Duterte redux


In May of last year, one of the goals of this column was to take stock and advance bases for political analyses and solidarities with various sectors dealing with a new regime. I sought to deliver both activist and intellectual documents culled from my politicized organizational and academic engagements. More than a year later, I am awfully aware of the limits and drawbacks of such project. The limits and drawbacks, to my surprise, are chronic conditions which are easy to forget about when one gets excited and delusional. Organizationally and politically, the debates and plans of action within the movement are so dynamic that finding time to document them in a steady manner would mean being remiss in one’s organizational duties. At the same time, academe’s hermetic norms and rituals can also compel any intellectual, whose pursuit is to blast all sorts of reactionary and liberal demarcations between “academic” and “political,” to abide by the same norms and rituals.

But, of course, the struggle continues. And it continues where some political claims left off:

“This is how the consequential left views the state as a lever for progressive reforms. Yet it understands, too, the historical process that links third world formations to their imperialist masters. This process has established neoliberal statism, a political-economic order renewed through electoral politics.

In other words, the consolidation of a politics attuned to the interests of capitalist world economy is founded on US imperialist style of exporting democracy to what it identifies as authoritarian/dictatorial regimes or in the electoral process. Will Duterte embrace the bankrupt neoliberal doctrine and have the whole nation sink deeper into crisis in order to gain points from international banks and multinational corporations? The latter will easily win him the support of the local military who follows from its real commander-in-chief, the US State Department.

The price of integration into “world class global politics” is high. But not as noble as the people’s clamor for change. Against the partial and unofficial tally, the media-hype over Digong’s presumptive presidency, and even his eventual confirmation as president of the republic on June 30: Not so fast! A “Duterte win” has yet to unfold.”

That was a parting shot of a column entitled Duterte: a sociopolitical outcome I wrote in mid-May of last year.

A sort of build up and an agit-prop fro the never-believer focused on a critique of free market capitalism and free market elections is to be found here: Electoral Politics and the Contemporary Crisis of Neoliberalism, and a few updates on the Peace Negotiations here: Prexy’s misstep, Turning out badly: On Duterte and political prisoners, Back to the Peace Table.

The Communist Party of the Philippines’ (Party) decisive move to forge a tactical alliance with the Duterte regime was a result of Duterte’s reaching out to the communist forces primarily for the Peace Talks. It was indeed very recent, not even over a year ago that Duterte made himself understood as a president who wanted peace to be his legacy.

Against all un-dialectical and hasty formulations about how the communist forces failed to detect Duterte’s insincerity, and are therefore too naive for a party of the proletariat, it must be clarified, even just for the sake of argument as I do not speak for the Party, that the Peace Talks is not mainly about sincerity, high hopes, and betrayal. If that were to be affirmed as the meat of Peace Talks and tactical alliances, then are the same people willing to locate where might we be at this point in the phases and loops of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance? I pose the question to show how trajectories of the said formulations can be very absurd.

Meanwhile, criticisms depicting how the Party sold out to and now flip-flops in relation to the Duterte regime reminds me of how bearers of the dominant ideology tend to deal with its contenders: it imprints its consciousness on all. The Duterte regime and the Party’s critics, who claim to be Duterte’s staunch critics, actually share vital ideology themes: consent to the neoliberal order and a deep suspicion and distrust toward subordinate classes. Both camps derive pleasure from a vague suspicion that they are witnessing a very disoriented and weak Party that now has a scant chance of success in pursuing its political project under the Duterte regime.

Against manufactured confusion, an understanding of tactical alliances between oppositional forces like the Party and the State is in order.

Within the course of revolutions, communist parties approach tactics as useful means to attain defined and declared aims. In this particular moment, communist parties make a concrete intervention for class politics and actual classes of people. This means that any tactical alliance is actually more about gathering the interests of the masses, their most urgent needs, desires and aspirations at a particular historical moment and crafting alternatives to be presented and negotiated with those who are in power.

