By SARAH RAYMUNDO
Communist leaders, “certified high-ranking,” were captured last Saturday in Cebu City. Something for your banner story, no? A quick look at the top dailies on Sunday confirms that the news is supposed to elicit a frisson of curiosity possibly from people of different persuasions and interests: from foreign direct investors to members of emergent socialist slum collectives; from followers of organized religion to identitarians of LGBTQA+; from anti-communist cynics to followers of the so-called three headed beast Marx-Lenin-Mao; from medium to large-scale local business to comprador big business à la Henry Sy and Ayala; from Marxist political economists to postmodern culturalist epigones. The topic of captured communists is apparently so universal that no profit-driven media can ignore it. Yet, any class conscious person also knows that such profuse discussion on the topic is dangerous for the status quo.
Skewed Corporate Media Reportage
Mainstream news articles are focused on the details of the capture, with every single article highlighting that Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria are top ranking communist leaders. Reported in a “they-are-so-busted” kind of popular sensationalist style, the news make readers assume the perspective of the capturers as the news stories are told from the latter’s point of view. This is why description and narration are powerful tools for the prevailing system’s covert ideological capture. Told from the perspective of the police, we are made to believe this as a successful police operation. Their gain is ours, too.
Corporate media’s imposition of its hegemonic code (in this case, anti-communism) on the message (the news report on captured communists) is far from subtle. It is not difficult for the more thoughtful readers to realize that nothing is said about communism. Corporate media merely assumes its demonized status. The same is true for corporate media’s coverage of mass demonstrations. We are only told of explosions of violence here and there. But the legitimacy of these struggles waged in symbolic spaces is remotely rendered. As a result, mass demonstrators who rally for rights are depicted only in relation to violence. This makes it impossible for the viewing public to reasonably approach militant activism in terms of the validity of its cause and the legitimacy of its struggle.
But life in the context of the raging class war is more complex than just being brainwashed by corporate media. Revolutionary social movements exist worldwide. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) of which Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria are said to be high-ranking officials is very much alive and kicking even beyond red zones expropriated by the New People’s Army (NPA) nationwide. The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) is usually portrayed by state propaganda as a conduit for creating communist front organizations out of legal-traditional organizations and formal institutions. With this representation, one wonders who really wants the specter of communism busted out of our “democratic institutions.” Certainly not the members of these “underground/front” organizations believed to be scattered all over communities and formal institutions for their urgent task is to multiply.
It is none other than the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH), duly elected by the people in the context of political dynasties and U.S. political control, which needs to exorcise the specter of communism. Its legitimacy is clinched through massive electoral fraud and violence. This is the same government composed of politicians who, in light of the ongoing pork barrel scam, have been exposed for what and how they are in their pure and unadulterated state as economic beings keen on advancing their class interest: heathens basking in beatified decadence.
An anecdote that involves two big names in Philippine letters is worth sharing to render the oft-repressed social truth that defines the antagonistic social field in Philippine society. Two elderly men, noted for their contributions in the ongoing discourse of Philippine radical nationalism, bump into each other in a popular fast food chain. The first one (Old Man A) had rendered his intellectual services to Marcos during the dark years of Martial Law. Despite this, even those who reject the school of thought he founded recognize the singularity of his academic contribution. The other (Old Man B) had left his professorial post and joined the underground movement to fight the Marcos dictatorship. His contribution to the theory of Philippine revolutionary literature is incalculable. Surprised by this unusual encounter, Old Man A takes a dig at Old Man B: “So, how’s that protracted revolution coming along?” Old Man B retorts: “Protracted revolution, are you kidding me? Where have you been all along? There are two governments around here now.”
