To be honest, I am a newbie in this erstwhile game called the Philippine elections. It is one thing to seek out and pledge one’s fidelity to strategic solutions. Yet it is quite another to be suspicious of almost any institutional procedures which largely define the life of the nation, or to be ridiculously nervous when Left figures and traditional politicians “travel together.” But for sure, whenever they do, the game is worth the candle.
It was Teddy Casiños senatorial bid that got me signing up for this so-called democratic process. Never mind that COMELEC’s PCOS machine is a monster that undermines clean and honest elections. Never mind that the system of oligarchy (rule of the rich minority) is clinched, time and again, through what is supposed to be an exercise in democracy. MAKABAYAN Coalition’s electoral campaign for Casiño taught me that owning up to democracy even when it is barely there is a way to learn from and identify with the people’s most noble aspirations.
With Casiño’s lead, I thought the coalition was up to something great. For he was that humble and humbling leftist figure who would go back to the University to talk young people about the return of the US military bases through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). It was the late 90s and my last semester in college. I was almost ready to open myself to the blunt and offensive intrusions of the system. But from what I understood, there was an ideological war to be waged against US Imperialism. This requires better strategies for building communities. It was a promising task and an indisputable element of defending national sovereignty.
The most valuable lesson I have learned from my decision to shed off my political smugness and understand the electoral phenomenon better came from the MAKABAYAN bloc in Philippine Congress. In particular, ACT Teachers Partylist’s campaign taught me that the electoral campaign—a significant aspect of the parliamentary struggle—is not just all about voting or making people vote for good candidates. It is about “empowering the people to make informed decisions and actions on issues that confront and affect them) (1).” It is about touching base with our respective sector (teachers) and identifying issues that will unify us into an organized bloc of educators capable of forging solid unities with the basic sectors on patriotic and democratic grounds.
“Bring[ing] the people’s agenda to mainstream politics” (2) is perhaps MAKABAYAN Coalition’s more important reasons for its existence. What is wrong with mainstream politics at this juncture? Everything. Nothing works in an oligarchic set-up made possible through procedural democracy. But who are the victims/survivors of corrupt, repressive, and violent practices in government? We are. To leave “democracy” in the hands of the elite by dismissing the parliamentary struggle as a hopeless and useless affair is NOT to see ourselves as objects of elite impositions when we are.
The dispensation of justice is our affair. Justice is by no means reducible to the minuscule gains from the parliamentary struggle. But where else can we have a sizable audience in challenging the various evil mechanisms of the Philippine oligarchy if not in parliamentary politics? Aren’t the compradors and landlords in Congress, the Senate and Malacañang almost always against the proposals of the progressive MAKABAYAN Coalition for Filipinos to witness?
President Aquino’s veto against Bayan Muna Congressman Neri Colmenares’s SSS pension increase is only the latest example. Neri’s parliamentary intervention made it possible for many Filipinos to realize that a pension increase is on just grounds and to the advantage of our senior citizens and their families. Now we know better. And aren’t we braver?
Bringing the people’s agenda to mainstream politics is not the same as getting our hands dirty as many “ radicals” would like to believe. It is a democratic act of reaching out to masses of people whom we have proven capable of being mobilized and organized toward just ends.
In a class in Social Psychology back in the mid-nineties, my good professor, Dr. Manuel Bonifacio argued that the core of the Filipino psyche is tiwala (trust). It is the tie that binds us to the ‘social.’ The dialectic of social relations may indeed be approached most fruitfully from the lens of tiwala sa kapwa (trust in the other who is part of oneself). His radicalizing lesson converged with what I was always hearing from the activists all along: “magtiwala sa masa, pagsilibihan ang sambayanan” (trust the people, serve the people).
There are two ways of visualizing the act of bringing the people’s agenda to mainstream politics. One is the image of our hands getting dirty. The other is watching our hands reaching out to many people. The former smacks of cynicism. The latter speaks of living in hope.
