May 31, 2008
I have been asked repeatedly on what the 2010 elections hold as prospects for the Philippine Left. And I have always answered: “As long as the Left is fragmented and incapable of going mainstream, it will never become a national player on the same level as the Right parties or forces.”
I think this is a matter that the entire Left is facing. The principal blame here lies in the Left leaderships’ penchant for ideological purity, political extremism, and organizational sectarianism. Ideological purity here means taking the view of the primacy of an illusionary approach of a “correct line” over the practical exigencies and realities of the politics on the ground. Political extremism–in the form of “principled” (read ‘rigid’) political positions–usually alienate the ordinary people and guarantees the growth of minority Left sects. Sectarianism is the inevitable result of ideological purity and political extremism.
To answer the initial question: The Left–of whatever variety–will not have any major national impact on the 2010 national elections, much more on the presidential elections. The various Left groups, depending on the level of unity with each other and with other democratic forces, may be able to add something to a coalition and achieve some gains in the local elections.
A coalitional approach is therefore called for.
June 10, 2008
Coalitional parties are not a stranger in Philippine Left politics. We remember the 1938 coalition between the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas and the Socialist Party of the Philippines and the recent Akbayan, which is a coalition of former national democrats, social-democrats (or democratic socialists, as some would call themselves), and popular democrats).
However, the 2010 elections (and possibly the next elections) call for considerably broader coalitions in order to answer the challenge of the times, namely the urgent need for a reform-oriented leadership to promote a progressive economic and social agenda. Maintaining the various ideological parties will not be sufficient to confront the might and influence of the traditional politicians (most of whom cut their teeth under the Marcos dictatorship).
A reform-oriented coalition party will have to span virtually the whole Left plus Left-of-Center and possibly Center groups and parties. This party can field a full national slate and significant local slates. Or, it can develop a coalition with a presidentiable for substantial concessions in power-sharing.
June 12, 2008
The fundamental guide for Philippine Left progressives has always been the interests of the people, epitomized in the Mao slogan Serve the People. It is not national democracy, not even the Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. To formulate strategies, programs, plans and tactics, it is mandatory to do social investigations or as Lenin always advises Concrete analysis of concrete conditions.
The ideological approach to Philippine politics has been the serious handicap of Left progressives through all the decades of their defeats and isolation from mainstream politics, and hence from the vast majority of the people whose interests they profess to advance. It is an irony that Left progressives always pretend to ignore, comforting themselves on having an “ideologically correct line” and fostering the illusion of a future–magically appearing–people’s recognition of their sacrifices.
The nearest points in our history when the Left approached the halls of power were the Democratic Alliance in the late 40s (after the the bitter anti-Japanese guerilla war) and NDF in the mid-80s (during the waning days of the Marcos dictatorship). In both cases, the relevant situations were a product of the complete polarization of society between the forces of the Right and the forces of the Left.
In between these historical crisis points, the Left is hard-pressed to produce a coherent strategy to maintain its own politically, much more to develop the political strength to get itself into the halls of power. It is always torn between the desire to instigate a return to the simplicities of a black-and-white polarized politics or to play the much more complicated and nuanced parliamentary game.
At present, this is still the dilemma facing Left progressives of all stripes.
July 8, 2008
When two guests from Brazil and Uruguay were here recently, they expounded on two themes which I think has a bearing here in the Philippines. In these countries, the Left currently is part of the ruling coalition. The experiences from these two countries are hard lessons still to be learned by the Philippine Left.
The first theme revolved on creation of a political force with capability to win the power. They speak of the absolute need to form the necessary coalition to contest in electoral struggle. For this to happen, all coalition members need to be open to compromises. Compromises are strictly political, revolving on the broadest unity required for a serious bid for winning in elections. This also means setting aside ideological criteria and sectional and personal interests.
The second theme revolved on building the political base. They affirmed the need for continuing political organizing, from existing political bases coalition members bring into the coalition to reaching out to the vast majority of the poor who make up the natural base of the Left. They stressed that the work of building the political base extends into the period of governance when implementation of the Left agenda and program can easily be seen by the poor as addressing their own needs and aspirations. They will thus identify with this agenda and program, and in the end, identify with the Left.
The key here is to think of the people, in their overwhelming majority.
July 27, 2008
An interesting reunion of current and former national democrats happened recently. Most of them were in the forefront of the legal anti-Marcos struggle in the waning days of the dictatorship. One of the oft-repeated sentiments expressed there was the bewailing of the fact that nothing much changed since 1986, that Marcos people are still lording it in the halls of power and the people are still mired in poverty and misery. A related sentiment was the current long-standing rift in the Left has permitted this situation to reign and undermine the gains of the anti-dictatorship struggle.
The GMA administration–in its various political compromises and in its undermining of democratic institutions–is seen as the major contributor to this situation although all previous administrations since 1986 had their share of the blame. Interestingly, there was also the recognition of the share of the national democrats in the evolving of this situation.
