September 2005  

Impeachment Dead, “People Power”Pop Front Goes On

Protesters from Courage (public sector workers) union during protest march in Manila, September 8, calling for the ouster of President Gloria Arroyo. (Photo: Aaron Favila/AP)

SEPTEMBER 6 – The Philippine bourgeoisie’s political crisis entered another phase today when the impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) was voted down by the House of Representatives.

The ditching of the three complaints filed by the parliamentary opposition was predictable. The Arroyo ruling clique sought from the outset to use their Congressional majority to squelch efforts to oust them. With the backing of that den of iniquity, GMA will claim a “clean bill of health” as she prepares to attend the United Nations Security Council, an imperialist rubber stamp currently chaired by the Philippines.

With impeachment dead, Arroyo and her backers are proclaiming “closure” on the issue of her theft of the 2004 election. They want to sweep the trash and stench under the rug in order to “move on” and “get the job done” of “reforming” the slumping economy. That translates into more taxes on the impoverished masses (particularly a 12 percent Expanded Value Added Tax) and more increases in the cost of fuel, food and other basic necessities.

Yet all the maneuvering in the notoriously corrupt Batasan (legislature) hasn’t diminished opposition among the Filipino working masses, who continue to careen towards an abyss of suffering and pauperization. The bourgeois parliamentary opposition along with their petty-bourgeois left covers are trying to divert this class hostility into the dead end of another popular-front “people power” fraud.

As Congress wound up its marathon session whitewashing GMA, a protest march of some 20,000 was led off by former president Corazon Aquino, Susan Roces (widow of  presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr.) and two other candidates in the ill-fated 2004 presidential campaign, evangelical pastor Eddie Villanueva and Senator Panfilo Lacson. Bringing up the rear were assorted “national democrats” and social-democrats.

They dream of a repeat of the 2001 EDSA II uprising1, when after the failure of the attempt to impeach President Joseph Estrada, mass mobilization in the streets paved the way for his ouster. The fake left has fallen in behind the bourgeois opposition in the name of (bourgeois) democracy, but it still lacks the support of the military, which was crucial in the overthrow of Estrada and of dictator Fernando Marcos in the 1986 EDSA I.

As revolutionary Trotskyists, we warned from the onset of this political crisis against giving support to the bourgeois opposition and being sucked into the treacherous popular frontism of the various left groups/parties (see article below). From Spain in the 1930s to Indonesia in 1965 and in the Philippines from 1986 on, the popular front has shackled the working class and oppressed to the “opposition” bourgeoisie. This invariably results in the consolidation of the bourgeois rule when the urgent task is to bring it down.

Congressmen Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna and Renato Magtubo of the Partido ng Manggagawa (Labor Party) both declared that the struggle was passing into the “parliament of the streets.” But this “parliament” is led by pro-capitalist forces (including the various party lists and nationalist pop fronts, Bayan Muna, Bayan, Sanlakas, Akbayan, etc.) no less than is the present legislature.

The League for the Fourth International insists that the task posed is not “radical reforms” carried out by a bourgeois “people’s council” or “transitional revolutionary government,” but to mobilize the working masses independently from all the bourgeois factions, fighting to do away with this grinding poverty and oppression through workers revolution. This class fight for power can only be accomplished under the leadership of an internationalist workers party based on the program of permanent revolution. 

Not Another EDSA "People's Power" Fraud,
Fight for Workers Revolution!

Presidential Crisis in the Philippines
Workers Should Sweep Out Arroyo
And All the Bourgeois Politicians

Protesters give thumbs-down sign as they call for ouster of Philippines president
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during September 7 protest in Quezon City following
failure of impeachment bill. 
Photo: Aaron Favila/AP
For a Revolutionary Workers Party!

The following is an expanded version of a leaflet by the League for the Fourth International distributed in Manila, Philippines on July 25.

