The Bloody New Face of Bourgeois Democracy in the Philippines
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 13; Autumn - Winter 2016)
The Philippines, whose economy was once primarily agricultural, has recently experienced a significant industrialization. In 1980, over 37% of exports were agricultural products; in 2015 they accounted for no more than 7%, while industrial products accounted for over 70% of exports (electronic products alone represented 44% of exports).
Classified in the category of «newly industrialized countries», the Philippines ranks among what bourgeois economists call the «Tigers» who, in the wake of the «Dragons» (South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan) are integrated into the capitalist world market thanks to offshore relocations attracted by a cheap labor-force. In 2015, the country experienced the highest growth rate after China.
The Philippines specializes in shipbuilding, automotive equipment, electronics, computers, chemistry and call centers. Mining with copper, gold, silver and nickel is also booming. The country also benefits largely from remittances from the very numerous Filipino emigration.
Over the last thirty years, the working class has largely developed; the number active in the «manufacturing» industry has more than doubled to 15%.
CAPITALIST DEVELOPMENT AND PROLETARIAN MISERY
This development, touted by international institutions conceals severe economic backwardness and poverty. About 30% of the workforce is still employed in agriculture but, despite this, the country is not self-sufficient; it must import rice (it is one of the world’s biggest importers) to feed its rapidly growing population (75 million Filipinos in 2000, 100 million today). The country is heavily in debt and corruption is endemic.
The majority of the population still lives in miserable conditions. According to official statistics, a quarter of the population lives on less than a dollar a day and according to the IBON Foundation, almost three-quarters live on less than two dollars. While according to the government, unemployment is around 7%, it is actually more than 25% if we take into account imposed part-time work below the living wage. Finally, a large part of the urban population lives in slums. Some estimate that six of the twelve million inhabitants of the capital Manila live in these shantytowns. They live amidst mountains of garbage that pollute the air, water and soil, and face expulsion policies pursued by the public authorities (as in Quezon City in 2014).
Like many capitalist countries, the Philippines has been implementing «neoliberal» measures of privatization and deregulation. Among measures implemented within this framework, there is the «contractualization» system, nicknamed «Endo» (end of contract), which prevents workers from obtaining guaranteed employee status by recruiting them to contracts (often successive) of less than five months. In the special economic zones (SEZ’s) that have multiplied, workers are deprived of almost every right and are subject to severe corporate despotism; in addition, international organizations have regularly denounced the use of forced labor in small enterprises and in agriculture (especially in sugar cane plantations)
The Philippines is also one of the main sources of emigration in the world: there are on average 6000 departures per day. Eleven million Filipinos live abroad, including three million in the United States, two million in Saudi Arabia, and some 700,000 in Canada. Moreover 300,000 Filipino seafarers are plying the oceans on merchant ships.
The integration of the Philippines in the capitalist world economy was facilitated by the close links of the country with its former colonial power, the United States.
The Philippines, formerly a Spanish colony, was conquered by US imperialism in a bloody war between 1899 and 1902. The US military devastated the country, leading real «extermination campaigns» and the internment of civilians in concentration camps, all accompanied by a racist discourse to celebrate the superiority of the Americans, descendants of «Aryan ancestors». This colonial genocide was responsible for the murder of 250-750,000 civilians (Robert Gerwarth and Stephan Malinowski «The anteroom of the Holocaust», Twentieth Century. History Review, No. 99, 2008).
The country was a US colony until the end of World War II before becoming formally independent only to be run by a succession of pro-American leaders — the most famous and the most ferocious being the dictator Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1965 to 1986.
PRESIDENT DUTERTE: VICTORY OF «LAW AND ORDER»
In early May, Rodrigo Duterte was elected president with nearly 40% of the votes in the second round. He won a clear victory by six million votes in a poll with a high degree of participation.
Duterte conducted a demagogic campaign centered around issues of security, based on his record as mayor of Davao. In this city, he brought «order» by setting up death squads, the Alsa Masa militia composed of former soldiers and thugs, and the Davao Death Squad. These groups are accused of murdering over a thousand people, including street children, in the 1990s, in the name of the war against drugs.
By early September, this terror policy had been widely implemented on a national level and nearly 2,500 people had been executed by the joint attacks of the murderers from the police and those of the death squads.
