On October 23-24, 1000 delegates and activists met in Manila to form a new socialist organisation, MAKABAYAN (Liberation Movement of the Sons and Daughters of the People). The founding congress elected a leadership council, decided on a national plan of action and adopted a constitution and programmatic theses.
MAKABAYAN is being built by activists of the old Manila branch of BAYAN. Sonny Melencio was elected vice-chairperson. He is author of the popular book, Lunas Sa Kahirapan (Prescriptions for Poverty), which is used by the trade union movement as basic reading.
According to Melencio, MAKABAYAN will start with about 10,000 members in 120 chapters.
Speaking to Reihana Mohideen, a member of the National Executive of the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia, who was at the congress and delivered a keynote speech on "The Prospects for Socialism", Melencio said that the formation of MAKABAYAN is the first time that the so-called national democratic bloc will have an organisation that is openly socialist.
"We call ourselves the socialist revolutionaries in the Philippines. We have defaulted on this task in the past because we have limited our propaganda within the framework of national democracy. It does not answer the problems, especially of the working class and the urban poor."
Melencio had been active earlier in the KMU union federation. He explained that many workers used to press him about the lack of a perspective addressing their struggle around wages and factory conditions, against the capitalists. "Our propaganda around nationalism and democracy centred on land reform, which did not directly mean anything for them. All we could say was that these matters must wait for the arrival of national democracy in the Philippines."
MAKABAYAN will campaign for socialism among the working class and urban poor and will also work in alliances with other pro-socialist political blocs.
The organisation has introduced other new elements. Instead of adopting the old formulation about Philippine society being "semi-feudal, semi-colonial", it says the country is in a transitional stage "characterised by the existence of a range of different production relations and by the increased penetration of capitalism, which is the direction of this development".
Capitalism is penetrating into the countryside, causing large numbers of people to lose their land and creating a massive army of rural unemployed.
Melencio told Mohideen that MAKABAYAN was taking a new attitude towards women's liberation. "In the past all we ever did was try to get women to join the struggle. But now we are putting forward a socialist position on women's liberation, so that this question is addressed in its own right, as a part of the socialist agenda."
The conference rejected Stalinist theory and practice. "We have adopted a democratic constitution", said Melencio. "It protects the rights of minorities, emphasises their right to express their views, develop their positions, publish their own materials and distribute it to the membership."
MAKABAYAN will publish its own journal. It will join any umbrella alliances fighting for people's rights, as well as alliances with other political blocs.
"We decided to mobilise for the Bonifacio national day rally on November 30, especially the trade unions and urban poor, which are the groups we wish to win as our mass base. We will also prepare for local council elections next year, especially in the areas where there are concentrations of urban poor and workers."
Melencio confirmed that there was potential for a MAKABAYAN-style organisation in other areas where Communist Party branches are going independent, such as Central Mindanao and Negros. "But their urban forces are very undeveloped. These areas have concentrated on work in the mountain areas, not the plains and the urban areas."