Philippines: Building a socialist-green-progressive electoral slate

A supporter hangs an election banner at the Partido Lakas ng Masa office in Las Piñas City. Photo: Melgar Tornea/Facebook

Partido Lakas ng Masa (Party of the Labouring Masses, PLM) is fielding an almost full slate of candidates for the May 2022 national election, with aspirants for president, vice-president, the Senate and House of Representatives. 

The PLM is running labour leader Ka Leody de Guzman for president and activist parliamentarian and Laban ng Masa (Fight of the Masses) chairperson Walden Bello for vice-president. 

For the Senate, the PLM is standing workers’ advocate Luke Espiritu and environmental leaders Roy Cabonegro and David D’Angelo. 

The PLM House of Representatives party-list candidates include representatives from public sector unions, people’s organisations, women’s networks and urban poor groups, and is standing in several congressional districts against candidates belonging to political dynasties and local clans.

Bold initiative

The decision to field presidential and vice-presidential candidates represents a bold and unprecedented move for the Philippines left. 

The closest similar experience was the Partido ng Bayan (People’s Party, PnB) campaign in 1987, that stood eight senatorial candidates in elections held a year after the EDSA People’s Power Revolution that brought down the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.

PnB’s failure to win a single seat created a political trauma for the left. While the result was due to a lot of factors, including the left’s boycott of the 1986 election that pitted Cory Aquino against Marcos, the left concluded that it had been an untimely, even adventurous, exercise. 

Since then, the norm for left electoral participation has been to support “lesser evil” bourgeois candidates with the hope they would institute reforms and establish a liberal democracy, thereby creating conditions in which left groups and marginalised parties could grow. 

New strategy

The PLM is pursuing a new strategy of running socialist or left candidates for top national positions to highlight its differences — programmatically and tactically — with trapo (traditional politician) and elite candidates.  

Persisting with the old strategy will merely maintain the cycle of money-popularity-dynastic politics that has come to monopolise Filipino elections, where the main criteria for selecting candidates for national posts has been their capacity to spend billions of pesos, their connections, and their name recognition or popularity among voters (something that has worked well for those with a showbiz background or belonging to a political dynasty). 

This cycle has taken its toll on the national psyche. 

By running for top posts, the PLM hopes to present its program to the greatest number of people possible, especially during the televised debates, and, in the process, mobilise a critical mass in support of its candidates and proposals.

Some have asked why the PLM is not just concentrating on its party-list candidates, where smaller groups have had some success due to the fact these seats are elected by proportional representation? The reality is that the party-list system has been hijacked by trapos and political dynasties and that a party-list seat is no longer a protected seat for marginalised sectors. 

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court, in the case of Atong Paglaum v Comelec, overturned a 2001 decision and ruled that party-list representatives need not be from “marginalised and underrepresented sectors”; rather, it was enough that they advocate common ideologies or principles “regardless of their economic status as citizens.”. 

Since then, more and more party-list candidates have been selected from among the trapos and political dynasties. The situation has become so ridiculous that, for instance, the son of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Mikey Arroyo, is standing as a candidate for a party-list representing security guards and tricycle drivers. 

Lessons of Latin America

The PLM believes it is necessary to learn from left electoral interventions in Latin America. 

In Bolivia, Evo Morales, a socialist campesino organiser and indigenous leader, ran for president in 2002 before winning the 2005 elections. 

Brazil’s Workers Party ran metalworkers’ union leader Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva for president three times before finally winning in 2002.

While the left did not win at first, over a series of electoral interventions left parties were able to make gains, mainly due to the inability of local capitalist regimes to deal with the deteriorating crises they had to confront. 

Through experience, the working masses learnt that they needed to elect leaders capable of putting forward a coherent alternative to the ruling elites.

Building alliances

The PLM’s strategy of directly confronting trapo and elite candidates is also based on building coalitions and alliances. But a genuine opposition can only be built on the basis of a united front of various sectors of the masses, not through alliances with trapos and elite candidates.

The PLM is seeking to build alliances around a socialist-labor-green-progressive platform. It aims to build a fighting alliance around a set of demands that address the issues facing working people, environmentalists, women, the LGBTI community and other marginalised sectors.

The main alliance that the PLM has forged is with the socialist coalition Laban ng Masa. 

The PLM has also built a socialist-green alliance with the environmentalist groups headed by Cabonegro and D’Angelo. 

It has established a labour alliance with senate candidates such as Espiritu, Federation of Free Workers president Sonny Matula, people’s lawyer Neri Colmenares and Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Labor Movement) leader Elmer Bong Labog. 

The PLM has also established a progressive alliance with anti-Duterte and anti-Marcos forces, such as with human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, health and women's rights advocate Risa Hontiveros, jailed human rights activist Leila de Lima, Mindanao women’s leader Samira Gutoc, and government service advocate Agnes Bailen.  

The PLM has defined the sum of these coalitions and alliances as a LEAD alliance — a labour, ecologist and democratic alliance — and is using the hashtag #TimetoLEAD to project it. 

[A version of this article first appeared in . Sonny Melencio is a long-time activist in the Philippines and PLM chairperson. He is the author of Full Quarter Storms: Memoirs and Writings on the Philippine Left.]