Although sometimes claiming to be left-wing, Duterte said during his campaign that his political model was the dictator Marcos who was overthrown in the so-called «popular revolution» of 1986 resulting in a «democratization» that broke the hegemony of his clan on power, but in favor of other bourgeois forces. Misogynist through and through, he glorifies rape, declaring «jokingly» that he would participate in the gang rape of an Australian nun, or in saying that he had 2 wives and 2 mistresses...
It is not by chance that this reactionary demagogue has been dubbed «Dirty Duterte» by the media in reference to Dirty Harry, the cop using expeditious methods, played by Clint Eastwood, and «The Punisher» in reference to a Marvel super-hero using ultra-violence against criminals.
Economically and socially, he made promises to the poor and the workers, denouncing in particular the system of «contracts» as «anti-popular» (while refusing to make a written commitment). During his election campaign he received the support of the trade union confederations TUCP (Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, the largest confederation) KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno, Union of May, supposedly more combative, linked to the Maoist PCP) etc, while others were taking no position. In his government he appointed Joel Maglunsod Mindanao, the vice president of the KMU, as Undersecretary of State for Labor and Employment.
But this «social» image of defender of the poor and the support given him by the union bureaucrats, cannot hide his decades-long support for neoliberal policies. He proposed to develop «public-private partnerships» to fund infrastructure spending, to increase the «competitiveness» of the economy to attract foreign investment, to remove protectionist measures...
His real feeling about the proletariat was proven when, at a meeting in February, he warned the KMU not try to organize to organize EPZ workers: «We are one in ideology. [But] do not do that [organize the workers] because you will destroy my administration. If you do that, I will kill you all». (Http://www. equaltimes.org/what-can-workers-in-the?lang=en#.V-L0MBJUXs1).
KMU bureaucrats have complied, but the threat has already been realized elsewhere. On September 17, Orlando Abangan, a trade union activist of the Partido Manggagawa (PM), was murdered («PM Condemns vigilante-style killing of a leader», partidongmanggagawa 2001. blog spot.fr) keeping with the entrenched tradition of the Phillipines ruling class of repression of the proletariat. The most brutal anti-union practices remain common; as of today the promises made by Duarte to the workers have not been adhered to, and when a trade union delegation went to remind Maglunsod of the promise to end the Endo system, the under-secretary was only able to answer that he would forward the demand to the Minister...
Duterte is therefore a totally bourgeois politician even if he occasionally presents himself as a «socialist». This does not prevent him from receiving more or less open support from multiple parties claiming to be communist.
THE MAOIST PC OFFERS ITS SERVICES TO DUARTE – WHO ACCEPTS THEM...
The pseudo-radical face of Duterte gave a pretext to the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to prostrate themselves before him in the name of the «democratic revolution». The CPP has championed an «alliance» with Duterte because his election «opens up prospects for meaningful change» («Struggle and alliance under the Duterte regime», Bayan, English edition, June 7, 2016). This alliance is justified in the name of nationalism: Duterte, «not fully subject to US imperialism» would be «the only opportunity of ending 70 years of government under the United States». The Maoists have a totally bourgeois and reactionary program of «national unity, peace and development» that is to say unity behind the bourgeoisie, social peace and development of the national capitalist economy («Prospects under Duterte’s presidency», Bayan, English edition, 15 May 2016). The exiled leader of the party said during the campaign, that he hopes Duterte «will actually serve the Filipino people in their fight for national liberation, democracy, social justice, development»; he is willing to support «all the patriotic and progressive policies and acts of the Duterte presidency. (http://josemariasison.org/interview-with-prof-jose-maria-sison-on-the-election-of-duterte-as-president/ May 11, 2016).
The CPP will quickly be rewarded for its support. Duterte offers a cease-fire to the New People’s Army (NPA), a guerilla organization which has several thousand fighters and which had been carrying out a «people’s war» since 1969. The new president also appoints three representatives of the «National Democratic Front», i.e. the union of the «mass» organizations of the CPP («3 NDFP nominees to sit in new cabinet», Bayan, English edition, June 7, 2016). The Maoists get the ministries of Agrarian Reform and Labour and Employment, for the leaders of their peasant union the KMP and of the KMU.
It is true that the CPP has distanced itself from the bloody police terror initiated by the new president («No more cooperation with Duterte’s undemocratic and anti-people ‘drug war’», cpp.ph, communiqué of 12 August 2016). It also accuses his of being a «reactionary regime» which betrays its promises, which capitulates to «big business, the US, the military and capitalist bureaucrats» while defending a «tactical alliance» with him («Duterte is Undermining the opportunity for change and peace», cpp.ph, communiqué of August 7).
