Yonip.com Editorial December 2007
by Roland G. Simbulan
Thirty-nine years ago, a revitalized Philippine Left began to challenge the long-entrenched oligarchy in a nation long considered the United States’ political and military stronghold in the Asia-Pacific. The seeds of people’s empowerment were deeply planted, and rooted. The Philippines was never to be the same again. The Left’s presence in our national life and politics continues not only to be felt today, but is related to the struggles of our people for social justice, human rights and consistent defense of our national sovereignty. Its influence continues to increase largely as a political struggle that articulates the voice of the poor majority long marginalized and disempowered by the oligarchy from Philippine political and economic decision-making.
It is a testimony to the resilience of the Philippine Left that it has survived the onslaught of the Marcos dictatorship, the vigilantes, the end of the Cold War, the deep penetration agents, crises and splits, and the death squads of OPLAN Bantay Laya I and II. That it has survived these most terrible repression has made it into a formidable social movement. For despite the most insidious and virulent attacks against the Left by the oligarchy which fears the empowerment of the poor and the genuine democratization of our political system, it continues to advance a pro-people agenda that may be the only alternative to the multi-party elites. Again, it is thwarting another OPLAN & timetable for its demise made by another Philippine president — now the fifth commander in chief since Marcos. State violence to crush the Left, a cornerstone of many administrations, cannot succeed if these are employed by those who work against the the poor and oppressed.
Time and again, even the United States has made us into a laboratory of some sorts for its most repressive tactics against our people’s movements. And while U.S. counterinsurgency manuals now claim that crushing our independence struggle and the peasant struggle in the ’50s was its most successful counterinsurgency experience in the world, U.S. special operations forces today still continue to be deployed in various parts of the country, still trying to achieve what they tried to do more than a century ago.
Today, progressive mass movements of the Philippine Left are found in all parts of the archipelago, from the grassroots communities to the national level. Organized territorially and sectorally in 90 percent of our provinces, they continue to articulate the hopes and struggles of the Filipino masses. As sectors, they are organized diversely as federations of peasants, workers, indigenous peoples, women, students, teachers, health professionals, government employees, professionals, artists, media, church people, overseas contract workers, environmentalists, etc.. The progressive Philippine Left is at the front line among the struggles of our people on practically all issues affecting the people’s livelihood, foiling attempts to institutionalize tyranny and neo-liberal globalization, as well as issues that impinge on the patrimony and dignity of our nation such as the onerous Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA). The Left’s engagement with the Philippine state today can be described as that of fiscalizer, protagonist and symbiotic partner in grassroots programs.
Unlike progressive forces in other countries of Asia that saw their demise with the waning of the Cold War and upheavals in former socialist countries, the Philippine Left’s continued resilience reminds us that the people’s struggle here was not exported from outside. That it arises from the conditions and policies of exploitation that the local ruling oligarchy, foreign interests and the U.S.-supported government inflicts on the people. Historically, it draws its strength from peasant unrest in the countryside fueled by the horrors of social inequality and abuses by the state’s security forces. In the international NGO community today, we are regarded as a superpower when it comes to people’s movements and NGOs, thanks to the painstaking political work of egalitarian and selfless cadres of the Left. What the Left direly needs is to project not only its alternative national development program but also its own credible leaders who can excite and capture the imagination of our people.
Social change does not belong to one group or another, but it has to be the work of the entire people. Diversity and pluralism side by side with solidarity in struggle must be mustered by the progressive forces as a prerequisite for future democratic governance that requires tolerance, consensus-building and respect for differing ideas. The Philippine Left should also prepare itself to manage and lead those who may still disagree with it, and develop the skills necessary for efficient, accountable and productive administration. This is what governance is all about. It is true that the Left has made mistakes, but even failure is a great teacher when put into perspective by criticism and hard-earned lessons.
The best way to solve armed insurgency and rebellion is to guarantee the safety of those willing to work for peaceful reforms even if they openly advocate the Left’s agenda. For how can the Left even look forward to an electoral future when vigilantes and death squads attempt to systematically cripple their grassroots machinery by physically eliminating their unarmed local coordinators and members, a situation anathema to democracy? Political warlords and the landed aristocracy should now realize that they can no longer inflict coercive force with impunity in our countrysides and that they can be neutralized by an organized and socially-conscious force of peasants, farm workers, indigenous people and sacadas.
In the Cagayan region for example, the KAGIMUNGAN, an alliance of Cagayan farmers which has won many benefits for thousands of farmers, and gained recognition as their staunch defender , is under violent attack by vested interests trying to roll back the peasants’ hard earned gains. Even as the Left bears the brunt of the gendarmes of repression in various parts of the country, it cannot fail politically in the eyes of the people who daily bear the violence of hunger, poverty and malnutrition. In fact, most of those victims of extrajudicial killings from the Left are seen locally as martyrs, heroes and even role models by the masses with and for whom they have lived selflessly, with the basic mission of improving social conditions.
For as long as oppression and exploitation exists, the Left will persist — in various forms of struggle — to challenge the oppressors and to continue to touch our conscience. This country needs the Left’s ideology and dedication that goes beyond loyalty to family, clan or a narrow social circle: a sense of community and nationhood. If all the progressive forces of the Left could unite around a national development agenda for the people’s welfare and upliftment and overcome sectarianism — and unity not based on a strict doctrinaire line is necessary — it is not farfetched that in the future the progressive Left can strategically share power or even gain power like their counterparts in Latin America, Japan and Europe. To solve manifold problems in governance may be difficult, but it is not impossible. Spain, one of the countries in Europe that President Arroyo just recently visited, is ruled by a socialist party, the Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol (PSOE).
Just visit the Bantayog ng mga Bayani shrine along the corner of EDSA and Quezon Avenue and one will read on its walls the names of this country’s brightest and most committed martyrs and heroes, most of them from the Philippine Left who sacrificed their lives in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. Names like Lorena Barros, Edgar Jopson, Emmanuel Yap, Antonio Tagamolila, Lean Alejandro, Macli-ing Dulag, Fr. Zacarias Agatep, Purificacion Pedro, Liliosa Hilao, Dr. Bobby de la Paz, Dr. Juan Escandor among many others with deep social convictions, are engraved on the Bantayog walls.
It is to the credit of the broad Philippine Left that what were once considered “leftist issues” like debt service, trade liberalization, land reform and foreign investments, etc., are now being tackled and debated as part of the national consciousness by the mainstream media and even by our policy makers in Congress. Today, the Philippine Left thrives in every community, organization and institution that they have empowered : among our farmers, workers, indigenous people, students, teachers, health workers, government employees, artists, church people, and yes, soon even among our restive soldiers!
Indeed, the true parent of people power is the Philippine Left.