JULY 31 – “Hello? Hello, Garci?” With these words that are now echoing on cellphone ring tones around the country, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) began one of several compromising calls with Commission on Elections (Comelec) chief Virgilio Garcillano following the May 2004 elections that could be the trigger that brings down her tottering presidency. “So I will still lead by more than one million, overall?” asks the president. “More or less, it’s the advantage ma’am,” the commissioner replies reassuringly. “It cannot be less than one million?” repeats the president, to make sure he gets her point. “Garci” got the point. Adding a little padding just to make sure, in the Comelec’s final tally, Arroyo beat challenger Fernando Poe, Jr. by 1.1 million votes. Now these heavily doctored results may be her downfall.

From the moment that former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) deputy chief Samuel Ong presented the tape of dozens of calls between officials of the GMA administration and the Comelec chief at a press conference on June 10, there have been sometimes daily anti-government demonstrations in Manila. Over 50,000 came out on July 13, and even larger numbers protested Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), July 25. Simultaneously, opposition legislators and quite a few former Arroyo supporters are pushing for an impeachment proceeding in Congress. The left is mobilizing with talk of another “People Power” uprising, a third EDSA.1 Yet the driving force behind this upsurge has come from elements in the armed forces (it was military intelligence that taped the calls) and among GMA’s rivals among the bourgeois politicians, who are every bit as rotten as Madame Macapagal Arroyo.

This corrupt and reactionary president – who dispatched Filipino troops to aid the U.S. imperialist invasion and colonial occupation of Iraq, who is waging a dirty war of oppression against the Bangsamoro population in the south and against leftist guerrillas around the Philippines, who keeps the economy afloat with the remittances of over 10 million overseas Filipino workers, has presided over the elimination of more than 125,000 public sector jobs in the last year alone and has tried to raise the Value Added Tax (VAT) that particularly hits the poor – certainly ought to be driven from office. But it is the working class that must carry out this task, not only dumping GMA into the dustbin of history but also sweeping out the den of trapos (“traditional politicians,” also meaning “dirty rags” in Tagalog) in the Philippines Congress and the nests of coup plotters. Filipino workers do not need another “People Power” fraud, replacing one used-up capitalist politician with another.

This is the third time in two decades that a Philippines president may be brought down amid an upheaval of popular mobilization. Yet from one EDSA to the next, the bourgeoisie has landed on top, and it threatens to do so again. The military apparatus, the backbone of the capitalist state, remains the power behind the throne, disguising a semi-bonapartist regime with a façade of “democratic” rhetoric. To put an end to this vicious cycle requires overthrowing capitalist rule. The revolution that is posed is not “national democratic,” “popular democratic” or any other bourgeois formula. Only a socialist revolution can overcome the grinding poverty to which the Filipino masses are condemned, and guarantee the right to self-determination for oppressed peoples and national minorities. A workers revolution must be internationalist in character, breaking with all forms of the bourgeois ideology of nationalism. And it must extend internationally to survive, centrally to the neighboring peoples of Indonesia, to U.S. imperialism’s regional sheriff, Australia, and to the imperialist industrial powerhouse of Asia, Japan.

The Bourgeois Opposition On the Move

After three weeks of silence on the Garcillano tapes, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo broke down and admitted late last month that the woman’s voice in the wiretapped phone conversations was hers. “GMA: Hello...It’s Me,” headlined the Philippines Daily Inquirer (28 June). The president said she took responsibility for the “lapse in judgment” in calling the Comelec chief during the vote counting, improbably claiming she was not trying to influence the outcome. The Inquirer noted that U.S. president Bill Clinton (with whom Arroyo has been friends since they were both students at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.) used the identical phrase in admitting to having a relationship with Monica Lewinsky (“a critical lapse of judgment and a personal failure on my part”), which led to his impeachment trial by a Republican-led Senate. Arroyo claimed to welcome an impeachment trial in the Philippine Congress, dominated by her supporters.

On July 25, the morning of her SONA, an amended complaint for impeaching Arroyo was handed into the House of Representatives with 48 signatures, well short of the minimum of 72 necessary to send it on to the Senate. Among the charges are electoral fraud, concealing ownership of valuable real estate, obstructing justice in the investigation of abuses, granting sweetheart contracts, using government funds to buy votes, and facilitating the killings of political dissenters. According to Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights), at least 411 people have been killed in assassinations, summary executions and indiscriminate firing on protests, as well as 130 “disappeared” and 245 documented cases of torture by the police and army. Whether anything will come of this motion is another matter.

