The neoliberal bane and the 3Ps (Peace talks, People’s pope, People’s war)


bu-op-icons-sarahThe liberal tide that once set apart emergent capitalism from feudalism’s obsolescence is now a plague that threatens all living systems. Neoliberalism aims to prolong capitalism’s lease on lives and labor by converting what the latter identifies as last frontiers into its own likeness. And it does this through the abuse of military power.

The universalization of capital through the abuse of military power is actually this process that is benignly labelled as globalization by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade-World Trade Organization (GATT-WTO). In the 90s, neoliberal economists preached of GATT-WTO’s “trickle down effect” to convince everyone that under capitalism, money is on all sides of the area if we knew how to play the game. And since then, the poor got poorer every day.

Trickle down was not the only liberal blunder there was. Two decades ago, on December 14, 2004, the Philippine Senate ratified the nation’s accession to GATT-WTO allowing full scale trade liberalization and the dismantling of protectionist policies that were otherwise maintained by economically powerful countries who are signatories to the same agreement.

For imperialist nations, GATT-WTO was a solution to the financial crisis and the narrowing of profits in the realm of production. For a pre-industrial economy such as what we have in the country, GATT-WTO’s ratification was also the moment when the Philippine Senate signed death certificates on behalf of Filipino farmers. But that is just partly true. Another part of the truth is that those senators also signed the Philippine Senate’s death certificate.

In client states like ours, the genuine defence of democracy and sovereignty is the Left’s business. It is a serious business being ran against government and its supporters from “civil society.”

In the same year, then President Fidel V. Ramos and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) commenced the formal peace negotiations. In his third SONA in 1994, Ramos claims that he did it for “political stability”:

“to restore civic order was our most pressing commitment you and I have redeemed. Armed with reason and goodwill, we are well on our way to a lasting and honorable peace with dissidents and insurgents. All-out war we reserve for criminals, terrorists, and plunderers.”

Alleged communist leader Wilma Tiamzon who was captured in the same year was released by the Ramos regime as she was one of the recognized NDFP negotiators for the Peace Talks.

The biggest irony in the Ramos administration is not so much that a military man commenced peace negotiations with the “rebels.” For such an act can even be read as the logical conclusion of military expertise. It is to Ramos’s credit to have gone down in history as the president who launched negotiations with the communist forces in the country in recent times.

But it is a shame for government, particularly, the Ramos administration to have done so in the same year that it has also started to drag the Filipino people into the depths of imperialist plunder through GATT-WTO. What kind of genuine peace can be achieved in facilitating the systematic exploitation and oppression of a people through neoliberal policies?

Clearly, government has not just ignored the roots of war. The ratification of the GATT-WTO and its continued implementation through neoliberal policies have only worsened social conditions to which the people’s war for national liberation in all its decisive fierceness responds: Human rights, now! Self determination, now! Freedom from hunger, now!

War and Peace

Without addressing the socio-economic roots of the armed conflict how can government expect revolutionaries scattered over rural villages to give up the fight for land, life, and futures when the very same revolutionary engagement makes them strong and legitimate in their own right? Such is the undeniable reality of the people’s war.

We have heard of anti-communists opine about how revolutionary forces and the people they manage to infantilize are nothing more than puppets marching way ahead of themselves toward their depressing destiny. The discourse of fatalism in this anti-communist rant is patent. That more and more people are joining the revolutionary ranks remains to be an object of contempt for and insult to the aspirational dispositions of these fatalists.

One only has to read statements issued by the revolutionary youth of the Philippines and Colombia (countries with longest running armed conflicts in the world) to realize a significant characteristic of the protracted people’s war in the 21st century. In particular, the way in which the revolution has gained strength, wisdom, and experience in the span of a relatively long period of time. From this angle, protraction becomes a necessity rather than a product of contingent circumstances such as missed opportunities and other external factors.

