In the 1990s we asked, what if members of the Leftist Democratic Alliance (DA) were allowed to serve their full term as Congress representatives in 1946? What could have been its impact on Philippine politics? We could only speculate an answer at that time but perhaps a better insight is possible now by studying the experience of Leftist partylist groups that entered Congress in 1998.
This is the 20th year since Bayan Muna topped the partylist election which was held a few months after the historic Edsa Dos. The significance of this cannot be overlooked. My generation and those that preceded us were politicized with the Left serving as mere spectators of congressional intramurals. But a new generation of activists has since emerged which already saw the Left’s partylist work in Congress as part and parcel of Philippine politics.
Perhaps the passage of the partylist law in 1995 will be cited by scholars for paving the way for the Left’s entry in Congress. But what really enabled this to happen was the rectification movement which coincided with the Ramos era. Without this, the Left would not have reinvigorated itself which allowed it to participate in mainstream elections.
The rectification movement was primarily an education campaign that affirmed the Left’s national democratic orientation; and this included a review of what transpired in the 1980s such as the boycott error and the Partido ng Bayan experience.
Before 2001, the Left’s attitude towards elections was summed up by highlighting the deleterious consequences of the boycott decision. What is often ignored by analysts is the Left’s decision to form an electoral party and field candidates in the 1987 election. The loss was traumatic in terms of the violence inflicted on volunteers and candidates. It was a grim reminder of the Left’s critique of the bourgeois-controlled, fraud-prone, and violent electoral system which influenced how progressive forces would situate themselves during election cycles in the next decade.
The rectification movement provided an opportunity to build ideological unity which boosted the strength of mass organizations and their confidence to pursue bolder political initiatives. It is this context that informed the actions of the Left when it rallied the people in Edsa Dos and its subsequent successful participation in the partylist elections.
Bayan Muna made history in 2001 and its victory inspired the formation of sector-based partylist groups in 2004 and 2007.
So, what did the Left achieve after two decades of dabbling in electoral struggle?
Researchers can make an independent quantitative review of the Left’s output in Congress. They can confirm that the Left has been consistently prolific in terms of the bills, resolutions, and speeches produced by its representatives. The laws it authored are neither parochial nor Palace-sponsored. Contrary to state propaganda, the records would also show that Leftist legislators voted in favor of most measures endorsed by the government. It reserved its strongest opposition to blatantly anti-people and anti-poor legislation, and every Malacanang maneuver to undermine checks and balances.
It dutifully served the role of an opposition force guided by its principles and program of action while bridging the agenda of the other parliament, the parliament of the streets.
It is the real minority, but a minority within a minority. An opposition bloc that cannot be swayed by pork barrel allocation, bureaucratic perks, evil corporate lobbying, and even prosecution based on trumped-up cases.
It is lacking in numbers that matter – money for patronage and members to constitute a majority bloc. But it thrived because it has the numbers that really matter – a growing electoral base, engaged constituency, and a credible track record of public service.
For a political force known for challenging unjust laws, its members are surprisingly among the most behaved in Batasan. After two decades, no Leftist legislator has been ejected from the plenary for causing a ruckus or engaging in a fistfight. The Left can’t be lumped with other notorious absentee and tardy members of the House of Representatives.
When reports allege that Leftist solons are involved in supposedly unethical transactions, these refer to the political activities of partylist groups. Reactionary politicians and pundits are not impressed with the Left’s performance in Congress because what they seek to control is the political influence of the movement. They assumed that the Left’s comprehensive outlook in politics will be modified by the default blinders in a conservative institution like Congress. They wanted the Left to abandon its vision for a holistic social transformation in favor of congress-dependent reformism.
The Left is harshly judged for refusing to conform to what the ruling classes expected it to perform. Thus, its dissent inside Congress is demonized while its political organizing is deemed criminal.
The Left is incapable of being correct in the eyes of its rivals. It is extremely radical for the status quo defenders but its legislative work is also suspect for those who disdain engagement with traditional political forces. Leftist electoral parties cannot endorse mainstream candidates without eliciting accusations of cooptation and opportunism.
Yet it is members of the Left who have been targeted by state-backed terrorism.
The Left is cautious in enumerating its achievements in Congress since it might provoke another wave of aggression. It is also sensitive to speculative denunciation that its work in government institutions triggered the rise of despots like Gloria Arroyo and Rodrigo Duterte.
I can never be a disinterested chronicler of how the Left conducted its political work inside Congress and its impact on the struggle for national democracy. There is a time for everything including being summoned by History to testify about the roles we played in the people’s resistance.
The challenge today is how we mobilize and push back against attempts to disenfranchise voters and outlaw Leftist partylist groups. It is part of the bigger fight against the tyranny of Duterte.
It is easy to imagine a Congress without the Left, but are we sure this is the end goal? When DA members were expelled from Congress in 1946, the exploiting classes quickly maneuvered to pass anti-people laws, which led to the plunder and devastation of Philippine economy. We need to recall the link of what was done to DA and the sinister motive of pro-imperialist forces in order to fully understand the real intent of the incumbent government in their aggressive push for the ouster of Leftists in Congress.