In the case of the Peace Talks, the Party made it very clear that its intervention through the National Democratic Front (NDF) is focused on aims and gains which are achievable within the legal-normative structure. Genuine land reform, national industrialization, upholding the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL) are by no means transcendent objectives and are well within the legal framework. The problem lies, however, in the fact that local oligarchs who are allied with imperialists can no longer rule in the ways of liberal democracy and are therefore not inclined to make adjustments in order for existing conditions to adhere to the system’s normative claims.

In a sense, the Party’s tactical alliance with the Duterte government intervened for class interests which are acknowledged to be within the legal frame referring to reforms long overdue and are in urgent need of concretization. These are reforms which, on account of the state’s duty to protect the interests of the oligarchy, have been part of the objectives of the national democratic revolution. Demanding for rights that are well within the legal framework is not a revolutionary act and if used as items to be agreed upon in the peace table might be deemed by some as tantamount to a compromise. But is there any other way to proceed?

The Party cannot but push for the demand of farmers and national minorities for land reform. The Party cannot but push for the demand of workers for an end to contractualization. The Party cannot but push for policies beneficial to local entrepreneurs, professionals, and others like them who are not necessarily part of the dispossessed. In short, the Party needs to intervene for the rest of us who are not part of the oligarchy. Tactics is therefore a course of action associated with realpolitik but practiced for strategic revolutionary ends. The “tactical attitude”, as Lucaks quaintly calls it, is anchored on “some new practical criterion…to determine it.” And this new criterion can only be hinged on a concept of expedience, which Lucaks admits to be vague, but solves this limitation by establishing “a corresponding distinction…between an immediate, concrete aim and an ultimate objective still remote from the ground of reality.”

What does it mean for revolutionary parties and classes to tarry with a remote expediency? The tension between immediate aims and ultimate objective is bridged by a dialectical and materialist approach to history. By holding fast to the class struggle, the revolutionary classes and parties are able to gauge and determine step by step, leap by leap that this very struggle is at once a goal and its actual realization.

Further, Lucaks thoughtfully argues that the class struggle of the proletariat is not just a struggle with or against realpolitik “but a means whereby humanity liberates itself, a means to the true beginning of human history.” The relevant question to be asked is whether the Party, in its Peace Talks with the Duterte government, pushed for the ruling classes to remain where they are and accumulate even more through reforms clinched at the peace table.

The answer to this question is clearly in the negative. The government panel with the prodding of the military has been pushing for capitulation through a bilateral ceasefire from the get-go. The state intervenes for the oligarchy by making compromises on the latter’s behalf. The Party, on the other hand, claims that a ceasefire without agreements on socio-economic reforms will worsen the conduct and mood of the revolutionary struggle. The Party appears to have decided against ceasefire without reforms because it has decided against tactical deviations within the strategic goals of socialism, which is about right considering the history of revolutionary movements worldwide.

Did the Party achieve something out of the tactical alliance with the Duterte regime? Perhaps not a lot. But some of the necessary steps toward the strengthening of mass base building, agrarian revolution, and revolutionary armed struggle were obviously given a significant push.

The revolutionary classes, based on the campaign statements released by the Party, continue to refer to the implementation of plans that could have only been made in a comprehensive and nationwide meeting of revolutionary forces. The 48th Congress of the Party actually took place in the middle of the Peace Talks. The Party’s claim on an increased number of Filipino masses joining the ranks for the New People’s Army (NPA) over the period of unilateral ceasefire speaks of a well organized command that may have also benefitted from the release of political prisoners suspected as high-ranking party cadres but jailed for trumped-up charges. That the Peace Talks between the GPH and the NDF was an utter waste of time might be true, but obviously not for the communist cadres.