The scandal of the “Hello Garci” tapes exploded right as a Congressional investigation was underway into high corruption amid low farce over the involvement of the president’s husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, allegedly involved in influence peddling, as well as First Son, Congressman Juan Miguel (“Mikey”) Arroyo and the president’s brother-in-law, businessman Ignacio Arroyo, accused of receiving million-dollar payoffs on the illegal “jueteng” numbers racket. (Husband and son voluntarily exiled themselves to the fleshpots of Hong Kong, while Iggy, a/k/a “Jose Pidal,” is sticking it out, so far.) It is lost on no one that this is hardly new in Philippines politics, as Gloria herself was elevated to the presidency after a frustrated impeachment trial and subsequent “people power” upheaval that ousted President Joseph (“Erap”) Estrada over accusations of receiving P 400 million (roughly US$8 million) in jueteng kickbacks. Estrada has offered to serve as interim president if Arroyo resigns, is impeached or overthrown.

By now, almost all the sectors that helped Arroyo wrest power from Estrada in 2001 in what is now dubbed as “EDSA 2” have left her. The influential Makati Business Club, the Association of Major Religious Superiors, a Catholic church grouping of almost 250 religious organizations of priests and nuns, and even former president Corazon Cojuangco Aquino have already called for Arroyo’s resignation. (Aquino was elevated to power in 1986 in the first EDSA upheaval.) The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), which in EDSA 2 was in the forefront of Arroyo’s supporters, is officially neutral. Following the death of Jaime Cardinal Sin last month, the church leaders fancy themselves his successors as “moral guides” and political kingmakers of capitalist politics. On July 10 the CBCP declared, “we do not demand her resignation. Yet neither do we encourage her simply to dismiss such a call.” It urged Arroyo to “discern deeply to what extent she might have contributed to the erosion of effective governance and whether the erosion is so severe as to be irreversible.”

With the high clergy politely urging her to consider handing over power peacefully, even people and cliques within her regime have been jumping ship, giving up their status and perks as part of Arroyo’s regime, a clear indication that they see her ship sinking. The most significant was the resignation en masse of ten cabinet members, including the entire so-called economic team of the administration. Malakanyang [the Philippine White House] dubbed them the “Hyatt 10,” after the hotel where they had met secretly. They complained about GMA’s request that the Supreme Court issue a restraining order on the VAT increase which she herself pushed to be approved, in a desperate attempt to save her government. In addition, two major partners of Arroyo’s Lakas slate, the Nacionalista and Liberal parties which have been the traditional pillars of bourgeois governments in the Philippines for decades, joined the calls for the resignation of Arroyo.

Susan Roces (left), widow of former presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. the leading contender against Arroyo in the 2004 vote, together with former president Corazon Aquino (right), attending vote on impeachment of President Gloria Arroyo, September 5. 
(Photo: Bullit Marquez/AP)

The bulk of the bourgeois opposition, grouped together in the United Opposition (UNO) coalition, has presented an alternative 15-member governing council supposedly representing different sectors of society to serve as a transitional government. Their thrust is for Arroyo to resign and have Susan Roces, the widow of “defeated” presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., who died of a heart attack last December, head the council. The mayor of Makati, Jejomar Binay, argues that Ms. Roces uniquely has the “moral ascendancy” to lead such a council. But she would be nothing but a front for the UNO, a hodgepodge of discarded bourgeois politicians, ranging from siblings of the dictator Marcos (who was toppled by EDSA 1) to the Estrada clan (ousted by EDSA 2). Arroyo’s faction waves around opinion surveys showing that people are sick and tired of “People Power,” reflecting the fact that nobody wants to go into the streets just to bring back groups that have already been deposed and discredited.

