May 2004    

U.S./Army Candidate Arroyo Leads, 120 Killed

Philippines Elections:
Bread and Circuses, Minus the Bread

On May 10, voters in the Philippines trooped to the polls in a “democratic” ritual that supposedly picks the president and legislators who are to govern the country. In fact, the issue has already been largely decided by the amount of dollars (Philippine and American) that have been funneled into the campaigns of the competing bourgeois politicians. And in case the voters get it wrong, the capitalists and their armed forces can mount a “people’s power” charade to oust the incumbent and install their preferred choice. This time around, the “exit polls” and “quick counts” announced that incumbent president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA, as she is referred to in newspaper headlines) was the winner over her closest contender, movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ). Although it will take several weeks for the official results to ratify the verdict of the bourgeois media, the decision is in. Meanwhile, more than 120 have been killed in election violence, many of them leftists gunned down by police, paramilitary and military assassins.

In this case, it was not only or even mainly the Filipino money men and army chiefs who decided the outcome. Their imperialist masters in Washington have made all fundamental decisions about the Philippines since the United States seized it from Spain in 1898, at the dawn of the imperialist age. The U.S. then defeated the Katipunan nationalist uprising in an extremely bloody war, turning the archipelago into an American colony. Sham independence was granted in 1946, whereupon General MacArthur installed Manuel Roxas as president. He was followed by a succession of U.S. puppet strong men, from Ramon Magsaysay who presided over the suppression of the Hukbalahap insurgency in the late 1940s, to Ferdinand Marcos, who beat down (but did not wipe out) Maoist guerrillas in the 1980s. As popular discontent mounted, the mass protests (EDSA-1) were manipulated by Jaime Cardinal Sin and army chief of staff Fidel Ramos to install Cory Aquino as president in 1986, giving a “democratic” façade to the rule of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Pentagon.

Arroyo reviews troops, 4 May 2004 Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, candidate of the army and the imperialists, reviews troops, May 4. (Photo: Aaron Favila/AP)

Arroyo came to power by the same route, as local capitalists in Manila’s Makati business district and their imperial overlords grew concerned about the “corrupt” (!) government of Joseph Estrada. On 20 January 2001, just as George Bush was being sworn in as U.S. president by vote of the Supreme Court, Estrada was forced by new protests (EDSA-2) to resign and was replaced by his vice president, “GMA.” Since then, Arroyo has unreservedly supported Washington’s foreign policy, quickly signing on to the U.S.’ terrorist “war on terror” and dispatching a squad of AFP troops to Iraq (under Polish command) along with several thousand Filipino contract workers on U.S. army bases where they are now the targets of the anti-colonial revolt. During his visit to the Philippines last October, Bush reportedly urged Arroyo to run for president. Also encouraged by Cardinal Sin, Arroyo traveled to the Vatican to get the Pope’s blessing.

Philippines elections have always had a gaudy show-biz quality to them, more entertainment than a serious contest. Ousted movie star Estrada got his pal, matinee idol Poe, known as “Da King,” to run as a stand-in to get back at Arroyo. FPJ, a high school dropout, refused to debate the Harvard-educated economist Arroyo or spell out his policies. Instead, his election rallies featured the gyrating Sex Bomb Dancers. Arroyo countered with the scantily clad Viva Hot Babes and signed on popular TV news anchor Noli De Castro as her vice presidential candidate. Running in third place was former police chief Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, who urged his followers to “bring eight-by-eights” (wooden beams) to prevent cheating at the ballot box. Also running was Eduardo Villanueva, “Brother Eddie,” a televangelist faith healer who drew hundreds of thousands to his Manila rally. Arroyo responded by obtaining the endorsement of the evangelical Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ), which ordered its millions of followers to vote for the current occupant of the Malacañang presidential palace.