The bloody transition from feudalism to capitalism did not happen overnight. Revolutionary movements against capitalism worldwide rely on their subjective force, i.e., their own fighting strength to gauge how near or far is the approach to victory. A cultural worker once remarked that the people’s protracted war for national liberation toward socialism has brought together a multi-generational crop of revolutionaries. The old ones are tempered like steel or cast iron. The young ones are surging and striking like molten lava expelled after an eruption.

In short, the people’s war continues. In fact, after the 1994 Peace Talks, Wilma Austria who was freed to negotiate for peace was captured yet again in March last year. She was arrested together with six others, including Benito Tiamzon, while they were working on the relief operations for the victims of typhoon Yolanda.

People’s War and People’s Pope

Perhaps there is no greater tragedy like the loss of thousands of lives in a super typhoon that can move leaders from all kinds of persuasion and social commitment to act like nothing else matters.

To hear of public figures like Pope Francis, Wilma Austria, and Benito Tiamzon minding the victims of typhoon Yolanda is initially puzzling and disarming: Why does this weigh heavily on these people when they are supposed to be in control of perhaps more consequential matters for the movements they lead? Apparently, for these figures and for the movements they lead, there is no other matter more pressing at the moment than the dispossessed of Tacloban and other parts of the Visayas.

Nothing can be more humbling than witnessing how influential people respond to a very simple social obligation: not to allow any human being to suffer when one has the chance to do so. The Yolanda survivors are still suffering. But that they need not suffer, and that thousands did not have to die the way they did is a compelling message that has by now reached its discomfited addressee—the Aquino regime.

That is why it is hard to imagine an event timelier than a papal visit to happen in a Catholic country whose political leaders are looting the people. In their own scoundrel time, the elite has turned stealing into a legitimate game that politicians play. And this is not in spite but precisely because of their need to heed the marching orders of US imperialism. Before, during and soon after the event, progressive organizations, even the Communist Party of the Philippines expressed positive vibes on the papal visit.

An alliance between Christians and Marxist-Leninists might sound counter-intuitive for people of secular sensibilities.

But if one considers how the rapacious logic of capitalism deliberately subjects millions of people in utter misery vis a vis thou shall not kill and thou shall not steal, then that “there are 10,000 times more coincidences between Christianity and communism than between Christianity and capitalism” is not hard to imagine.

That is Cuban Communist leader Fidel Castro talking to Brazillian priest Frei Betto of the Domincan order in 1980. In the same interview, the Dominican priest observed that for the commander of the victorious 1959 Cuban revolution, “the alliance between Christians and Marxists is not just a matter of tactics.” Castro himself expressed that “We would like to be strategic allies, which means permanent allies (1986: 13-14).”

It is easy for reactionaries to dismiss Castro’s “He who betrays the poor betrays Christ” as merely instrumentalist or, a way to deceive Christians and shepherd them into “totalitarianism.” Never mind that historically, no less than landlords and capitalists continue to exploit religion to legitimize inequality through their monopoly and defence of private property. After all, reactionaries are not interested in understanding philosophy. They instead insist on what Armando Hart points out as their “beloved dogma of the impossibility of an understanding between Christians and communists [which], “comes tumbling down when you have a deep understanding of both doctrines (4).”

On May 16, 2013, Pope Francis expressed a thoughtful observation and a tough critique of our times: “While the income of a minority increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling.” Wealth and poverty are viewed from a relational perspective, one that easily disputes the political elite’s higher stakes on the role of big business in the nation’s economic development through public-private partnership programs. It also hits at a conjunctural phenomenon that functions as a strategy of containment in the context of the crisis global monopoly capital and the human face it tries so hard to assume: corporate social responsibility. Wealth and poverty are not mutually exclusive conditions; some people are wealthy because many are poor.