So it remains a partisan (barely critical) of this reactionary demagogue: the CPP greeted his «peaceful and independent foreign policy» when Duterte denounced the US military presence on Philippine soil («Positive significance of Duterte’s avowal to uphold an independent foreign policy» cpp.ph, communiqué of 11 September 2016). It calls on Duterte to make the Philippines an «independent and non-aligned country» («All US military forces in entire country must go home», cpp.ph, statement of 13 September 2016) which should conclude trade agreements with Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, Russia, North Korea and China («Positive significance of Duterte’s avowal ...»).
While it may seem radical by its use of violence and its pseudo-Marxist references, the CPP is a bourgeois force that defends an independent capitalist development as part of a union of «patriotic forces», which is precisely an inter-class alliance that chains the workers to the interests of the bourgeoisie.
THE «FAR» LEFT OFFERS «CRITCAL» SUPPORT
Besides the CPP, there are other pseudo-revolutionary parties.
On the one hand there is the former pro-Soviet party – the PKP-1930 (Partido Komunista ng Pilipanas-1930, Communist Party of the Philippines since 1930). The PKP sharply criticized the candidate Duterte considered as reactionary a candidate as the others («Prospects for the Philippines in the wake of the May 9 general elections», solidnet.org). But less than a month later, the party congratulated President Duterte! The PKP – like its enemy brothers of the CPP– offered its services: «we support all efforts of your administration to fulfill your campaign promise» to fight against crime. The bloodthirsty work of the death squads probably satisfied these false communists. All this is, once again, justified by a completely bourgeois program «to build a prosperous country in peace, national sovereignty, democracy and social justice» («Open letter to President elect Rodrigo R. Duterte» pkp1930 .org). This turnaround was justified by the fact that «his electoral victory reflects the hope of many voters»....
There are also forces from splits from the PKP from the early ‘90’s. These splits were made on the question of the nature of the revolution in the Philippines. For the «rejectionists», especially represented by Filemon Lagman, the Philippines is not a «semi-colonial and semi-feudal» capitalist country but a country in which a workers’ revolution must take power.
Despite this tactical change, these forces – the Partido Lakas ng Masas (PLM Party of the Laboring Masses) and the Partido Manggagwa (PM, Labor Party) – are equally as alien to classist proletarian positions as the PKP.
The PLM estimates that the «political situation [is] extremely interesting and challenging» and responds positively to the advances of the Maoists for «a government of national unity, peace and development» defending a «struggle for a national program against the dominance of the neoliberal elite» («Philippines left facing a Duterte-CPP coalition government», masa.ph, May 28, 2016).
PM does not provide open political support to the government or to the PCP but asked Duterte to «wage war against contractualization as vigorous as the war against drugs» («Group Asks Duterte for big names of endo lords in the country», August 2, 2016, partidong manggagawa2001.blogspot.fr). It also demands that union activists be officially given the role of labor inspectors («PM wants union officers deputized as labor inspector for endo campaign», August 5, 2016). It would not be too difficult to find a stronger critique of Duterte government!
For its part, the Trotskyist Fourth International (Usec) has managed to build a section in the Philippines from a split in the CPP: the Revolutionary Workers Party of Mindanao (RPM-M). This party has responded favorably to the advances of the leaders of the CPP, which it called «comrades in struggle for the liberation of the oppressed». RPM believes it has «a difference of method» with the Maoists but common – bourgeois! – objectives: «democratic reforms put forward without losing sight of the elimination of the oppression of the masses» (16 June 2016 rpm-m.org «Response to Jose Ma Sison’s Call for Dialogue»). It’s the old program of social democracy: reforms today and socialism in an indeterminate time!
All these pseudo-revolutionary currents, completely reformist in reality, are only gadflies buzzing around the PCP itself prostrated before the Philippine bourgeoisie and its current head Duterte; they are, like the PCP obstacles to the proletarian struggle.
But there exists in the country a group that claims to represent the Communist Left, «Internatyonalismo». Is there a class alternative to this pro-bourgeois «far left»?
INTERNATYONALISMO: ROAD TO NOWHERE
Since 2009, in fact, the International Communist Current (ICC) has had a section in the Philippines. Under the title «The Duterte regime in the Philippines, appeal to ‘the strong man’ and weakness of the working class», the ICC website published in June an article from its Philippine section on the presidential election, also including positions taken earlier.