In turning elections into a spectacle, Filipino politicians were only elaborating on the script of their U.S. model, where actors Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger are transmogrified into “credible” candidates. As in the days of the decaying Roman Republic, the rulers of the Philippines seek to buy the quiescence of the masses with “bread and circuses,” as the poet Juvenal bitterly remarked. Only here they have cut out the bread. Even massive vote buying won’t make a dent in the pervasive poverty. According to the World Bank, over half the Philippines population of 84 million lives in dire poverty, earning less than $2 a day. Spokesmen for international capital insist that everything depends on persuading international investors to return (foreign investment last year was down to $319 million from $1.8 billion the year before, mainly due to worries about security). The problem, according to the Asian Wall Street Journal (10 May): “The Philippines has relatively high wage costs compared to China and India.”

Since 1999, unions have campaigned for a 125 peso increase (US$2.25) in the daily minimum wage, currently 280 pesos (about US$ 5) in Metro Manila. But 7 American dollars a day is still a starvation wage. During the recent election campaign, the popular-front Sanlakas party list reduced this even further, calling on the government to implement a 65 peso wage hike and price controls. Such sub-reformist demands come down to pathetically begging the capitalist state for crumbs. A class-struggle fight over the poverty-level wages would take aim at the superexploitation of Filipino workers, pointing out that even tripling the minimum wage would hardly pay for basic necessities. But this is impossible under present circumstances, the government, employers and pseudo-leftists respond in unison, as the Philippines seeks to use its “competitive advantage” of low labor costs to compete with even lower-wage countries for “outsourcing” jobs. But that is precisely the point, the revolutionaries respond: as long as the capitalist framework is accepted, the working people are condemned to a miserable existence, and thus any serious battle against poverty must aim at expropriating the capitalists through workers revolution.

A important element in the current Philippines elections is the participation of a large number of “party lists” of “progressive” candidates. The largest of these is the Bayan Muna (People First) slate headed by Congressman Satur Ocampo. Arroyo’s witch-hunting national security advisor Norberto Gonzales earlier sought to have the party lists banned as “fronts” for Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), accusing Bayan Muna of siphoning funds to the CPP-led New People’s Army (NPA). Trotskyists join in vigorously protesting any attempts to exclude leftists from the ballot. At the same time, we stress that the reformists of various hues seek to tie the workers to the ruling class by running “popular front” campaigns on a bourgeois program in alliance with bourgeois politicians. Thus most of them include “Bayan” (people) in their names, leading to endless confusion in addition to misleading the workers. This reached the point of absurdity when the youth party Anak ng Bayan accused another list, Akbayan, of stealing their votes because of the similarity of their names, while Akbayan wrote to the election council saying that votes for “Anakbayan,” “Akbay,” “Bayan” and “Akbayan Muna” should be credited to them!

May Day, Manila, Philippines, 1 May 2004 May Day marchers in Manila. Reformists are channeling working-class discontent into popular-front “party lists,” such as Anakpawis (shown here). What's urgently needed is to build a revolutionary workers party. (Photo: Pat Roque/AP)

More seriously, the rampant violence that accompanied the campaign was especially directed against the “progressive” party lists, whose activists are prominent among the 120 documented election-related murders. A church-sponsored human rights group documented dozens of attacks against Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Anak ng Bayan, Gabriela Women’s Party, Suara Bangsamoro, Migrante Sectoral Party and similar groups. Six members of Bayan Muna were killed during the campaign, bringing the number of their martyrs to 41. Even bourgeois candidates complained that this wholesale slaughter was undercutting the effort to entice erstwhile leftists into the electoral game of capitalist “democracy.” Genuine communists, following the program of Lenin and Trotsky, warn against the trap of bourgeois electoralism and in contrast to the petty-bourgeois nationalists and popular-frontists seek to build a revolutionary workers party.

Trotskyists do not refuse to participate in capitalist elections and parliaments on principle, as we seek to make use of every potential platform to put forward their revolutionary program, as Lenin’s Bolsheviks did under the tsarist autocracy. But the Philippines elections are essentially a counterinsurgency tactic, similar to the “demonstration elections” in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic in the 1960s and El Salvador in the 1980s. They serve as a cover for the murderous repression of the AFP in its “Balikatan” joint campaigns with the more than 1,200 U.S. military advisors currently in the country on a “training” mission. Proletarian revolutionaries fight to defeat the imperialist intervention, from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Philippines, through mobilizing workers action. At the present stage, the struggle in the Philippines must focus on cohering a Trotskyist propaganda group that through polemics against the reformist fake communists and active intervention in the class struggle can build the nucleus of a Bolshevik party as part of a reforged Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.