Makabayan Coalition’s endorsement of the Poe-Chiz candidacy is based on the latter’s “Tugon sa mga Hinaing at Mithiin ng Bayan Para sa Pagbabago at Pag-unlad ng Mamamayan” (Response to the Demands and Aspirations of the People for Change and Development) (3). In the same response, Grace Poe and Chiz Escudero expressed their commitment to the programs and policies which the MAKABAYAN Coalition is promoting for people empowerment and national freedom.
Two of these nine commitments speak to the struggle for economic redistribution. To industrialize the national economy coheres with the much needed infrastructural change to make way for jobs, production of local goods, processing of raw materials and minerals, efficient mass transport system and communication.
To address the land problem means the setting up of cooperatives and mechanization of agricultural production, provision for technical and financial support for farmers and fisherfolk, and respect for the right of the Moro and indigenous peoples to ancestral domain.
The remaining seven items compliment the parliamentary mechanisms that will help economic redistribution as they express a strong bias for popular and democratic struggles, national sovereignty, freedom, and peace. (4)
Why does the largest and strongest Left coalition, supported by a mass base composed by the basic sectors and other patriotic forces in society bother to forge an alliance with traditional politicians and elite figures like Senators Grace Poe and Chiz Escudero?
The commitments briefly discussed above partly echo the national democratic (ND) left’s strategic program for change that the same formidable force has long elaborated on. They were not principles or commitments offered by Poe and Escudero on their own volition. That they deem this commitments central to governance is laudable.
The Left’s tactical alliance with these candidates does not mean an unbreakable alliance, come what may. Tactical and mutual support on the basis of those principles will potentially shape governance should Poe and Chiz make it in 2016. After all, the Left is known for taking its commitments to and agreements with its tactical allies seriously. Those commitments may also function as bases for criticism even during the campaign period.
Case in point: presidentiable Grace Poe’s recent statement on Aquino’s scandalous 6-year presidency is quite telling of how far might those commitments guide her own leadership.
Case in point: ”I think it would be difficult for them to have a case against him…I think that his strong stand against corruption has given our country unprecedented growth but it is not enough” (5). This despite the strong public clamor to hold Aquino accountable for probable violations of the Philippine Constitution. Poe’s snaps for Aquino’s so-called fight against corruption, notwithstanding the continued existence of Pork and DAP, betrays her slipshod analysis of the Aquino regime’s claim on growth rate.
Poe rightly refused the president’s invitation to run under the LP ticket. She is running independently. But her statements of late are puzzling, to say the very least. Her expressed gratefulness to the president sounds like patronage and does not speak of the kind of confidence that the feminist struggle has won for women: “…Until this day, I remain grateful for the president for having ushered me into public service with the MTRCB…It’s good to know that the president thought that I have what it takes to be a leader, to effect change” (6). As every suspicious yet folksy hopeful elders say, “We’ll see…”
To clinch support from the broad masses of people organized by the Left, it is crucial to demonstrate how a faction of the elite is indeed against the strongest, most corrupt and violent faction. We need to see the difference.
Getting the Push
In any case, commitment to the aforementioned program for change has been clinched for both parties to adhere to. It is now the duty of the people’s organizations supporting the MAKABAYAN Coalition to bring the nationalist and democratic program to the national stage. That the anti-imperialist and democratic alternative be a matter of electoral debate and discussion is an aspiration worth pursuing.
Imagine the broadest masses of people coming together against the narrowest target. Imagine our popular struggles for land, life, wage hikes, benefits, workers rights gaining a popular and mighty push. There is a huge opportunity for organization and education here!
And why does an “academe-based leftist” think that this is a good opportunity that we, progressive and organized academics, cannot just miss?
First, the nationalist and democratic alternative offered by the MAKABAYAN Coalition and senatoriable Neri Colmenares—a well known left figure who has dedicated his life for genuine change—has been getting a massive push from below. Second, despite the neoliberal tide that washes the relevance of the University away from social transformation, we’ve held fast to class politics. These two situations need convergence, badly.
Now that we are faced with the frenzy of yet another national elections, we must know that getting economic redistribution and radical popular struggles a massive push from our various publics is pushing for none other and no less than the class struggle.
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 Philippine Anti-Imperialist Studies (PAIS). She is also a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.