Far from putting forward a real classist perspective, all Internatyonalismo has to offer its readers is whining about «the impotence [the] despair, [the] lack of perspective [and] loss of confidence in the unity of the working class and the struggles of the laboring masses».
«One negative effect of decadent capitalism in its decomposing stage is the rise of desperation and hopelessness among the poverty-stricken masses. One indication is the lumpenisation of parts of the toiling masses, increasing number of suicides, rotten culture among the young and gangsterism. All of these are manifestations of the increasing discontentment of the masses in the current system but they don’t know what to do and what to replace it with. In other words, increasing discontent but no perspective for the future. That’s why the mentality of ’everyone for himself’ and ’each against all’ strongly influences a significant portion of the working class».
Internatyonalismo condemns the Duterte regime as «a rabid defender of national capitalism» and «a government of the capitalist class for the capitalist class»; but faced with this bourgeois power, what is the perspective? «For us, what is important is to analyse and understand as communists why significant numbers of the population are ready to accept Duterte as dictator and ‘Godfather» initially. And then, «persevere with theoretical clarification, organisational strengthening and militant interventions to prepare for the future struggles at the international level». Wait and see...
Added to this there are the caricatures of struggle which the ICC section provides as an example to the proletarians: «solidarity movements (anti-CPE movement in France [student struggle], the Indignados in Spain, the class struggle in Greece, the Occupy movement in the United States)».
The logic behind this is that the Philippines is not «ripe» for the proletarian revolution. This is what was explained by the ICC in an article hailing the creation of the section («Salut to the new sections of the ICC in the Philippines and Turkey», 5 March 2009). In it the ICC reaffirmed its position on the dominated countries enunciated in 1982 («The proletariat of Western Europe at the center of the generalization of the class struggle», International Review 31):
«Only by attacking its heart and head will the proletariat be able to defeat the capitalist beast. For centuries, history has placed the heart and head of the capitalist world in Western Europe. The world revolution will take its first steps where capitalism took its first steps. It’s here that the conditions for the revolution, enumerated above, can be found in the most developed form. (...) It is thus only in Western Europe, where the proletariat has the longest experience of struggle, where it has already been confronted for decades with all the ‘working class’ mystifications of the most elaborate kind, that there can be a full development of the political consciousness which is indispensable in its struggle for revolution».
For the ICC, the revolution will be European or it will not be! The proletarians of the young capitalist countries but also of the United States or Japan, have to be patient and wait for the conscious European proletariat to resume the fight. So the only prospect remaining in the Philippines is the development of struggles on the bourgeois democratic terrain (such as the Indignados, Occupy, or Podemos which is its legitimate offspring) or reformist (such as the «class struggle» in Greece that was made – and was defeated – under the leadership of Syriza and the KKE).
It is clear that ultimately Internatyonalismo is unable to offer a class perspective to the Filipino proletariat, a truly communist perspective.
FOR A PROLETARIAN PERSPECTIVE
For communists, it is neither the horizon of bourgeois revolution (even radical) nor the impotent waiting for the reawakening of the European proletariat which are on the agenda. Today, all regions of the world have been thrown into turmoil by the capitalist mode of production. Imperialism has caused capitalism to penetrate into every pore of Philippine society.
The proletarian revolution has long been maturing in this eastern Asia plowed in every direction by the irresistible movement of capitalist expansion. It means, as elsewhere, the destruction of all mercantile and wage relations, and all states erected to defend them.
Wherever it erupts and whatever the greater or lesser importance of the residues left by the limits of the capitalist transformation of societies, this revolution will find in the violent shock with the capillary network of imperialism – as celebrated by bourgeois hacks under the name of «globalization» – the material conditions of a rapid dissemination, which will eventually have to lay siege to and destroy the strongholds of the counter-revolution in North America and Europe.
This longer perspective that is ours, the one based on materialism, implies the rebirth of the class party, faithful to authentic Marxism and enjoying a strong influence among the ranks of the proletariat. This party will be able to lead the working class in the Philippines as elsewhere toward the assault against capitalism, only on the base of the exclusive defense of the interests of the proletariat and the exploited masses, in opposition to all democratic, reformist and interclassist illusions conveyed by the false defenders of socialism.
September, 25th 2016
International Communist Party