The pope does not stop at observations and criticisms of various aspects of the system. He cleverly goes beyond culturalizing the current crisis by not limiting his analysis to human greed and consumerism. Almost saying that “it’s the political economy, stupid!,” Pope Francis points to the prevailing economic system—capitalism—as the culprit. He even goes as far as to expose the much-vaunted trickle-down theories that frame the exploitative alliance between states and markets:

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world…This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

To prepare for the Papal visit, street children homeless people were either jailed or brought to resorts out of town to undergo seminars on government’s dole out programs with a special focus on toilet training. This arrogant and poisonous swill reaped fierce censure from the public. Yet the same pig filth was strongly defended by Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman and Malacanang spokesperson Abigail Valte.

As Pope Francis would set foot on our country and make his way to the Apostolic Nunciature through a motorcade along Manila’s main roads, thousands of Filipinos welcomed him with indefatigable cheers. Their shouts were powerful enough to make one marvel at the consequences of belief without doubting the moment’s certainty. No doubt there was hope, solidarity, and a sense of triumph that was at once abiding and fragile.

There was all of that no matter how the Aquino regime turned the event into a garrison. It installed men in uniform who brandished their long firearms amidst a community of believers who expectantly waited to see their shepherd. There were snipers positioned in rooftops that were ready to strike anytime it was “necessary.” Lining up for a police search on his way to see the Pope along Ayala Bridge, an organizer from the labor movement was manhandled and almost arrested only because, and as he reflected on the incident much later, he “looks a certain way.” The message of the police assault was very clear: We want no Muslims here!

Nonetheless, the leftists persisted and joined the succeeding activities of the papal visit. Indeed, a humble and thoughtful recognition is in order: Marxist revolutionary movements worldwide and Christianity have both suffered the consequences of the fragmenting logic of global capitalism that comes with the slogan of globalization as “the brutal imposition of the unified world market that threatens all local ethnic traditions, including the very form of the nation-state (Zizek, 2000:12).”

The alliance between Christians and Marxists finds its basis not so much on a shared utopian future but on shattered hopes.

When Fidel Castro spoke of the betrayal of the poor as the betrayal of Christ one is reminded of how Pope Francis’s statements were grounded on liberation theology’s discourse on the Historical Jesus. The melding of these emancipatory discourses is seen in Walter Benjamin’s “Messianic promise of the revolutionary Act as elaborated by Slavoj Zizek:

“ [it is]that will to retroactively realize the crushed longings of all the past, failed revolutionary attempts. What this means is that, in a properly historical perspective as opposed to evolutionist historicism, the past is not simply past, but bears within it its proper utopian promise of a future Redemption: in order to understand a past epoch properly, it is not sufficient to take into account the historical conditions out of which it grew- one has also to take into account the utopian hopes of a Future that were betrayed and crushed by it…To conceive the French Revolution, one has to focus also on the utopian hopes of liberation that were crushed by its final outcome… the same goes for the October Revolution. Thus we are dealing not with idealist of spiritualist teleology, but what the dialectical notion of a hisotrical epoch whose ‘concrete’ definition has to include its crushed potentials, which were inherently ‘negated’ by its reality (2000: 89-90).”

Our present is also “the outcome of the crushed potential for the future that was contained in the past” (Zizek,2000:90).

There is one thing that the papal visit, the peace talks vis a vis people’s war, and the neoliberal bane have in common: they provoke that unmistakable and desperate now or never spirit, at least for this activist. That one has to bear witness and get active on these matters does not confirm anything out of the ordinary. When certain situations present underlying and/or other possible situations in all their magnetic promise, the bones can only feel and know this deeply as they move the body out of stupor. (

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.

Castro, Fidel. 2006. Fidel & Religion: Conversations with Frei Betto on Marxism & Liberation Theology 2nd ed. North Melbourne: Ocean Press.
“From Growth to Modernization” Message to CongresOf His Excellency Fidel V. RamosPresident of the PhilippinesOn the State of the Nation, July 25, 1994.
Zizek, Slavoj. 2000. The Fragile Absolute—or, why is the Christian legacy worth fighting for? New York: Verso.

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