By Pip Hinman and Peter Boyle
MANILA — Arrests and murders of Philippines leftists have increased in recent weeks. This is the response of the Ramos government and armed forces as they have come to realise that the left has been revitalised by a split in which significant sections of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) have declared their autonomy from the old leadership of the party, which they accuse of being Stalinist. With them have gone nearly half of the party's 30,000 members.
Leaders of this anti-Stalinist wing point to the 100,000-strong mass mobilisation in Manila on Bonifacio Day (marking the 130th birthday of nationalist hero Andres Bonifacio), November 30, as a turning point. The anti-Stalinist left gained massively in morale, but the ruling elite also took note. A spokesperson for the Manila Rizal Regional Committee (MRRC) of the CPP said the Ramos regime's new fear of the left was the major reason for the increase in harassment by the armed forces.
The wing which has remained loyal to CPP leader and Maoist ideologue Jose Maria Sison argue that the left has been weakened by what they claim is not an internal dispute, but a conspiracy by the Ramos regime to isolate the left.
However, MRRC leaders who spoke to Green Left said that the show of strength by the new left on November 30 shocked the Ramos regime, and showed that despite the internal debate, the left was increasing in strength. The rally was initiated by mass organisations aligned to the anti-Stalinist left and was the biggest demonstration organised by the left for many years.
The military is certainly seeking to exploit the debate that has split the CPP. Following the Sison wing's public announcement late last year that it had "tried" and "expelled" a number of dissident CPP leaders on charges including "gangsterism", "immorality", "corruption", "connivance with anti-communist politicians", "grave abuse of authority", "robbery", "thievery" and "treachery", the military stated that it expected violence to break out between the CPP factions because, in the past, the penalties for such "crimes" against the party have included the death sentence.
Those expelled by Sison include Felimon Lagman, alleged head of the Manila Rizal CPP committee; Arturo Tabara, alleged head of the Visayas commission; Romulo Kintanar, alleged former chief of the New People's Army; and Ricardo Reyes, former CPP secretary general. Tabara was one of five Visayas leaders captured by the armed forces in early January from Bacolod City. All but two remain in custody without charges.
Lagman described the charges levelled against them by the CPP's so-called people's courts as "a desperate campaign of slander". What should have been an ideological and theoretical debate, he said, was being turned by Sison into a potential "bloody intrigue". He warned that the government and the armed forces could take advantage of the filing of the charges to assassinate the anti-Stalinist leaders and blame it on the CPP.
According to Reyes, the Sison supporters have resorted to intimidation and violence in order to scare other members of the CPP into pledging loyalty to Sison. "They are turning the Communist Party ... into a party of ideological and political dinosaurs", he told the Philippines Inquirer.
CPP opposition leaders say that for years they have campaigned to have a debate over strategy in the party, but have always been resisted. On December 12, Visayas commission members issued another call for a nationwide CPP congress. The CPP has not had a congress since its founding congress in 1968.
The enormous success of the Bonifacio Day mobilisation sent a message, not only to the Ramos government but also to the Stalinist wing of the CPP, that the debate has fostered a new and stronger left.
According to the MRRC's internal assessment of the November 30 mobilisation, shown to Green Left, forces aligned to MR mobilised two-thirds of the 100,000 who attended. The rest were organised by other left groups and trade unions involved in the coalition organised for the mobilisation. According to a Manila rally organiser, Sara Rosales, about 36,000 of participants were factory workers, and 27,000 were from community organisations.
By contrast, the pro-Sison May 1 Movement or KMU managed to mobilise fewer than 3000 in a counter-rally held on the same day.
Apart from the Manila mobilisation on November 30, rallies were held in Cebu in the Visayas and in the southern cities of Davao and Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao.
The rally organising committee, Solidarity with the Toiling Masses (KAP), involved some 20 organisations, including Sanlakas, the newly formed national democratic alliance. Sonny Rivera, chairperson of Sanlakas, told Green Left that Sanlakas and its affiliated labour, peasant, student and urban poor organisations were able to form broad sectoral and multi-sectoral alliances in many new regions and districts.
The CPP(MR) says that in the process of building the rally, a range of new areas were opened up. At least 62 new urban poor communities have now linked up with 126 new legal organisations. The union sector has made 156 new contacts. One and half million pieces of propaganda were distributed, including manifestos, posters, comics and fliers. The show of strength by the new left, so soon after the formal realignments, is "concrete proof of the Manila-Rizal party committee's leadership" and puts a decisive end to the claim of the Sison faction that MR was "a small force".
The main demands of the rally included an across-the-board wage rise of 35 pesos (A$2) a day, a moratorium on demolitions and provision of housing for the urban poor, and end to land being taken from farmers for development into industrial zones or shopping centres, and agricultural reforms.
We marched along with the largest of several vocal and spirited feeder marches which converged on Rizal Park, the venue of the rally. The atmosphere was both militant and festive as people took to the streets in their workplace contingents. We were left in no doubt that this was the most significant achievement for the Filipino left since the toppling of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
As people made their way down Quezon Boulevard, one of Manila's main arteries, young militants chanted and daubed red slogans on the roadside calling for an end to the Ramos regime and its alliance with US imperialism, and for resistance to the IMF-World Bank dictatorship. Other slogans condemned "Philippines 2000" — the government's attempt to attract foreign capita. Meanwhile, at every underpass, contingents took the opportunity to belt out — without being seen by the military — "illegal" slogans such as "Revolution!" and "Long live the CPP Manila Rizal!".
