Philippines: 'Asia needs ALBA-style integration'

Sunday, May 25, 2014
Unions affiliated with the Solidarity of Filipino Workers (BMP) federation used to have memberships running into hundreds of thousands, but with huge factory closures, it only has about 70,000 members in the remaining unions.

Sonny Melencio is chairperson of the Filipino Party of the Labouring Masses (PLM) and a former council member of Solidarity of Filipino Workers (BMP).

Melencio is also involved in a new coalition against the established “political dynasties” in the Philippines, called Alliance for Truth, Integrity and Nationalism (ATIN).

Melencio will be one of several international guest speakers at the Socialist Alliance 10th national conference in Sydney, June 7 to 9 where he will be part of the one-day public seminar, People's Power In the “Asian Century”. You can find out more about the conference, and how to register here.

Green Left Weekly interviewed Melencio about the PLM's campaigns and ideas.

* * *

There has been a lot of discussion about the industralisation of China and India. How has this development affected the Philippines?

The “Asian Century” is being marked in the Philippines by talks about the need for the integration of the economies of the 10 Association of Southeastern Asian Nations. So-called “ASEAN integration” talks are concluding next year.

The integration is also being pushed by China and, to a degree, India. But the big industrial economies inside and outside the region are also betting on it. These include Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

The objective is the integration of the ASEAN economies into the global neoliberal capitalist economy. Since the ASEAN Six (Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei) have long been part of the global capitalist economy, the integration is focused on the so-called “transitional economies” of the newer member states ― Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

The integration is not even a plan to “regionalise” the economies of the ASEAN countries on the model of the European Union. It is a schema whereby the imperialist and big industrialised nations can control and dominate the region’s economy and resources.

The planned integration is not to the advantage of the Philippines or most ASEAN countries.

Its impact on the working class will bad. Integration will facilitate capitalism's search for the lowest labour costs in the region.

The Filipino people already experienced the negative effects of “globalisation” in the 1980s and '90s, when many industries collapsed and workers lost their jobs. The unions affiliated with the BMP alone used to have memberships running into hundreds of thousands, but with huge factory closures, we now have only around 70,000 members in the remaining unions. Our situation is similar to other union centres.

The government has not done anything to alleviate the impact on the working class. It has merely continued with its labour export policy. One in 10 Filipino workers are now shipped abroad to work or find work.

What consequences does this have for left strategy and tactics in Asia?

The left and the working class were not prepared for the disastrous impact of capitalist globalisation in the 1980s and '90s. This time, we hope to be able to prepare for the disaster by preparing for widespread and crippling mass actions against the shutdown of industries.

This is the only recourse left for the working class in the Philippines. It means we have to build unity among the different left blocs and trade unions.

There have been some positive developments in trade union unity in the past three years. A broad trade union grouping has formed called Nagkaisa (Unity). This May Day, Nagkaisa held the biggest workers’ rally since 2000. Only the Maoist left stayed out of Nagkaisa and held its own rally.

The traditional working class (industrial and service workers) constitute about 30% of the labour force today. The so-called urban poor (those without regular jobs or those categorised as informal labour) are about 35% of the labour force, and growing.

ASEAN integration will swell the informal sectors as more factories and industries close down. We need a left strategy that takes this into consideration. The working class movement has to integrate the demands and struggles of the urban poor.

We also need a strategy that can muster the demands of the millions of Filipino overseas workers, who are keeping the economy afloat by sending billions of dollars back yearly to the Philippines.

Finally, we need a strategy that builds solidarity among left groups and the working classes across the region. ASEAN integration is pushing competition between countries and among the working class. The left should counter this by pursuing solidarity links and actions across the region.

There has been a widening acceptance among the Filipino left of a strategy that veers away from the old Maoist schema of “people’s war” or guerrilla warfare. The developing strategy is preparing the working class for mass uprisings as the economic and political crisis continues to mount.

The strategy is a mix of developing mass struggles and street actions, and intervening in elections and mainstream politics to get a hearing and seeking to make use of political opportunities in parliament and government to advance the revolutionary struggle.

The PLM is developing its capacity to lead street actions and electoral interventions. It is building alliances to pursue both components.

The PLM is part of the anti-political dynasty movement that have been campaigning against the “pork barrel” system.

PLM was registered as a national political party last year, so we ran candidates from the national to local levels to campaign against elite rule in the country. Our focus though is in intervening in grassroots local councils (the barangay councils) that would allow us to build a mass base in local communities.

We have just formed a broad electoral coalition called Alliance for Truth, Integrity and Nationalism. It is a coalition composed of former senatorial candidates who ran on the platform of anti-political dynasty during last year’s election, and broad groups from different sectors.

The coalition will prepare a full list of candidates for the 2016 elections. In the succeeding months, it will conduct education and street campaigns nationwide.

Please explain the new discussion about “bayanihan socialism” in the PLM. What is its genesis, how do you think it could develop and what are the main challenges?

Bayanihan socialism is our way of explaining and pursuing socialism in the 21st century. It is inspired by the Latin American efforts of pursuing socialism with local colour, as in the Bolivarian socialism in Venezuela, communitarian socialism in Bolivia, and buen vivir (living well) socialism in Ecuador.

Bayanihan in the Philippines context means solidarity, or the coming together of people to support each other without expecting payment. People today understand it as a longtime practice of our ancestors during the communal period, something akin to communal spirit.

In recent calamities that have hit the Philippines, such as the recent Yolanda (Haiyan) super typhoon that killed about 10,000 people, the term bayanihan was used repeatedly to refer to people giving whatever they have to help those in need.

Even capitalists and the elite government called for bayanihan, and sent relief materials and support to the typhoon survivors.

But their bayanihan was only for a limited period. After a week, they stopped the bayanihan and called on people to return to the capitalist mode of working and paying for what they need.

In linking socialism with the bayanihan spirit, all we are saying is why not make bayanihan a social system that occurs 24/7 or 12 months ayear. Why not re-institute a system where society’s wealth is not privately owned, but redistributed to everyone in need?

Regional politics is being shaped by the US “pivot” to Asia and associated new military agreements and bases. What should the Asian left counterpose to this?

We see two types of regional integration happening in the world today. One is the integration like the ASEAN one, which is in service of the imperialist powers and transnational corporations.

Since this integration benefits only a few imperialist and big-time capitalist powers, they need to implement it with military might.

The US has long been trying to maintain its rule as the single military power in the world. The US pivot is in line with this.

It will move at least 60% of US warships from anywhere in the world to patrol Asia. It will build new US bases in Japan, South Korea and Guam, and deploy more “rotational troops” and war materials in Australia and the Philippines.

During Obama's recent visit in the Philippines, the military pivot was fast-tracked in a bilateral pact called the “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement”. It gives de facto basing rights to the US military in the Philippines. It allows the US forces to station troops and munitions inside Philippine military camps free of charge.

The US pivot is a bid to keep a hold over the Asia-Pacific area, which, for the US, is a key economic growth area at this stage. The tentacles of US economic power have long been weakened in Europe.

In the Middle East, it is finding it difficult to keep its hold in an area that has been unstable for some time. In Latin America, several of countries are resisting the US’ economic and political stranglehold and have banded together to raise the banner of socialism anew.

To this, we should counterpose a second type of integration. It is the regional integration in Latin America, led by the socialist leaders in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba, that is showing the way towards an integration around socialist ideals.

The integration is being led by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas, which unites nine Latin American and Caribbean nations. This is the kind of Asian integration that we are fighting for.

From GLW issue 1010