By Max Lane
The leftist Partido ng Bayan (People's Party) has called on the new Philippines president, Fidel Ramos, to take specific measures towards a political settlement of the country's ongoing insurgency.
Ramos, who was inaugurated on June 30, has inherited a worsening social and economic situation brought about by the Aquino government's unrelenting subservience to IMF and World Bank imposed "solutions" to the economic crisis in the Philippines. At the moment some 39% of the 1993 budget will go to payment of the foreign debt. Lack of investment, worsened by a severe power crisis, has exacerbated the situation.
Increasing poverty and extensive militarisation ensure continuing support for the underground revolutionary movement, the National Democratic Front and its armed wing, the New People's Army. While many commentators have argued that the NPA has lost ground, it remains a major force in the countryside and one of the major players in national politics.
All presidential candidates had to indicate some kind of willingness to seek a political settlement with the NDF as part of their political platform. Aquino had already been pursuing talks with the NDF, and her representative, Congressman Yap, had held meetings in the Netherlands and Hong Kong. Ramos has indicated he wishes Yap to continue these efforts.
The Partido ng Bayan is part of the broad national democratic movement which is seen as holding similar views to the NDF on many issues. The PnB statement set out six policy initiatives which it said are needed to demonstrate Ramos' good will:
- rejection of IMF and World Bank insistence on orienting towards exports and foreign investment;
- refusal to give into the US multinational Westinghouse and by reactivating the Bataan nuclear power plant built on order of Marcos;
- a limit on the amount of foreign debt to be serviced each year and repeal of a law requiring the government to complete all foreign debt repayments before allocating budget money to other items;
- reinstatement of sacked teachers who are on a hunger strike;
- the disbanding of the local militia units (CAGFU), which operate as the "grassroots" instrument of repression, especially in the countryside and rural towns;
- the unconditional release of all political
This last demand was reinforced by a joint statement from four major human rights groups calling for all 640 documented political prisoners to be released. The four organisations also described incidents in which human rights workers, doctors and lawyers had been kidnapped and killed by armed right-wing vigilantes.
It is doubtful that the government will be able to deal with this fundamental demand. Congressman Yap has already said that many of the people referred to by human rights groups have been charged with criminal rather than political crimes and therefore, in the government's eyes, can not be classified as political prisoners.
Moreover, the Filipino ruling class is crippled by its own political crisis. Since the overthrow of Marcos in 1986, the ruling class has split into several factions. Ramos defeated four other serious candidates in the presidential election, but the vote was almost evenly spread among the top four.
Ramon Mitra, put forward by the Liberal Democratic Party, had the backing of the country's biggest party machine, based in the network of big landed families. Eduardo Cojuangco split some of these away from Mitra with massive pay-outs, but he also represented the network of big businessmen and landlords who had been closest to Marcos during the dictatorship. Jovita Salonga, of the Liberal Party, was backed by the more urban-based and liberal wing of the bourgeoisie.
Ramos seemed to have the backing of much of the central bureaucracy as well as elements from all of these other groupings. This was a new development: the partial breakdown of the political influence of the old landed and wealthy families who have dominated party politics for so long. This was seen in both Ramos' ability to split segments away from these groups and in the ability of populist demagogue Miriam Santiago to win almost 20% of the vote without any major family backing.
At the same time, all these major factions have their links into the armed forces, leaving them also severely factionalised.