Congressional solons (bigwigs) of the opposition parties (and many former GMA allies) are pushing for an impeachment trial. They reportedly have the support of influential Republican senator Lugar in the U.S., who helped orchestrate the downfall of Marcos. They want a “constitutional succession,” replacing Arroyo with Vice President Noli (“Kabayan”) de Castro. This is like taking a dilapidated jeepney, repainting it and trying to sell it as new. De Castro is known as a straw man for the Lopez family, which owns Manila Electric Company (Meralco), which controls power in the capital area; BayanTel, the second largest land-line telephone company; and the ABS-CBN television network. During the 1990s, they milked the government for funds to build mini-power plants, while Meralco continued charging exorbitant rates. In the 2004 election, they made a sweetheart deal with Arroyo to develop the North Luzon Expressway, and subsequently quadrupled toll charges. Under a Kabayan government, the Cojuangco/Aquino and Arroyo haciendas as well as the Lopezes’ power monopoly (and profits) will be safe.

While Arroyo and her allies search for “constitutional” means to cling to power, they are trying to consolidate their forces with daily visits by politicians to Malakanyang Palace. But a head count of the trapos will hardly be reliable, as bought-off politicians may not stay bought with the political establishment from the Senate to the local level split down the middle. The country has been turned topsy-turvy by this in-fighting of the bourgeoisie. In this political regime crisis, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has taken a neutral position – again, so far – in contrast to 2001, when they threw in their lot with Arroyo’s faction, shifting the tide of the EDSA II uprising in her favor. Similarly, despite all the “People Power” rhetoric, the stance of the military in EDSA I was decisive, as defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile and AFP chief Fidel Ramos swung from supporting Marcos to backing challenger Aquino.

Just below the military’s surface neutrality, the golf links in the AFP officers’ country clubs are buzzing with plots and counterplots. The aging Young Officers Union (YOU), relics of the 1989 coup attempt in the Makati financial district, when they joined with the rightist Rebolusyonaryong Alyasang Makabansa (RAM – Revolutionary Patriotic Alliance) of then-colonel Gregorio (“Gringo”) Honasan, has declared that it will bring down Arroyo “to save the country from further ruin and continue the unfinished revolution of our forefathers.” The YOU communiqué confirmed that the “Hello Garci” tapes were made by military intelligence. Two days later, another group appeared calling itself the Protectors of the Filipino People, which read a pronouncement in a video aired on TV in front of its symbol, a rising sun between two mountain peaks. This shadowy outfit declared that it could not remain neutral as “the sovereign people have spoken,” and called for a “genuine and radical transformation in our political system.”

What kind of “radical transformation” do the various plotters have in mind? An “alternative” being pushed by retired general Fortunato Abat is setting up a civilian-military junta, to be headed by Abat himself. Abat, who heads the Christian Nationalist Union (CNU) and the right-wing “Patriots” group, has been calling for a Coalition of National Salvation (CNS) ever since the 2004 elections. While Patriots has put forward a populist “People’s Agenda” commiserating with workers suffering from high taxes and low wages, talking about rolling back prices, “genuine land reform” and the like, Abat’s real agenda was spelled out in an April 30 speech where he outlined plans for a revolutionary council, headed by a commander in chief named by the military and police, which would institute “authoritative governance,” curtailing certain rights, “such as the right to strike,” according to Newsbreak (3 July). While Abat has tried to suck in leftist groups, this is a blueprint for a “corporatist” regime with fascistic overtones.

For his part, former president and AFP chief general Fidel Ramos calls for Arroyo to stay on as a “caretaker,” to allow time for “charter change” (ChaCha) and a Constitutional Convention (ConCon) to introduce a “parliamentary” regime, giving the corrupt Congressmen more power. The ChaCha/ConCon agenda was taken up by House speaker Jose de Venecia and others from Arroyo’s Lakas slate and endorsed by the president in her SONA speech, as she gasps at any straw that would let her stay in Malakanyang. Behind Ramos’ move is the calculation that in the absence of a new Marcos-like strong man, more upheavals to bring down unpopular regimes are inevitable given the hunger and poverty policies they are called upon by the imperialists and their “national” bourgeois flunkeys to enforce. Having had two and one-half EDSAs already, Ramos figures that with a prime minister to take the heat, the changing of the guard can be carried out without mass mobilizations that could get out of hand. And in the process, maybe the “kingmaker” can become king again.