There were also calls for socialism and an end to Stalinism, a theme which was taken up on banners hanging from building sites in the Quaipo area close to central Manila.
Also marching was the new university student organisation Kamalayan (Consciousness), which broke away from the Stalinist-dominated League of Filipino Students. Former LFS (National Capital Region) chairperson Khermin Azucena told Green Left that Kamalayan had a convention on November 20 attended by student leaders from every campus in the Manila Rizal region. He stressed that the new organisation, which he described as "anti-Stalinist and non-dogmatic", believed in all forms of struggle. Kamalayan had its founding conference on December 11.
Roger Borromeo, chairperson of the United Congress of the Urban Poor (KPML), which had a contingent of around 30,000 at the rally, told Green Left, "The government is carrying out indiscriminate [housing] demolitions in the urban poor areas. So far 4000 families have been affected." According to KPML, "Ramos went to the United States [in November] to sell the Philippines. He's just continuing the policies of Marcos. It's nothing new."
The size of the rally made it possible for underground organisations, including the urban partisan group Alex Boncayao Brigade (formed to protect the urban poor from corrupt military and police officials and other criminals), to hand out leaflets and collect donations for their cause. A member of the underground CPP told Green Left that the underground was "the backbone of the mobilisation" and that "underground activists are central to the legal organisations".
Every contingent expressed solidarity with the others' demands. The well-organised street sweepers and garbage collectors, who carried makeshift banners from rubbish bags, received rounds of applause when they entered the stadium chanting, "The public workers are with you; we are struggling on the streets every day!"
A range of speakers addressed the rally's key demands. Tony Cabardo, on behalf of the KAP, gave a very agitational speech urging the rally to continue the struggle started by Andres Bonifacio, one of the most militant leaders of the rebellion against the Spanish colonialists in 1896. But, he said, "Remembering the Supremo is not enough! It will give no meaning to the celebrations today. To fight oppression and exploitation, and to fight for the welfare of the country and of the people — that is the legacy of our history, the legacy of Andres Bonifacio.
"The realisation of Bonifacio's struggle needs to be completed. It is our promise. A promise to build a new mass movement, a new Katipunan [assembly] of our epoch. A new movement that will make the toiling masses the new vanguard of our time."
Cabardo called for a new national people's movement which could liberate the working class, and declared Bonifacio Day a day in solidarity with the working masses. Referring to the present realignments under way on the left, he said, "A scattered, independent and sectarian struggle will certainly fail. It's time to break the wall that divides us. In unity there is strength. The struggle of one is the demand of all ... Be prepared, Ramos: the sea of people gathered today will go back to the streets broader in number in escalating our actions."
Labour leaders in Cagayan de Oro, an industrial and port city in the north of Mindanao, and in other cities in Mindanao and the Visayas described the Metro Manila Wages Board which had just granted a conditional P27 pay rise in two instalments staggered over four months, as "pro-business" and demanded its abolition.
The Labor Alliance for a Wage Increase of P35 (LAWIN) has come out strongly against the meagre rise, especially in the light of the Ramos government's agreement to allow petroleum companies to increase the price of petroleum products by at least P2 a litre. This rise is expected to raise the price of basic goods by as much as 18%.
Business leaders and Ramos have opposed the P35 demand (A$2) saying it would lead to double digit inflation in 1994 and that the country couldn't afford it. Business leaders have even complained about the P27 rise, which is only to go to Metro Manila workers earning less than P154 (A$9) a day.
Romy Castillo, chairperson of the United Workers for Change (BMP) told Green Left that the government response to the wages demand was unacceptable to the workers. "We want a national P35 rise across the board, without exceptions, without regionalisations, without it being staggered." He said that there was a possibility of a general strike if the government did not concede.
The deepening economic and social crisis in the Philippines helps explain why the November 30 mobilisation was so large. Government predictions of a 4.5% growth in the economy this year look doubtful given the last two years of decline. And while government propaganda links the Philippines' recovery to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group, it's more likely to sink into even greater poverty as it is forced to compete with faster growing economies in the Asian region.
High unemployment and low wages have forced many Filipinos overseas in search of jobs. There is a saying in the Philippines, that if everyone's one wish was granted, there would be no-one left in the country! Yet the lives that overseas contract workers (OCWs) lead is not a pleasant one; they are harshly exploited and underpaid and can often return home once only every two years.
According to a feature article in the November 11 Philippines Chronicle, since 1984, the Philippines has emerged as the largest labour-exporting country in Asia, followed by India and Thailand. From 1985 to 1989, the Philippines sent an average of 440,000 workers overseas each year. If illegals are included, between 700,000 and 1 million Filipinos leave the country each year to work overseas.
Remittances from OCWs form the country's biggest foreign exchange earner, bringing in US$1.8 billion in 1992. Today the Middle East is the largest market for Philippines labour.
Those without jobs, or under-employed, end up as part of the "urban poor". Many are farmers, who, due to the lack of public transportation, are not able to get their produce to market for sale. They migrate to the cities looking for work, and end up living in poverty, doing almost anything to earn a few pesos.
In Metro Manila alone, as of early 1992, the Presidential Commission on the Urban Poor reported that there were 1.9 million squatters. In Metro Davao, in Mindanao, there were 286,942 squatters, and in metro Cebu in the Visayas, 95,397. Other urban centres reportedly had 615,365 squatters, bringing the total to 2,897,702.
Of course, these figures can only be read as rough guides, but they do give a picture of the enormity of the social crisis, a crisis which the Ramos government's attacks on the left will intensify.