revolution known as "People Power" which soon became the inspiration for many fledging democracies throughout the world.
The 21st century witnesses the passing of the baton of leadership to Senator Manuel "Manny" Villar. A boy born of plebian origins, Villar, by dint of hard work and patience sought to provide a roof for every Filipino, and in the process established one of Southeast Asia's largest housing companies. He brings the same energy to the field of public service and represents the new breed of Nacionalistas who are young, dynamic, competent, values-oriented, and practitioners of change. The Nacionalistas now need to contend with the perils and opportunities of globalization. Nation-building no longer just means harnessing the talents of the Filipino people and the resources of the Mother Land but also involves caring for its sizeable expatriate population.
Today, the continuing struggle for independence center on freeing its people from the oppressive manacles of poverty. It is a vision that will require fresh ideas, courage, and self-sacrifice-a supply of which is never lacking among the current crop of Nacionalistas.