Above all, this crisis is not only the concern of the bourgeois opposition. The Philippines has long been a strategic area for U.S. imperialist interests. As a key partner in the U.S.’ “global war against terrorism,” Washington requires assurances that the country won’t “go communist,” its preoccupation since the days when Philippine bases were a staging area for the Vietnam War, and before that in the Hukbalahap peasant rebellion of 1946-54. So U.S. chargé d’affairs Joseph Mossumeli arranged talks with the bourgeois opposition, former cabinet ministers and Malakanyang to ask their intentions. Mossumeli said that the U.S. would “strongly oppose” a government put in office by “extra-constitutional” means, such as the revolts that installed Cory Aquino and Gloria Arroyo on the presidential throne. While feigning neutrality between the various squabbling factions, and claiming the U.S. would not intervene militarily (unlike in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Venezuela, and EDSA 1 and 2 in the Philippines), U.S. imperialism’s overriding concern is that power remain in the hands of the bourgeois class and not in the hands of the working class or so-called “reds.”

The imperialists’ worry is understandable, as the Filipino working masses are under constant attack by President Arroyo’s regime. The almost weekly oil price increases, escalating power rates and increasing costs for liquefied petroleum gas have led to a sharp increase in the cost of groceries, other basic commodities and transportation fares. Add to this the continued attacks on the rights of the working masses to organize, the continued killings and summary executions of leaders of workers, youth, women and other oppressed sectors (over 50 activists of the Bayan popular front murdered in recent years) like the attempted murder of Castor Gamalo and the brutal November 2004 massacre of Hacienda Luisita workers and sympathizers – and you have a recipe for a social explosion. Hand in hand with the continued physical attacks go the suppression of the right to protests, rallies and strikes, and the “zoning” (raiding) of communities of anti-Arroyo supporters, like the urban poor community in Tondo known as a pro-Estrada/Poe base, on charges of being “drug havens.”

Meanwhile, the countryside is under siege as the AFP continues its “counterinsurgency” war against peasant-based rebellions, particularly that led by the Maoist New People’s Army (NPA). The Bangsamoro people in the South (Mindanao, Sulu Islands, etc.) are under occupation by the AFP (together with U.S. Special Forces “advisors”) allegedly going after the Abu Sayyaf group. Human rights workers and journalists are being killed wantonly (at last count, 69 reporters have been killed since 1986, when democracy was supposedly restored). The direct connection between repression in the Philippines and imperialist war/occupation in Iraq is shown by the case of Maj.-Gen. Jovito Palparan. When he was head of an infantry brigade in Mindoro Oriental in 2001-2003, human rights worker Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy were murdered. Palparan was then sent to Iraq to head the AFP “humanitarian” team. Now he is back, promoted by Arroyo to command the infantry division in Eastern Visayas, which “has become a virtual killing field since he assumed his post last February” (Bulatlat, 24 July).

With mounting discontent over Arroyo’s policies, it is understandable that a political crisis has erupted. The question is, will this confrontation among the ruling clans of the bourgeoisie simply dissipate, will it lead to a “regime change” that means more of the same – or worse – for the Filipino working masses and oppressed sectors, or can it be a spark that contributes to a proletarian counteroffensive against the imperialists and their junior partners in the “national” bourgeoisies throughout Southeast Asia? As the reformist Philippine left pushes a program of bourgeois democracy and nationalism, calling for yet another “People Power” fraud, the League for the Fourth International says it is necessary to fight for international socialist revolution.

Mainstream Left Spreads the Illusion of “People Power”

The bourgeois opposition orchestrated this crisis with controversy after controversy undermining the Arroyo presidency. As matters stand today they are who stand to profit immediately by kicking “Madame Excelsis” (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) out of Malakanyang, where she used to cavort as a teenager when her father Diosdado Macapagal was president in the early 1960s. (Like her father, GMA has always “sat at the sumptuous tables of power,” but contrary to his famous boast, her consort and offspring have indeed “run away with the silverware.”) The present bourgeois opposition were the ones kicked out of office in 2001 by the Arroyo/Ramos faction and they want to get back the power to dole out government contracts, share in kickbacks and “commissions,” and the other “perks” that go with being in power. But the main reason that the capitalist rulers may benefit from the turmoil, is that the opportunist left is playing by their rules and acting as pawns for their maneuvers.