We print below an excerpted statement on the May 10 Philippines elections by the Rebolusyonaryong Grupo ng mga Komunista (RGK – Revolutionary Communist Group), which sympathizes with the League for the Fourth International.


Statement of the

Rebolusyonaryong Grupo ng mga Komunista 

The Rebolusyonaryong Grupo ng mga Komunista (RGK) and the League for the Fourth International (LFI) call on the Filipino working masses not to support any of the bourgeois parties on the coming elections on May 10.

While the whole Philippines is in the middle of electoral campaign, prices of gasoline, electricity and basic commodities continues to increase, nailing down the pauper-like living conditions of the Filipino working masses. And while the bourgeois state has not approved an across-the-board wage hike for workers, the bourgeois parties have already spent billions of pesos to fool and “convince” the working masses of their “right” to continue for another six years their class dictatorship (the bourgeoisie as the ruling class through so-called democratic elections). Moreover, while the working masses are being “entertained” by singing and dancing out-of-tune and out-of-sync politicians, the local bourgeoisie is dead set on “helping” its U.S. imperialist masters in the rape and destruction of Iraq, now at the first anniversary of its occupation.

Already, there are about six parties/factions vying for various positions. The main faction is [Gloria Macapagal] Arroyo’s coalition, the so-called K4. After three years of continued attacks on working class, urban poor and Moro communities, after numerous corruption scandals like the Jose Pidal case, after several secret deals just to get the support of big foreign and local capitalists like the Maynilad deal, and after implementing to the letter the commands of its U.S. imperialist boss to fight “terrorism,” Arroyo still has the audacity to face the working masses and ask for its votes! This is the faction that approved sending military troops and civilian personnel to help in the colonial war of the U.S. in Iraq which has already claimed several Filipino workers’ lives. The victory of Arroyo’s faction means another six years of class war against workers organizations, the Moro peoples and all the oppressed, including the left.

On the other hand, the so-called opposition – including the majority faction of “Ang Panday” (The Blacksmith) Fernando Poe Jr., and the minority faction of “Kamay na Bakal” (The Iron Fist) Panfilo Lacson – while posturing as being for the masses, is no different than Arroyo. Its main bone of contention is just how fast or slow should be the pace of the bourgeoisie’s class war on the working class and all oppressed Filipinos. The “pro-masses” posture of Poe is just a trick. This is the faction that ruled during Estrada’s regime, the faction that launched all-out war on the Moro people from 1998 to 2000, the faction that orchestrated the attacks on the PALEA union. As for Lacson, his name is synonymous with the killings and salvagings (summary executions) of suspected criminals.

Election rally of Eddie Villanueva, 6 May 2004 Bourgeois politicians push religious reaction. Election rally and evangelical revival of Eddie Vallenueva in Rizal Park, Manila, May 6. (Photo: Itsuo Inouye/AP)

Raul Roco and Eddie Villanueva, who offer a “Third Way” (primarily appealing to students, intellectuals, the middle class, “moralists” and so-called civil society), are singing another tune. Under his calls to “end corruption” and for “free education,” Roco, the former secretary of education and his party, Alyansa ng Pag-asa (Alliance of Hope), seek to attract the “intelligentsia vote.” On the face of it, free education is an attractive program, especially given the pauperization of the working masses. But aside from his two vague slogans, Roco has no program whatsoever for the working-class, meaning that he is no different from the other bourgeois factions. And as long as the mode of production is capitalist and is oriented to producing for profit, all programs for free education and to end corruption will go to waste.

On the other hand, Villanueva’s group and its Bangon Pilipinas (Rise Philippines) Party is appealing to Christian fundamentalists, as Villanueva is also the leader of the Jesus is Lord movement – an anti-communist “born again” group that calls communism (including workers’ struggle to form unions) satanism! Roco and Villanueva’s factions represent the elitist, conservative and so-called “civil society” interests. They are no different than the other bourgeois factions/parties. Roco and Villanueva stand out only because they have a “pro-god” platform that essentially means a more conservative “religious” bourgeois state!

