What did the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan had in common in the 1950s? They all allowed the United States to build military bases in their territories. But in 1991, the Philippines kicked out the bases even if it remained an unabashed admirer of American culture. The expulsion of American troops from Subic and Clark was a legacy of the anti-imperialist movement which emerged in the 1960s until it gained nationwide influence in the next two decades. The Left was a prominent part of this movement that consistently exposed the treacherous puppetry of Filipino politicians and the meddling of the U.S. in our domestic affairs. More importantly, the Left successfully invoked the libertarian tradition espoused by the Propaganda Movement and the Katipunan to mobilize the people against the continued stay of colonial military bases in the country.
As it waged battle against US imperialism, the Left also attacked the bankrupt state of Philippine politics evidenced by an electoral process dominated by dynasties and warlords, a corrupt bureaucracy that mutated into the pork barrel system which we detest today, and a repressive government that brutally protects the filthy interest of the ruling elite. Or in other words, a system of bad governance more accurately termed as bureaucratic capitalism – a state of affairs wherein public officials systematically use their position to accumulate wealth and other privilege.
It isn’t enough to castigate the obviously immoral behavior of some recidivist plunderers and criminals in government. If it were a mere morality issue, the simple solution would be to launch a moral crusade which some well-meaning groups are already doing. But from the start, the Left has been asserting that the issue of corruption should be tackled comprehensively. The problem is not simply caused by mayors extorting money from the business sector, senators making deals with quick cash schemers, and presidents addicted to illegal gambling. The problem is the system that allowed these honorable thieves to assume public office. The root of the crisis is the political infrastructure which confers legitimacy to institutionalized robbery.
But where did traditional politicians get their wealth? Young thieves can eventually become old porkers which give them plenty of opportunities to hoard a fortune. But political power across the country is still retained by a few old rich families. What is the source of their economic power? To answer this, we shall repeat the question at the beginning of this article: What did the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan had in common in the 1950s?
But South Korea and Japan implemented it in just five years. They quickly smashed the feudal means of ownership that broke the economic and political privilege of their landowning classes. After land reform, both Japan and South Korea pursued the path of industrialization.
In the Philippines, land reform was and is still a half-serious initiative. The world’s longest land reform program has failed to redistribute the family-owned farming estates of big landlords and foreign-owned corporate plantations. Rural wealth is still concentrated in the hands of despotic hacienderos which they use to win elections, harass or kill their enemies, and stifle dissent. The Hacienda Luisita massacre was not a case of peasant agitation but landlord hysteria from a family which does not want to give up their class privilege.
This refusal to alter the status quo is a very violent kind of behavior. But the state sanctions this violence which is responsible for the human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, and other horrible crimes inflicted against the poor, the activists, and other truth seekers. The government then seeks to monopolize the use of violence in society by suppressing the idea, the yearning, and the actual organizing for change, while branding critical discourse and engagement as transgressions that harm public order.
Then there are political forces, mostly allied with the party in power, which prefers to spread the illusory message of reconciliation by offering a so-called space for dialogue to end conflict in society. They misread the situation as a simple case of misunderstanding between individuals. It may be partly true but essentially wrong. What is raging in the islands is class struggle. Marx once eloquently wrote that the “history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.”
The mainstream education apparatus has indoctrinated the youth with the poisonous thinking that history is made only by prominent individuals such as kings, presidents, and their glorified subordinates. Because of this biased framework, it rendered invisible the resistance of the weak which is the primemover of history. Fortunately, the Left provided an alternative narrative to view our past and present. Through this perspective, we could gain a better understanding of how our society evolved such as the impact of our colonial experience, the worsening pauperization in the provinces, the glaring inequality between the rich and poor, the feminization of migration, the attack on labor, the rapid destruction of the environment, and the erosion of our cultural heritage. Furthermore, the Leftist philosophy of history also emphasizes the value of the revolutionary struggle of the people in combating the many ills and evils in society.
But the appeal to wage and resolve class struggle in the ballots is still persuasive. There are public intellectuals who acknowledge the problems identified by the Left but insist that elections, and only elections, will give us leaders who are destined to lead the nation to the road of prosperity and lasting peace. Any other solution than electoral parliamentary democracy is deemed irrational, misguided, and impractical. The result is the perpetuation of a discredited system with semi-democratic trappings. Everybody resents this system; and everybody is aghast that we continue to be ruled by the same powerful and pampered clique of caciques or their dummies; but almost everybody among the chattering and twittering classes is willing to endure this suffering as they continue to hope that incremental reforms within the bureaucracy would spur a great transformation in the future.
Everybody except the Left. The Left with its radical dreams and a progressive vision for a new future. The Left and its people power, welgang bayan, lakbayan, the boycott movement, the metro noise barrage, the collective actions in the urban and rural. Another people power? An emphatic yes, but this time, let us embrace its revolutionary promise to the fullest.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: email@example.com