The situation of the urban poor was also revealed in a striking campaign on the right to housing successfully forged and sustained by KADAMAY. There is nothing like the plight of the urban poor haunting the existence of cities— which the Ayalas and Higher Education work so hard to gentrify— to concretize the amount of dispossession by workers involved in the expansion of surplus in a compounded rate. This mode of power which largely shapes contemporary processes of urbanization was interrupted by KADAMAY’s claim to place, a 6,000-unit housing space meant for but rejected by government soldiers.

The organized and politicized urban poor of KADAMAY showed the world a way of remaking spaces by claiming and occupying them in a radical way— through collective and militant action. The redistributive act of the political action was simply difficult for Duterte to dismiss, who at the time was keeping up with the progressive vibe of the Peace Talks and its redistributive trajectory highlighted by the communist forces.

This kind of intersection made possible by the mood and conditions arising from the tactical alliance was repeated in the successful installation of the peasants of MARBAI after being dispossessed and exploited by the Lorenzos of Lapanday. Farmers occupied the land that is rightfully theirs and while surviving threats, journeyed all the way to Manila to demand for their right to be defended by no less than the president of the land.

In two separate occasions during MARBAI’s kampuhan in Mendiola, the militant farmers were caught happily posing in front of cameras: one with President Duterte as he visited the camp and talked to some of its leaders. And the other with peace talks personality and communist figure Wilma Austria well known for her daring to greet the NPA on its anniversary on national TV at the time of her capture, handcuffs and all: “Tuloy ang laban! Binabati ko ang Bagong Hukbong Bayan sa ika-45 anibersaryo nito. Patuloy na lumalakas sa buong bayan. Hindi matalo-talo ng AFP!” (The fight continues! I greet the New People’s Army on its 45th anniversary. It continues to gain strength nationwide. The AFP continually fails to defeat it!”).

Hindi matalo-talo!” (impossible to beat) is a statement shirt I have seen on some militants. It elicits laughter as the statement does not bear the usual thoughtfulness displayed in statement shirts. Those who laugh are the same people who are not missing the context for a second. They get the joke. Once, the revolutionary Bertolt Brecht said something about jokes: “it’s funny because it is true.”

This particular joke would have to be tested once more, what with Duterte’s draconian war on drugs and the communist movement’s current disposition to arouse, organize, and mobilize around this issue; and to intensify tactical offensives all over the land to fight and frustrate Duterte’s assumption of an out and out fascist regime. Did Duterte just have the commies for a ride? Was he insincere from the get-go? Those are nagging questions for those of us who mistake political actions such as tactical alliances in the field of politics for individual choices we usually make in our personal lives and can only be therefore assessed as individual cases: “I feel betrayed, I was naive, I was stupid, Duterte was insincere after all.”

Perhaps this moment in the field of politics is also a crucial time for the revolutionary movement to see how Duterte went all the way to the right after detecting that his political survival depends on the social ills which the Left stand to eliminate. Duterte’s politics informed by the ways of bureaucrat capitalism perhaps saw that his political survival will not be guaranteed given the current strength of the revolutionary mass movement relative to the imperialist and oligarchic interests which define the logics of governance at present. In a way, Duterte’s embrace of fascism is indicative but definitely not the result of the revolutionary movement’s current capacity to turn things upside down.

So those sentiments registered around betrayal and sincerity, or even those rendered in a tone that smacks of arrogance and knowing before the political fact is enacted, “I was never hopeful, I told you so, how stupid of you…” are also indicative of the affective dimensions of our struggle and the capacity of individuals to own up, take responsibility, and make intense individual claims on matters of history and politics.

While I will not for a moment consider reconciling myself with an analysis of the current situation which forgoes what the history of revolutionary movements already know about tactical alliances, I am also compelled to consider how these sentiments also speak to people’s potential to own up to the ethical dilemmas of revolutionary politics. To take responsibility for each person who dies and/or is killed in this struggle against unbridled fascist attacks on our people is effectively a claim on revolution. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

Lucaks, G. Tactics and Ethics 1919-1929. 2014. London:Verso.

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.

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