Full Interview with Prof. JOSE MARIA SISON
Founding Chairman, the Communist Party of the Philippines
Chief Political Consultant, National Democratic Front of the Philippines
Chairperson, the International League of Peoples’ Struggle
BY BILL FLETCHER, JR.
(Shorter version appears in AlterNet, January 22, 2012)
1. Most people in the USA know little about the Philippines, its history, and/or its relationship to the USA. What do you believe are the reasons for this ignorance?
Answer: The US mass media are most responsible for informing, disinforming or simply keeping the American people ignorant about a country like the Philippines. I presume that most people in the USA become most aware of a country when the mass media are blaring out a certain extended course of sensational events of great interest to the US officialdom and the ruling class.
I am sure that in the past there were times of long duration when the mass media called the attention of the American public to the Philippines, like when the US was justifying and carrying out its war of aggression against the Filipino people from 1899 onwards, when the Japanese fascists pushed the US out of the Philippines at the start of World War II and the US reconquered the Philippines in 1945 and when the US-propped Marcos fascist dictatorship was in the process of being overthrown.
When the extraordinary or sensational subsides, the mass media pay less attention to the country and do not say much about the protracted reality of US colonial rule in the Philippines in most of the first half of the 20th century or the US semi-colonial domination of the Philippines since 1946. The ruling system in the US does not allow the Americans who know the truth about of the Philippines to impart their knowledge to the public promptly, widely and sustainedly through the mass media or any other means.
2. Given what you are saying, do you think that the US media has consciously mischaracterized the situation in the Philippines by focusing on groups like Abu Sayyaf?
Answer: Yes, the US media drum up US policy and corporate interests and consciously misrepresent the Philippine situation, as in the focusing on the Abu Sayyaf . This small bandit gang, whose origin can be traced to the CIA and intelligence operatives of the Philippine army who organized and used it against the Moro revolutionaries (MNLF and then MILF), is magnified as an extension of Al Qaida in order to serve the false claim of Bush that the Philippines is the second front of a global war on terror as well as to rationalize state terrorism and US military intervention in the Philippines.
Through the mass media, the US has spread the scare about terrorism in order to justify a whole range of actions: the curtailment of democratic rights in the US and on a global scale, the stepping up of war production to please the military-industrial complex and the unleashing of wars of aggression.
3. Would you sum-up the situation in the Philippines, particularly the state of negotiations between the NDFP and the government; the situation facing workers and farmers; the overall economy; and fighting that may be taking place?
Answer: The Philippines is severely stricken by crisis because of the rotting semi-colonial and semi-feudal ruling system and the growing impact of the crisis of the US and global capitalist system. The prices of the raw materials and semi-manufactures produced for export by the Philippines are depressed and foreign loans to cover the trade deficits and debt service are becoming more onerous than before. There is now less demand for overseas contract workers and thus their remittances are decreasing. The global economic and financial crisis is hitting hard the Philippines. The growing public deficits (budgetary and trade) and the public debt are growing and exposing the bankruptcy of the big comprador-landlord state.
Various forms of popular resistance, including people’s war, are ever growing because of the extreme and ever worsening conditions of exploitation and oppression of more than 90 per cent of the people, the toiling masses of workers and peasants. Like preceding regimes, the Aquino regime wants to destroy the armed revolutionary movement. It is implementing the US-designed Oplan Bayanihan, which is the same dog as Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya but which tries to be different by dressing up brutal military operations as peace and development operations and maintaining human rights desks in the reactionary army and national police for the purpose of shifting the blame for human rights violations to the revolutionaries. On the other hand, the New People’s Army led by the Communist Party of the Party is carrying out a five-year plan to advance from the strategic defensive to strategic stalemate in the people’s war, increasing the number of guerrilla fronts from 120 to 180.
While their respective armed forces continue to fight, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are supposed to engage in peace negotiations in order to address the roots of the armed conflict by forging agreements on social, economic and political reforms. But the GPH has paralyzed the peace negotiations by refusing to release a few political prisoners who are NDFP consultants in the negotiations and thus violating the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). The GPH is also grossly violating the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIL) by refusing to release more than 350 political prisoners who are imprisoned on false charges of common crimes.
4. You have described the Philippines as semi-capitalist/semi-feudal. Please explain what this means in practical terms. We are in the early years of the 21st century. How could there be a semi-feudal situation in the Philippines? The Philippines seems, for all intents and purposes, to be tied into global capitalism.
Answer: You can say bluntly that the Philippines is capitalist and has long been capitalist since the 19th century if you mean that the commodity system of production and exchange through money has come on top of the natural economy of feudalism when local communities could subsist on a diversified agriculture and engage mainly in barter. The specialization in crops for domestic food (rice and corn) and for export (tobacco, hemp and sugar) and the import of a certain amount of manufactures from Europe for consumption pushed the domestic commodity system of production as well as integration with global capitalism through colonialism as a part of the primitive accumulation of capital in Europe and subsequently under the banner of colonial free trade.
But it is utterly wrong to say that the Philippines is industrial capitalist or even semi-industrial capitalist. The Philippines does not have an industrial foundation. Its floating kind of industry consists of imported equipment paid for by the export of raw materials and by foreign loans necessitated by the chronic trade deficits. It is most precise to describe the Philippine economy as semi-feudal to denote the persistence of the large vestiges of feudalism in the form of disguised and undisguised landlord- tenant relations and usury at the base of the economy, the peasant class constituting 75 per cent of the population and the combination of the big compradors and landlords as the main exploiting classes. The big compradors are the chief financial and trading agents of the foreign monopolies and are often big landlords themselves, especially on land producing crops for export.