The last several weeks has seen a profusion of anti-Arroyo groups with cute acronyms, including ARREST Gloria (Artists for the Removal of Gloria), ADIOS GMA (Artists for the Immediate Ouster of GMA), ENRAGED (Environmental and Natural Resource Advocates for GMA's Expulsion) and the like. As usual, the opportunist left is operating through a series of cascading “popular fronts,” whose purpose is to tie the workers and peasants to one or another sector of the bourgeois politicians. At the July 13 demonstration in Makati, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN or New Patriotic Alliance2) called for a “People’s Council” (PC) composed of “patriotic and pro-people figures.” The Bayan Muna party-list called for a “transitional, civilian-dominated National Council for Reform and Unity” (NCRU) as the most “progressive post-Arroyo alternative.” These are variants of the same theme. What they seek is a coalition government with the bourgeois opposition, the class enemy of the working class. Just who might the “patriotic and pro-people figures” be that they have in mind for their PC/NCRU? A July 13 Bayan Muna press release praised Susan Roces Poe to the skies, saying she “rocked the nation” and imparted “some important reminders about good manners, right conduct, and patriotism.”

What the “national democrats” (NDs) are proposing is like a damaged record that keeps repeating itself over and over again. The NDs, through the BAYAN popular front, have been calling for such a class-collaborationist coalition since EDSA I (1986), and again in EDSA II (2001). The rationale for this line is given by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), arguing that “the revolutionary movement must take advantage of the present political crisis by propagating the program for a people’s democratic revolution” to free the masses “from the graft-ridden and corrupt government and the semicolonial and semifeudal system” (Ang Bayan, 21 June). In line with the CPP’s call for “a broad mass movement and anti-Arroyo united front,”  Ang Bayan reports that “BAYAN, religious groups and the pro-Estrada camp formed a coalition to demand Arroyo’s ouster.” In 2001, the NDs allied with Arroyo, declaring that Estrada & Co. were the “main enemy,” today they walk hand in hand with Estrada’s siblings in the UNO!

In the name of people’s/new/national democracy, these Maoist are calling for nothing more than a change of faction of the ruling capitalists. And it is not just Roces Poe and Estrada with whom they want to ally. Jose Maria (“Joma”) Sison, “chief political consultant” of the CPP-allied National Democratic Front, argues that there are “reasonable military and police officers who can be attracted to a patriotic and democratic program of government and to the broad united front against the Arroyo regime and who can be encouraged to uphold civilian supremacy and respect the sovereign will and democratic rights of the Filipino people” (Bulatlat, 24 July). Who might those “reasonable,” “patriotic” and “democratic” officers be? A new Victor Corpuz, perhaps, who as a young lieutenant in 1970 carried out a raid on the military academy armory on behalf of the NPA, and after re-defecting was later elevated by Arroyo to head the AFP Intelligence Service? Another Captain Rene Jarque, former head of the Army Psychological Operations Command? Or is rightist retired general Abat the apple of the Sisonites’ eye?

The so-called “rejectionists” in Laban ng Masa (The Masses’ Fight) – followers of Sison’s rival Filemon (“Popoy”) Lagman, who broke from the CPP in 1994 rejecting the Sisonites’ program of peasant guerrilla warfare and was assassinated by unknown assailants in 2001 – want a “transitional revolutionary government.” “Remove Tough Dirt? Resign All!” proclaimed a sign of the Lagmanite Partido ng Manggagawa (PM – Labor Party) at its July 13 rally. But in a statement issued the same day, PM, even before the fighting starts, already surrendered the working class to the hands of the class enemy by stating that, “Workers are willing to coordinate with other classes, sectors and groups … for the common struggle to oust the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime through a new type of people power uprising.” The PM talks about a lot about the working class, and even a “workers uprising” (in its July 13 “Manifesto of the Working Class against the GMA Regime”). But rather than fighting for workers revolution, PM declares: “The movement for the ouster of GMA should be an opportunity to fight for significant reforms in society.” The “new type of people power uprising” and “transitional revolutionary government” PM is calling for is merely “a democratic government that is a true representative of the people.”