What makes a state a state? A territory, a system of taxation, and an armed force. The GPH is clearly a state entity. The CPP-NPA-NDFP, however, is an entity that threatens the status of the GPH as the sole state entity in the country. The CPP-NPA-NDFP has established territorial organs of political power in rural red zones. It has a system of revolutionary taxation dubbed as “extortion” in mainstream anti-communist parlance. The NPA is the communist armed force counterpart of the AFP. This declaratory framework accounts for the crisis of moral and intellectual leadership (or hegemony), which in turn considers the existence of counter-hegemony mustered by the CPP in its 45 years of struggle. The persistence of this struggle signifies the Philippine revolutionary movement’s social command of its operations. Social command takes in all aspects of revolutionary transformation — political, military, economic — primarily to enjoin the most oppressed and exploited in Philippine society:
“In the countryside the people’s army should be constantly built up from among the exploited peasantry under the leadership of the proletariat and the Party. A program of agrarian revolution should be implemented in order to fulfill the main content of the people’s democratic revolution. To make possible and protect the aims of the agrarian revolution, the Party should develop rural bases and direct a wide range of fighting areas, from stable base areas to guerrilla zones.” (1)
Class War and Peace Negotiations
The class war between the economic and political elite on the one hand and the “exploited peasantry under the leadership of the proletariat and the Party” is simplistically dubbed as Maoist insurgency. This deprives the class war of its social and material antagonistic substance, attributing the crisis to the figure of the “insurgent.” Supposedly, the elimination of the insurgent guarantees the reign of peace and order in society.
GPH’s denial of its own participation in class war exposes its own conscious ideological maneuvering to present itself as a neutral entity instead of being what it actually is: an active agent in class war. Proof of this is its very own participation in the Hague Declaration (1992) that proclaims “formal peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDF…to resolve the armed conflict” (2). By negotiating for peace with the communist forces, the government in this binding agreement recognizes that it is in fact at war with a formidable force. A formidable force that was able to strong arm the government into signing a declaration is an evidence not simply of the will to attain peace, for that remains to be seen. All talk of peace is primarily a recognition of war. What is crystallized, therefore, in that declaration made 21 years ago is the fact of class struggle.
When the government criminalizes NDFP peace negotiators like Wilma Austria and Benito Tiamzon, it falls back to its ideological claim to neutrality. Seriously, can someone like the President of the land, one of landlord allegiance and a debauched pundit of government looting be immune to class interest? The criminalization of NDFP peace negotiators and the construction of their personas as the best counter-example of good citizenship is a desperate attempt to undercut the logical path to peace based on social justice. This clearly solves the puzzle of the derailed peace talks. The government does not want it to happen.
In this raging class war, communist capture emerges as a counterpoint to the impasse presented by the government. This deadlock consists in the government’s enforcement of elite interest through a monolithic national agenda and a refusal to pursue peace negotiations in order to clinch a slavish approval from its American imperialist master. The same deadlock functions as an ideological capture enforced by the state to reinforce its moral and intellectual leadership.
But something else is happening. The capture of communists Wilma Austria and Benito Tiamzon confronts us with another kind of ideological capture. They are charged with crimes and are facing the monstrous threat of prisoner abuse and torture. Yet they offer a concrete alternative to the deadlock of elite rule in this country. This other kind of ideological capture is communist capture. It breaks new ground, opening up spaces for constructing new forms of social awareness and living against an anarchic order of elite rule.
Flocked by the media for sound bites at their inquest proceedings at Camp Crame, Benito Tiamzon reportedly shouted “Tuloy ang laban!” (The fight continues!) while Wilma Austria greeted the NPA for its 45th anniversary this coming March 29: “Binabati ko ang Bagong Hukbong Bayan sa ika-45 anibersaryo nito. Patuloy na lumalakas sa buong bayan. Hindi matalo-talo ng AFP!” (I greet the New People’s Army on its 45th anniversary. It continues to gain strength nationwide. The AFP continually fails to defeat it!).
The arrest of Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, with five of their comrades, is being presented by government forces as a victorious moment in its war against the communists. Yet the above quoted declarations possess an uncanny effect that pierces through the government’s claim to victory. Facing uncertain fate for their imprisonment, Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria exhibit a certain sense of persistence and invincibility, which continues to be.
How is it possible that they are able to maintain a composed sense of dignity despite the terrifying consequences of their incarceration? How can they continue to challenge a force that coerces them to bow down and accept defeat? How is it possible that political struggles continue to explode even after a series of failures? Wilma Austria and Benito Tiamzon give representation to impossibilities that happen, as though telling us, “Now let the communists speak.”
(1) Sison, Jose Ma. Foundation for Resuming the Philippine Revolution. 2013. Manila: International Network of Philippine Studies and AKlat ng Bayan.
Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Center for International Studies (UP-CIS Diliman) and a member of the National Executive Board of the All U.P. Academic Employees Union. She is the current National Treasurer of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the External Vice Chair of the Philppine Anti-Impeiralist Studies (PAIS). She is also a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.