Philippine left unites and claims the streets

November 3, 1999


Philippine left unites and claims the streets

By Reihana Mohideen

Manila — A broad alliance consisting of the "white forces" of the Catholic Church, the "yellow forces" of the supporters of the former president Cory Aquino and the "red forces" of the left mobilised in demonstrations around 100,000 strong in August and September against anti-democratic changes to the Philippine constitution threatened by current President Joseph Estrada.

These colour-coded rallies of the three major political blocs have unified under the demand "Reject Cha Cha" (the charter change).

The constitutional amendments, driven by the dictates of the International Monetary Fund, threaten to further "open up" the economy to exploitation by transnational companies.

They include the removal of any restrictions on foreign ownership of land and local industries and downgrading of provisions that give priority to local industry. The political amendments include greater restrictions on trade union rights, the scrapping of the minimum wage law, anti-democratic changes to the bill of rights and the extension of the four-year terms of members of the Congress, the Senate and local government to six years.

The forces of the church, led by the archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin, and the Aquino forces have not taken a clear position against the economic changes, primarily opposing the extension of the term in office of politicians, but seem prepared to unite with the left around the general demand of rejecting any changes to the constitution.

The current constitution is a by-product of the people's rebellion that overthrew the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. Several progressive concessions, including a more progressive constitution, were wrested from the newly elected pro-capitalist Aquino administration in the immediate aftermath of the rebellion.

These changes included greater democratic rights and some protection of the national economy against the vagaries of the IMF and its big-business backers. Defending the democratic space won by the people's rebellion is crucial for the strengthening of the left and workers movement in this period.

While Estrada is attempting to woo the church and the Aquino forces by promising not to push through the political amendments, the left argues that any of the proposed changes to the constitution, however small, will be a foot in the door to a major attack against the left and workers' movement.

Already there are attempts to put forward Senate resolutions to revive the notorious anti-subversion law of the Marcos era which illegalised the Communist Party of the Philippines.

A united rally of the majority of the left groups, the church and Aquino forces mobilised 80,000 people in Manila on August 20. A separate rally of the left on September 21, the 27th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by the dictator Marcos, mobilised around 15,000 activists in Manila.

While Cory Aquino and Cardinal Sin did not join the September 21 rally, they called for a "noise barrage" on the day (this involves the ringing of church bells, the drumming of pots and pans and other instruments, and is a form of action associated with the anti-dictatorship struggle), thus giving indirect support to the demonstration by the left forces.

The campaign continues. According to Sonny Melencio, the chairperson of the Socialist Party of Labour (SPP), "The recent demonstrations indicate the revival of the organised left groups claiming the streets again". This is even acknowledged by the "yellow" and "white" forces.

The regroupment of the left has now been simplified into three main groups — those aligned with the Communist Party of the Philippines; those aligned with Popoy Lagman and the BMP (Solidarity of Filipino Workers); and the united left forces (Movement for National Democracy, Alab Katipunan, Bisig, Freedom From Debt Coalition, the SPP, Katipunang Anakpawis ng Pilipinas and others), which have consistently united in joint actions in the last period.

Although the CPP-aligned forces and the BMP had their own separate protests, the recent demonstrations represented the biggest and most consolidated united left actions.

The simplification of the left into three major groupings is very significant considering that it was divided into 10 or more groupings until quite recently. At the heart of this process are the regroupment of parties and the discussions going on between the various parties and political groupings.

"Despite some of the divisions which have as yet to be overcome, the left is still a considerable force and the divisions are being bridged", Melencio said. "As long as the left can maintain its militancy, as long as the social vanguard can unite its forces, it can take the leadership of the impending mass eruptions.

"The crucial challenge facing the Philippine left today is to regroup this vanguard. The opportunity to do this exists now. But it won't last forever. Because part of this vanguard can drift in a more right wing direction — into the realm of focusing purely on the 'do-able' — these are the 'possibilists' in the Philippine political setting.

"The left can also be dispersed purely into a trade unionist or 'movementist' type of politics, and can become easily disoriented. This points to the need to form a united left party. This should be the project of the entire left."

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