It is clear that the working people, on the one hand, and the different bourgeois factions and parties on the other, have no common interests. Instead, the interests of the factions of Arroyo, Poe, Lacson, Roco and Villanueva and the whole bourgeoisie run counter to the interest of the working class, women, youth and all the oppressed. The bourgeoisie’s interest is to maintain its class rule, nothing else. All the bourgeois parties are for maintaining and continuing the capitalist exploitation and oppression of the whole of the working masses. And the only ones who have the same interests as the Filipino bourgeoisie and its factions and parties are the U.S. imperialists. The number one terrorist force in the world will ensure that its interests are protected, especially the strategic use of the Philippines for launching aggression in Southeast Asia.

Whatever the results of May 10, it will be for the interests of the U.S. imperialists. No matter who wins, they will be for the “continuation of support” for the U.S.’ colonial war in Iraq, its aggression in Southeast Asia and continued counterrevolutionary pressure on China and North Korea. We say: Defeat the Colonial War in Iraq and Afghanistan! Defeat Counterrevolutionary Efforts in the Remaining Deformed Workers States! For Class War Against the Imperialist War! For International Socialist Revolution to End the Imperialist War!

The Left and the Elections

Meanwhile, as the bourgeois electoral machinery goes into full swing, so-called left groups have espoused different positions on this. From outright non-participation in elections to openly endorsing “progressive” candidates, these so-called “mainstream” left all adhere to the deadly popular-front program of class-collaboration.

First up is the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or Bayan. This group has been the “most mainstream” of all the so-called left and has been around since the Marcos dictatorship. The Bayan group – a “multi-sectoral organization” composed mainly of “national democratic groups and organizations” – is fielding five party-list groups this coming election. These include: Bayan Muna (People First), Anakpawis (Toiling Masses), the Anak ng Bayan (Sons of the People) Youth Party, Gabriela Women’s Party, and the Migrante (Migrant) Party of Overseas Filipino Workers. Bayan’s “strategy” is to put forward many party-list organizations in order to be able to send as many representative as possible to Congress – as if they can garner enough votes in the bourgeois Congress to pass a resolution to change the capitalist system into a “national democratic” never-never land and then into a “socialist society.” Even if the Bayan group gets all 50 seats allotted to party-list representative (with every two percent of the party-list vote, one representative is elected to Congress), it cannot transform the Congress dominated by 250 representatives of the capitalists and landlords, much less the capitalist system!

With this “strategy,” the Bayan group only fosters dangerous illusions in the working masses that the bourgeois state can be “pressured” or “pushed” to institute reforms. Yet these reforms basically aim at consolidating the bourgeois state and providing the working masses an outlet for venting its hatred and anger over the bourgeois state and the capitalist system of exploitation. Worse, the Bayan group through its party-lists has endorsed several bourgeois politicians, further buttressing the reformist illusions among the working masses! By endorsing bourgeois politicians, Bayan have projected these trapos (dirty rags, referring to the bourgeois politicians), as “pro-people who should be elected”!

Bayan and the “nat-dems” (as they call themselves), while claiming to be leftists, do not recognize the power of the working class and are bent on having the working-class struggle be dissolved into a so-called people’s struggle. Proof of this is their continued adherence ever since the Marcos dictatorship to the popular-front program – that is, building broad coalitions of “nationalist opposition” against the ruling bourgeois bloc including rebel military groups and bourgeois politicians who are labeled “progressives.” This is the essence of class collaboration. Their so-called “national-democracy with a socialist perspective” will ultimately lead to a coalition government of the bourgeoisie that includes the nat-dems managing a bourgeois state and suppressing the workers and all of the oppressed!

Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna, 27 March 2003 Satur Ocampo, former guerrilla and lead candidate of the Bayan Muna popular-front party-list, speaking at Quezon City, March 27. Rather than such class-collaborationist electoral politics, what’s
needed is a proletarian fight for power. (Photo: Pat Roque/AP)

Next up is the Sanlakas/Partido ng Manggagawa (PM – Labor Party) group. This group [founded by Ka Popoy Lagman, who split from the Communist Party of the Philippines of Jose Maria Sison in 1991, and who was assassinated in 2001] broke away from Bayan in 1993 and promised an alternative to the nat-dems. But if we look at what this group has practiced for the last ten years or so, it has the same “strategy” as the nat-dems. Sanlakas may have a different term to describe the characteristics of Philippine society, etc., but it has the same purpose as Bayan since it was built within the framework of a broad coalition of so-called middle forces, “progressive politicians” and the urban poor. Thus Sanlakas is just another form of popular front, another kind of recipe for defeat for the working class!

As for PM, it is mainly a group that only “champions the plight of the workers” and nothing more. The PM does not and will not contend for power as a genuine revolutionary party of the working class and make the working class the ruling class since it limits itself to being an electoral party-list group. Like Bayan and Sanlakas, PM also tails after forces alien to the working class and is also bent on implementing the treacherous popular-front program. This was shown last July at the time of Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address, when PM/Sanlakas indirectly supported the Magdalo Group, a nationalist-posturing anti-communist/anti-Moro rebel group that took over Oakwood Hotel in Makati [see “Soap Opera ‘Coup Attempt’ in the Philippines: Perplexities of the July 27 Incident,” in The Internationalist No. 17, October-November 2003]. They did likewise in their recent “workers” forum on April 30 which  sought to get the bourgeois politicians’ commitment to increase the minimum wage by 65 pesos. The ultimate aim of this group is the same as Bayan’s: to be part of a “left”/labor coalition government that includes the liberal bourgeoisie managing the bourgeois state – in essence, a variant of class collaboration.

Third is the Akbayan, or Citizen’s Action Party. This group is a member of the social-democratic Second International, and is an openly reformist outfit which only calls for a struggle to fight abuse in the government; in other words, to reform the bourgeois state. By enlisting their trade-union organizations in this “multi-sectoral” party, Akbayan has the same “strategy” as the Bayan group – of dissolving the workers struggles into people’s struggles. In fact, one of its programs is to build “people’s unions” that incorporate the urban poor and workers organizations into one, instead of building unions as the defensive organization of workers inside factories aside from the unemployed and the urban poor. The only notable difference between Bayan and Akbayan is that Akbayan takes its model from the European “left” movement of a parliamentary road to socialism. This comes down to a reformist road of social-democratic management of the bourgeois state and the capitalist system! The bourgeois state cannot reform itself to serve the interest of the majority of society – the working class. It must be brought down through a workers revolution.

Other smaller “left” groups such as the Alab Katipunan, the Alyansa ng Sambayanan para sa Pagbabago or ASAP (People’s Alliance for Change), the Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy (AND), and the Democratic Alliance (DA) which for the first time are participating in the party-list elections have one thing in common with the main left groups such as Bayan, Sanlakas and Akbayan: that is, forming broad popular fronts that include “liberal/progressive” bourgeois politicians and other forces, in pursuance of their appetite for class collaboration with a faction of the bourgeoisie. There is even a group that treats the party-list elections as a sort of a project to get money from the state, by being elected as party-line representatives to “advance the organizing efforts of the workers”! There is no other term for this but opportunism to the core! If so-called left groups use this election to get money from the state (which they claim should be brought down through a revolution), then they do not deserve to be called leftists at all but instead opportunists and collaborationists through and through!

As for the labor groups and trade union federations, they too are riding the bandwagon of participation under a collaborationist program. From the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), whose main leader Herrera is running for senator on Poe’s KNP slate, to the labor federations that are part of the various “multi-sectoral” coalitions (Bayan: Kilusang Mayo Uno [KMU] or May First Movement; Sanlakas /PM: Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino [BMP] or Solidarity of Filipino Workers, etc.). These labor centers become the “labor bloc” in their respective “coalitions.” Even the smaller trade union federations have begun endorsing certain bourgeois politicians for just promising to be “pro-labor.” The National Confederation of Labor (NCL) and its allied organization even made a “covenant” with politicians, particularly the opposition blocks of Poe and Roco. The problem is the same in these labor groups: by pursuing popular frontism (as do the BMP, KMP, SIGLO and the rest) just as their “broad coalitions” pursue, they have essentially given up the fight for proletarian power.

