It is easy to identify Filipino leftist groups and leaders by reading and watching the news but an ordinary citizen will find it more challenging to recognize rightists.
Leftists are outrightly named and oftentimes insulted in news reports and commentaries in mainstream media. They are the ‘usual suspects’ in Philippine politics whose radical agenda is demonized as anti-Filipino and even utopian while their methods are deemed by authorities to be violent and destructive.
As for rightists, their brand of politics is rarely acknowledged. There are no screaming headlines about what rightists are proposing in congress, there are no prominent politicians who are always tagged as rightists, and there are no reports highlighting researches, dossiers, and advisories spreading suspicion about right-wing agenda.
If the standard articles about the left are replete with historical references, and even condescendingly pinpoint the alleged political blunders of the movement, most articles about rightists leave readers with little knowledge about the bloody legacy of anti-left political forces.
It is as if a glaring error in objective writing is committed if the left is not directly or indirectly made accountable for its past and present actions, while it is acceptable to write about rightists and fail to mention their history and current role in Philippine politics.
Aside from naming leftists and lumping them with all leftists in the world (whether living or dead, Western, Russian or Chinese), the language used to describe them are often derogatory. Leftists are ‘militant’ (but online and offline foreign media equate the word militant with a terrorist or combatant), an NPA-influenced community is ‘infested’ by rebels, and rallyists are reduced to being ‘anti-government protesters’.
Rightists, on the other hand, can espouse their agenda without being defensive about their political label since this is overlooked. Reports focus more on their concrete proposals and not their ideology. Some reports even highlight the personal circumstances of trapo rightists rather than their political orientation.
If Leftists are proud of their leftist tag, so far no rightist politician has ever spoken so openly about their political identity. It does not help that reports neglect to inform the public about the politics of the right.
In many countries, it is common to read profiles of both leftists and rightists. Reports are consistent in naming the proper political backgrounds of politicians. The distinct programs of the left and the right are explained to the public. They are made to understand that choosing either the left or the right is a valid political choice. Hence, it is possible to become a leftist without being red-baited.
But in the Philippines, only leftists are forced to confess their politics and failure to speak about it makes them guilty of hiding a sinister motive. On the other hand, conservative political actors can underperform, break laws, and make a mockery of the political system without being introduced as part of the rightist bloc.
Imagine the impact of this one-sided framing of discourse on the general public. Young citizens are bombarded with daily reports about what regular politicians are doing and these are contrasted to what leftist groups and leaders are offering as alternative.
Citizens are exposed to a lopsided political education that normalizes rightist machinations while vilifying leftist organizing.
They might end up thinking that the unnamed extreme rightwing dominance in politics is what counts as the only rational way of life, and that the presence of the organized left in mainstream society constitutes an aberration. That there is only one fundamentalist manifestation of politics: leftwing aggression. Because of this, many might find it acceptable that a cabal of well-funded reactionary rightists can claim political power but reject the agitation of leftists as a threat to democracy.
A leftist is seen as a person ready to indoctrinate the public with her socialist or communist beliefs. She is linked to suspicious groups conspiring against the Republic. But a real existing rightist is rendered hidden from public gaze. When citizens encounter a rightist politician, they fail to see a person already succeeding in imposing his dogmatic political beliefs in the bureaucracy. They don’t even see him as a political actor with ideological bias. They are also unable to connect the ties between rightist politicians with the country’s old and new oppressors. How could they suspect rightists if they were made blind to see politicians for what they really represent? Instead, they were taught to be critical of groups striving to manipulate the public with their ideological propaganda. In the case of the Philippines, the left and only the left is the only political force which is constantly named and condemned at the same time for promoting its ideology in mainstream society.
Will naming rightists in politics undermine their nefarious influence? Perhaps not. But we will be doing a public service because it will help clarify the basic affiliations of politicians and various partisan groups.
In the meantime, we should review our political awakening and try to remember if our initial reluctance to study the politics of the left was really motivated by a deep distrust of radicalism or could it be the outcome of years of being mind-conditioned by a political culture dominated by reactionary rightist forces.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org