Left-wing parties ran a separate Senate campaign in the May 13 Philippines elections to the mainstream opposition parties, which ran as part of the Otso Diretso electoral alliance.
Centred round the Liberal Party of former President Ninoy Aquino, these opposition parties have a better record on human rights and respect for the rule of law than psychotic incumbent, President Rodrigo Duterte, but are still dominated by corrupt trapos — traditional politicians from the political dynasties of the ruling oligarchy.
However, one Otso Diretso candidate endorsed by the left-wing Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM) was Samira Gutoc, who ran on a platform supporting minorities' and women's rights.
Gutoc is from Mindanao, where the Muslim Moro population have been waging a long-running national liberation struggle. Her home town, Marawi, was the scene of a violent confrontation in 2017, when Duterte responded to relatively small-scale terrorist and criminal violence by declaring martial law. Duterte sent in the air force, which destroyed the town, killing more than 1000 people and displacing hundreds of thousands.
“During the campaign, [Gutoc] went to Marawi to show what was happening — it is still like Ground Zero,” PLM chairperson Sonny Melencio told Green Left Weekly. “There was no support coming from the Philippines government ... for its restoration. Duterte was saying: ‘Why should I restore it, let the Muslim rich fix it themselves ... it is not government property.’
“This area was slated for the rich to come in, for ‘disaster capitalism’. The plan for Marawi is for the Filipino oligarchy to come in and set up industries and divide up the place for their own profits. Of course large chunks [of that] will go to the Duterte clan.”
Despite this, Duterte has continued the ongoing peace and autonomy process, which Gutoc has been involved in.
“The autonomy process in Mindanao was started by the previous administration. The intention is to pacify the struggle in Mindanao, so as to make use of the whole area economically, for the advantage of the imperialists and the local ruling classes,” Melencio said. “But I don't think they can control the situation there. They have offered the autonomy process to the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), which is the main group that has been fighting for Bangsamoro rights, including for secession from the Philippines.
“It is not very clear what will happen. Right now you have the MILF and those who have fought for their rights in that area, and you have the ruling clans of the Moro, which have for a long time colluded with the ruling elite of the Philippines.
“The clans control the previous set-up: the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Now this will be dissolved in favour of a new parliamentary set-up.
“The clans will still be there, because they are warlords and [have been] the favoured groups of the Filipino elite for quite a long time. Duterte supports some of them, like the Mangudadatu clan.
“One of the patriarchs of the Mangudadatu clan ran for the Senate as part of Duterte's grouping. Duterte is not supporting the progressive groups in Mindanao. He will be, more and more, supporting the trapos and the warlords and the ruling clans, who he has been working with for a long time.”
Melencio pointed to the example of the typhoon-devastated island of Leyte to illustrate the type of disaster capitalism planned for Marawi:
“After Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, the survivors were relocated to other areas where they did not even have decent housing or drinking water. That is why most of them have come back to the main cities — but not to the areas where they lived before ... [They are] on the periphery, trying to survive. The areas destroyed by the typhoon have been taken over by big corporations, to set up industries, malls and subdivisions. Groups there are asking: where is the foreign aid that was given?”