Horacio “Boy” Morales Jr., better known as BM, died on the last day of February of the current (leap) year, after failing to recover from a heart attack on December 2011.
While BM is more known for being the agrarian reform secretary during the presidency of Joseph Ejercito Estrada, he actually had a multi-faceted resume both within and outside government and within and outside the Philippines. As the bards would put it, he led a full life.
My first awareness of BM was in 1977 when the ranks of the underground anti-Marcos movement were pleasantly surprised by news that he left his post as executive vice president of the Development Academy of the Philippines to join the National Democratic Front (NDF). His move was electrifying since he sent a statement signifying his intent during the ceremonies naming him one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the country for public administration.
I never met or worked with BM while we were both in the underground movement. From what I heard, he worked with Fr. Ed de la Torre to temper the NDF program and make it more acceptable to so-called ‘middle’ or moderate political forces in the country. The earlier insistence that only NDF members can constitute a post-Marcos government was dropped. It was considered untenable since all NDF members recognized the primacy of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The earlier formula thus called for a Party-dominated post-Marcos regime.
In its place, BM and Fr. Ed proposed the concept of a ‘democratic coalition government” that will include all political forces that fought the dictatorship. Democracy necessarily entails elections. But the greater fear of the non-NDF political actors stems from the asymmetry within the anti-dictatorship forces. Only the NDF had links to an armed force, the New People’s Army (NPA). While the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) had an armed force, it appeared at the time to pursuing an agenda of secession or regional autonomy and was not interested in a strategic post-Marcos alliance specially if dominated by Communists.
To allay the fears of and build strategic alliances with middle forces, the NDF undertook what would be called ‘united front’ or UF work.
A related political innovation is the proposal for a ‘mixed economy.’ It was adopted both for political and economic reasons. Politically, the proposal will douse fears that a Soviet-type command economy will be put in place by a Communist-dominated government. Economically, it recognized that a command economy will yield inferior results compared to an economy that allowed private entrepreneurship but did not restrain government from intervening in cases of market failure. The mixed economy concept retained the commitment to a strategic industrial policy, or, in the parlance of NDF cadres and activists, ‘nationalist industrialization.’
Obviously, the two proposals were still raw and needed a lot of fleshing out so they can be considered programmatic and actionable. The arrest of BM and Fr. Ed in 1982 and their subsequent incarceration put a dent on the effort.
I met BM for the first time after he was released from prison in 1986. At the time, he assumed the presidency of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), a development non-governmental organization (NGO). Through his guidance, PRRM formulated the Sustainable Rural District Development Program (SRDDP). It looked like the Marcosian Integrated Area Development Program (IADP), the formulation of which I suspect BM participated in. After all, BM is a professional trained economist with degrees from the University of the Philippines and the University of Oklahoma.
The two programs however differed in SRDDP’s emphasis on social preparation and mobilization of grassroots stakeholders to ensure the development program’s sustainability.
The PRRM was one of the founding members of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) whose objectives included debt relief to effect economic recovery and cancellation of fraudulent debts. At one point, I accompanied BM on a trip abroad to raise funds for the FDC. Part of the effort included raising awareness of the Philippine foreign debt problem among European activists and potential funders. There was this 1988 conference in London where three BMs (Boy, myself, and Butch Montes of the UP School of Economics) were the conference speakers. While I believe we managed to get our message across, we cannot satisfactorily answer criticisms from feminists regarding the absence of a female speaker. Forever a diplomat, Boy promised female speakers will join future panels on Philippine foreign debt problems.
Through BM’s auspices, PRRM published a book I edited entitled Debts of Dishonor in 1992. The book featured, among others, the fraudulent loans that funded the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP).
From 1992 up to about 1996, I would often see or meet BM during PRRM events. In late 1996, BM and Fr. Ed asked me if I could join them in a non-political party movement that will support Joseph Estrada’s presidential bid. I told both that I could not because I believed Erap will not be a good president. BM tried again and said it was a good opportunity for Leftists to join government if Erap wins. I knew that there was more than a good chance since Erap was a sure winner. However, I maintained my position and we parted ways agreeing to disagree.
After Estrada was deposed, I saw BM rarely. I did not know that he suffered a heart attack late last year. Facebook and mass media had to inform me that he passed away.
I ask the reader of this post to say a prayer for BM and his family. However, there is no reason to grieve and every reason to celebrate–to celebrate his life and his work.
Bon voyage BM!