Global capitalism under the neoliberal policy of “free trade” globalization has not changed but has aggravated and deepened the pre-industrial and underdeveloped semi-feudal character of the Philippine economy. The share of manufacturing with the use of imported equipment and raw materials under the policy of low-value added export-oriented manufacturing in the last three decades has decreased in comparison to that share under the previous policy of import substitution. The illusion of industrial development has been conjured by excessive foreign borrowing for consumption of foreign manufactures, by conspicuous private construction projects and by the sweat shops that engage in the fringe-processing of imported manufactured components and yield little net export income.
Neither the series of bogus land reform programs since decades ago nor the neoliberal policy of imperialist globalization has broken up feudalism completely and given way to a well-founded industrialization. The backward agrarian and semi-feudal character of the Philippine economy is now increasingly exposed by its depression and ruination due to the decreasing demand for its type of exports, the closure of many sweatshops of semi-manufacturing for export, the tightening international credit and the decrease of remittances by overseas contract workers in the current prolonged global economic and financial crisis in this 21st century of desperate, barbaric and imploding global capitalism. The conditions have become more fertile for people’s war in the Philippines.
In the 1980s, certain elements in the Philippines pushed the notion that the Philippine economy was no longer semi-feudal but semi-capitalist or semi-industrial capitalist in order to glorify the Marcos fascist dictatorship as having industrialized the Philippines. This notion also aimed to undercut the Communist Party’s strategic line of protracted people’ s war involving the encirclement of the cities from the countryside by the armed revolutionary movement of the workers and peasants until such time that they have accumulated enough politico-military strength to seize the cities on a nationwide scale in a strategic offensive.
The bureaucratic big comprador Ferdinand Marcos conjured the illusion of industrial development by borrowing heavily from abroad and by importing consumption goods and luxuries and construction equipment and structural steel in order to build roads, bridges, hotels and other tourist facilities. The profligate spending of foreign loans only served to maintain the agrarian and pre-industrial character of the Philippine economy. Cognizant of the persistent semi-feudal reality, the New People’s Army under CPP leadership has been able to wage people’s war successfully with the main support of the peasantry and under the class leadership of the working class.
5. When one talks of the Philippine working class, what are the main sectors in which it is found and how is neo-liberalism affecting it?
Answer: The Philippine working class is found in such main sectors as the following: food and beverages, hotels and restaurants, public utilities (power generation, water and sewage system), mining and quarrying, metal fabrication (imported metals), car assembly, ship assembly, transportation, communications, mass media, assembly of electronic and electrical products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, oil refining, construction, construction materials (cement and wood), banks and other financial institutions and public sector services (education, health, etc).
In the Philippines, the neoliberal policy has favored certain enterprises away from industrial development and has expanded employment in such entterprises during boom periods. The favored enterprises include those in mining and export-crop plantations, the assembly of electronic and electrical products, the semi-manufacturing of garments, shoes and other low-value added products for reexport, car assembly, construction of office and residential towers, cement production, hotels and restaurants, business call centers and financial services. They are vulnerable to the ups and downs characteristic of global capitalism under neoliberal policy and now to the worst crisis since the Great Depression. Closures and reduction of production have resulted in a high rate of unemployment and the further immiseration of the people.
Under the neoliberal policy, the working class has been subjected to wage freezes and reductions, loss of job security, flexibilization or casualization (reducing the number of regular employees and increasing the number of temporaries or casuals), systematic prevention or break up of workers’ unions and ceaseless attack on union rights and other democratic rights. The kinds of enterprises generated by the neoliberal policy involve cheap labor and the most tiring and health-damaging processes and conditions. They also limit the number of regular employees and expand the ranks of the casuals subjected to a series of short-term employment contracts in order to circumvent the law on regular employment. The scarcity of employment opportunities in the Philippines has compelled nearly 10 per cent of the population to seek employment abroad as overseas contract workers and undocumented workers with practically no rights. This fact proves the lack of national industrial development.
6. You mention that certain elements in the Philippines had a different view than yours (and the CPP) on how to characterize the Philippines today. What were/are the practical implications of these differences? Do the differences preclude any degree of unity or are there strategic differences that are irreconcilable?
Answer: Certain elements in the revolutionary movement put forward the subjectivist notion in the early 1980s that Marcos had truly carried out land reform, industrialized the Philippines and raised its urbanization to the level of 40 per cent. They subjectively concluded that it was already wrong to call the Philippines semi-feudal and to pursue the strategic line protracted people’s war by way of accumulating strength in the countryside before seizing the cities. The subjectivist notion gave rise to two opportunist currents, Right and ultra-Left , both grounded on rejecting the line of protracted people’s war but taking two different directions, one along the line of legalism and parliamentarism and the other along the line of military adventurism.
The ultra-Left opportunists adopted the line of speeding up the regularization of the people’s army or the premature formation of absolutely concentrated companies and battallions supposedly to catch up with the expected development of urban insurrections as the lead factor in the revolution. The prematurely enlarged military formations were unsustainable, became divorced from the masses and were easy for the enemy to locate and attack. When they incurred heavy losses, the ultra-Left opportunists engaged in scapegoating and blamed so-called deep penetration agents as the cause of their disasters.
Meanwhile, the Right opportunists called for making legal struggle the main form of struggle against the dictatorship and for taking out working class leadership from the National Democratic Front of the Philippines supposedly to attract more people. After Marcos fell in 1986, they wanted to join the Corazon Aquino government and some of them succeeded in joining the new reactionary government. After failing to swing the Communist Party to a line of reformism, they fragmented into various groups and adopted various lines, including Gorbachovism, Trotskyism, social democracy, neorevisionism and even neoliberalism.