What new kind of “people power” does the PM think it will get when workers join with “other classes” (namely, the bourgeois opposition) in the fight against Arroyo? Today, it laments that “EDSA 2 was born out of the desire for genuine reforms and changes in the face of politics in our country yet ended up in a mere change in the faces in Malakanyang. The victory of the Filipino people was stolen by an economista who betrayed their hopes for change.” But their present alliance with the Estradas, the Marcoses, Ping Lacson and other trapos will only suck the working class into a merry-go-round that will make the workers dizzy until their class enemy pounces on them. Just to make sure the workers were firmly chained to a section of the capitalist class, it was at the PM-supported SANLAKAS3 party-list rally that Susan Roces spoke on July 13. An uprising headed by Poe’s widow Susan would not look all that different than EDSA 1: “People Power” of the old type headed by the widow of Benigno (“Ninoy”) Aquino, Cory, this time with generals Abat and Ramos in the background this time instead of Ramos and Enrile.

Sonny Melencio, in an article in the PM newspaper, Obrero (July 2005), spells out the program. Melencio argues that a “genuine alternative is a government that is composed of representatives of the working and poor masses,” but “for now, the ouster of GMA can only happen through the coordination of different forces including the bourgeois opposition and groups within the military.” A revolutionary transitional government, he writes, would be “‘revolutionary’ in the same sense that the government of Cory at the end of Marcos’ rule was ‘revolutionary’.” That is, it would be a popular front government designed to head off revolution. This “revolutionary” government would include “bishops that are against GMA, and the FPJ [Fernando Poe] camp especially headed by Susan Roces.” 

Melencio’s “minimum program” a sellout of the workers. His talk of a government of “representatives of the working and poor masses” sometime in the future may sound radical, but by insisting that it would a “democratic” regime the PM is guaranteeing that it would be bourgeois in character. At bottom, this is identical to the “ND” call. It is the hoary Stalinist/Menshevik line of a “two-stage revolution,” in which the first “stage” is “democracy,” and later for socialism. In reality, the first stage is always another defeat for the workers, and quite frequently leads to a massacre of the left, labor and peasants. Where the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky called in 1917 for a “workers and peasants government” to begin the socialist revolution, in the Philippines today both “national democrats” and “rejectionists” reflect the stagist program of Stalin. Whether it is called a PC/NCRU or a TRG, the reformist opportunists want a “trapos and generals government.”

Finally, the social-democratic Citizen’s Action Party, or AKBAYAN, is even more “moderate.” While urging the public to intensify demands for Arroyo’s removal from office, it mournfully observes that: “A simple change in the form of government only means that the trapos in the presidential form of government will be the same trapos under the parliamentary form of government.” This sums up the politics of AKBAYAN and its allied organizations like BISIG (Bukluran para sa Ikauunlad ng Sosyalistang Isip at Gawa) and the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL). As social democracy has been doing since ignominiously capitulating before their respective bourgeoisies in the first imperialist world war,  their Filipino counterparts are fighting not for socialist revolution but for the improvement and beautification of capitalist exploitation. This line spreads dangerous illusions that the bourgeois state can be reformed, thereby denying  the working class it world-historic role as “the gravediggers of capitalism,” as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto!

With the “mainstream” left sucked into a vortex of reformism and opportunism, the Philippine bourgeoisie has assured itself and its master, U.S. imperialism, that whichever faction wins, their interests will remain intact. What the working class needs is to fight for political independence from all wings of the bourgeoisie to be able to fight for its own class power. And for that, what is required above all is the leadership of a revolutionary workers party fighting on the Trotskyist program of permanent revolution.

Oust Arroyo and All the Bourgeois Politicians – Workers to Power!

As a University of the Philippines political analyst said on the 24 Oras news program of the GMA Network, “ever since Marcos’ Martial Law the elite have inherited a political culture of trying to get democracy [to] work for their interest. And when this doesn’t work out, they instigate extra-constitutional means.” This is not a peculiarly Filipino phenomenon. On the contrary, among the semi-colonies and former colonies of Asia, Africa and Latin America, even the most ostentatiously “democratic” regimes have pronounced bonapartist characteristics. As Leon Trotsky analyzed in his theory of permanent revolution, in the imperialist epoch, the weak national bourgeoisies of economically backward capitalist countries are incapable of carrying out the fundamental tasks of the bourgeois revolution, including democracy, agrarian revolution and national liberation. In order to hold the reins of power over millions of workers, peasants and urban poor, the tiny ruling class requires a “strong state” in which the military and police keep the masses under their iron heel.