The need for unity in face of the GMA drive for power beyond 2010 and the danger of martial rule was recognized. The Left, it seems, has awakened–very slowly–to the fact that the anti-GMA opposition will only squander the people’s support if it does not unite. The decision of all to have a single SONA rally is a beginning of this realization.
What was the outcome of the reunion? More reunions in the future, of course.
November 8, 2008
Here’s a short article on a possible political framework for Left intervention in the 2010 elections:
Democratic Left and 2010 Elections
October 31, 2008
1. The present situation is one of a political stalemate in two senses: a) in the sense that the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government is unpopular and isolated but the whole political opposition is incapable of unseating it through democratic institutional processes; and b) the situation is favorable for a political advance of the people’s struggle but the people’s movement is incapable of undertaking it and advancing it.
2. The stalemate is partly a product of a political vacuum: the broad masses, from the middle classes all the way to the poorest sectors, are searching for leadership-traditionally given to the Left. This leadership vacuum covers those who are willing to work for social change and democratic reforms within the framework of the post-Marcos democracy. This political position represents a rejection of armed struggle as the overarching framework for social change as well as the rejection of traditional oligarchic dynasties within the present elite democracy. In the political spectrum, this stretches from the democratic Left all the way to the Center. Located in this vacuum are the vast majority of the middle class and the masses.
3. The political vacuum is being filled up by the extreme Right, various Right groups and the extreme Left. In doing so, they project themselves to the middle class and the masses as desirous of reforms or, additionally in the case of the extreme Left, it projects itself as an alternative to the whole post-Marcos elite democracy. If left to these political forces, a polarization can happen, leading to the breaking up of the post-Marcos democracy and the establishment of a thinly-disguised oligarchic rule. The objective role of the extreme Left is to facilitate this polarization in a false assumption that it will politically gain by a return to a repressive regime.
4. The logical political forces to fill up the vacuum are those of the democratic Left, Left-of-Center, Center, and even Right-of-Center. These are the forces interested in building a genuine pluralist democracy in the country. Separately, they are considered weak and subject to pressure and influence from the extremist Left and Right forces as well as the Right. A potentially powerful force, however, is a unified reform-oriented democratic coalition of these forces. Then, it would have the necessary political clout to influence the outcome of the current political crisis, the outcome of the 2010 elections, and the governance of the post-GMA administration.
5. The basis of their political strength, aside from the organized forces they command are the objective condition of the middle class and the masses who demand genuine and deep-going democratic reforms and their consequent support for these, the credibility of their mass leaders, and the openness of sections of the elite who are fed up with the current political crisis.
6. Such a coalition of democrats can further ally itself with a reform-oriented presidential candidate in the 2010 elections. If the candidate wins, it would place the coalition in a strong position to build its national strength for future political struggles. If the candidate loses, it would also be advantageous for a national opposition posture afterwards.
7. The basis for a broad coalition of democrats exists in the common aspirations for the establishment of a broad-based, pluralist democracy in the country where the people at the grassroots participate in governance, achieve economic prosperity, and develop an independent foreign policy, yet cooperative in its relations with the rest of the world.
8. The Left can achieve a higher unity based on self-empowerment of the broad masses of the people, struggling for national and social liberation, and establishing a political and social order based on freedom, equality, peace, and progress. Agreement can be made to pursue continuous discussions on ideological and political unities that can be achieved within the framework of respect for each other’s position and organization.
9. The Left can establish at the least a Forum of Leaders to thresh out a common strategy and specific unified tactics in relation to the 2010 elections and the broad coalition of democrats. The Forum can be start of possible higher levels of unity later.
10. The Left should stress common points of unity rather than issues of difference in this endeavor and develop a culture of cooperation, tolerance and openness. The key objective should be to strengthen the common front.
November 23, 2008
Though the parliamentary Left has been riven by many splits and regroupings, it is gratifying to note that doors have not been shut and that there is a common perception of unity faced with the political crisis, coming recession and economic displacement, and the opportunity and dangers of the crucial 2010 elections.
It is also important to note the many initiatives coming from the Left and other progressive, liberal, and democratic forces to achieve common unity for the coming elections and other political projects.
I think this is the correct direction today and, coupled with a conscious program of organizing the people for political struggle, will enable the Left to make a difference in the coming years.
February 8, 2009
There are developing people’s struggles around the issues of land, jobs, and governance. It would do well for the Left to concentrate their energies on these rather than on political negotiations and organizational bickerings. At the end of the day, it is the voters who identify with the above issues who will decide the winners in the 2010 elections.
The way to the grand coalition is based on uniting on the people’s issues, not on who the candidates or leaders are.
September 15, 2009
The death of Cory Aquino, the reawakening of people power, and the candidacy of Noynoy Aquino once again presents to the Philippine the opportunity to make a comeback or to make another disaster. There is no middle ground on this one. There is a divide it has to cross and time may be running out.