What is needed is to mobilize the power of the working class contending for political power against the bourgeoisie, rather than following a recipe for defeat of popular front and class-collaboration. Key to this is the leadership of genuine revolutionary party of the working class. Break with the treacherous popular front of the “mainstream left”! Mobilize workers power to fight for proletarian state power!

On the other end of the spectrum of the Philippine keft there are groups who call a different tune and claim to be revolutionaries. The Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa-Pilipinas (RPMP) along with its armed wing the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB), which claim to have ties with United Secretariat of the late Ernest Mandel, are calling for clean elections. It has threatened that those who cheat in the local and national elections will answer to the RPA-ABB! In the first place, the bourgeoisie will do anything to win in their own elections. It should be crystal clear for a revolutionary proletarian party that its participation in the bourgeois election is to be able to disseminate its program and platform to the most number of workers and oppressed, nothing else. The RPM’s call in this election actually serves the interest of the bourgeoisie, as the bourgeoisie would want to have a clean election in order to have a “credible” dictatorship for another six years. Interestingly, Arroyo’s faction is also calling for a clean, credible election, so the RPM is actually serving Arroyo’s interest in their calls.

If it is serving the interest and plans of one of the bourgeois factions, then the RPM cannot claim to lead the working class any more than the Maoist/Stalinist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the Stalinist Partido ng Manggagawang Pilipino or PMP (Filipino Workers Party). On the other hand, the Partido Marxista-Leninista ng Pilipinas (PMLP) and its armed wing, Partisano (Partisan), calls vaguely for “No Illusions in Elections!” The problem with the PMLP’s call now and in the past is that it is so abstract that one can have many “interpretations” and justifications once it is analized and criticized.

The so-called mainstream left only serves as a left cover for the bourgeoisie in fooling the working masses to participate in consolidating the bourgeois state that maintains their pauperized conditions and exploits and oppresses them. The “mainstream left” will never serve as the leading force of the working class. As long as the working class and the oppressed are led by these so-called left groups, they will only serve as the working carabao (water buffalo) of the bourgeoisie in the recurring struggle for power between the different factions of the bourgeoisie (such as occurred in EDSA 1 and EDSA 2).

The problem confronting the working class and all of the oppressed is the absence of a genuine revolutionary party in the Philippines. With all of the so-called left groups and workers centers and organizations pursuing their own brand of popular frontism and class-collaboration, the only road for the class-conscious workers, women and youth is to build a revolutionary workers party. A party with a program of permanent revolution as put forward by Trotsky and Lenin and which was given life by the Russian working class in October 1917, through the seizure of power by the working class from the Russian bourgeoisie. A program of permanent revolution that can open the possibility of extending the revolution to other countries especially in the imperialist centers. Only with the victory of workers revolution under the program of permanent revolution, and not through the program of class-collaboration and popular front, can the Filipino workers and the international working class truly free themselves from the rule and dictatorship of the bourgeoisie!

The RGK and the LFI call on class-conscious revolutionary workers, women, youth and oppressed peoples to participate in the struggle to build a revolutionary-internationalist party of the working class, which the entire Philippine left has failed to do. Instead of campaigning for bourgeois politicians or for popular-front party-list representatives, we should build a genuine revolutionary workers party that will struggle until the working class is placed in power as the ruling class and undertakes the expropriation of the bourgeoisie as the ruling class, fighting for the victory of the international workers revolution. This is the direction of the struggle and what the RGK and LFI are fighting for. Join us in this fight! Join the RGK!

Not an iota of support to any bourgeois parties!
Break with the opportunist program of class-collaboration of the fake left!
No reformist illusions in the fake left and trade-union bureaucracies!
Build a genuine revolutionary-internationalist party of the working class!
For international socialist revolution!

6 May 2004

Get in touch with the RGK and the LFI. E-mail us at rgk7@hotmail.com and internationalistgroup@msn.com or visit the www.internationalist.org website for more information.

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com