The strategy of staging coups d’état with mass support is nothing new. The innovation of the post-Marcos Philippines was to suck the “mainstream left” into the operation and give it a name, promoting the illusion of “People Power.” Hundreds of thousands pour into the streets, while the military plotters in Camp Aguinaldo, Fort Magsaysay and Fort Bonifacio pull the strings. After the fireworks are over, in the end, it has resulted in the destruction of working class and leftist organizations and parties. A second significant development was the active participation of U.S. imperialism in promoting such “extra-constitutional” change of government. In the past, the U.S. routinely got rid of inconvenient governments through the simple expedient of a military coup. But in 1986 Cory Aquino’s rise to power following the “snap election” (held at Washington’s insistence) was prepared by the resuscitated National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL). As recounted in Raymond Bonner’s book Waltzing with a Dictator: the Marcoses and the Making of American Policy (Times Books, 1987), NAMFREL was set up by the CIA in the early 1950s “to help [CIA officer Ed] Lansdale elect [Ramón] Magsaysay” president.

This model of U.S.-sponsored “regime change” with popular participation has since been used repeatedly, in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. The 1998 ouster of Indonesian dictator Suharto (who was installed in power in a U.S.-orchestrated 1965 coup) was accompanied by mass demonstrations, many led by petty-bourgeois leftists such as the Indonesian PRD (People’s Democratic Party) who supported the bourgeois nationalist Megawati Sukarnoputri. But the scenario was set in motion from Washington as the World Bank began complaining of rampant corruption in the decrepit and tottering Jakarta regime. Moreover, this operation was heavily influenced (at the very least) by the same man who helped grease the skids for Marcos, Paul Wolfowitz, who was Ronald Reagan’s deputy secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in ’86, later ambassador to Indonesia and more recently a key architect of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Thus the petty-bourgeois nationalist leftists of the Philippine CPP and the Indonesian PRD, who tailed after Cory Aquino (after initially boycotting the “snap election”) and Sukarnoputri respectively, were ultimately following the baton of U.S. imperialism.

Thousands of working people marched on July 13 and 25 and in myriad “oust Gloria” demos, but they are being used as foot soldiers by the capitalists and their labor lieutenants. The protests are dominated by middle-class, petty-bourgeois forces while the voices of the workers in the free trade zones, power plants, breweries, metal factories, mines and sugar mills are submerged in the “democratic” clamor. This is not because they lack the will to fight, but because they are kept in check by police-state repression and diverted by their own misleaders. Despite the massacre of striking workers at Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, Luzon last November, carried out by the Arroyo government on behalf of Corazon Cojuangco Aquino’s clan, the strikers have refused to capitulate. Striking workers at the Lepanto Mining Company in Benguet have braved mass arrests defending their picket lines against scabs being herded by Arroyo’s police. A genuinely communist vanguard would call out the whole of the working class to halt work until these strikes are won.

Workers pull jeepney in September 11 demonstration on eve of national transport
strike called by KMU labor federation.  Reformists link struggle to ouster of Arroyo, rather
than fighting for workers revolution. (Photo: Bullit Marquez/AP)

Refusing to be sucked into supporting Susan Roces Poe or some other bourgeois figure, a national strike should be organized against the VAT, fuel price rises, the government’s counterinsurgency wars and the puppet regime that implements the starvation policies ordered by the International Monetary Fund, raising the call for workers to power. A roiling mass strike could dispatch flying pickets squads to organize workers in industrial parks from Cavite to the former U.S. Subic Bay naval base, Clark air base and Camp John Hay in Baguio. Area-wide strike committees could be formed, overcoming union divisions and attracting non-union workers. Peasants and agricultural workers should take this opportunity to seize the estates of the large landowners, who are hardly “semi-feudal” (as the CPP claims) but entirely capitalist, as part of an agrarian revolution in conjunction with a struggle for power by the urban proletariat. They can start with the Cojuangco’s Hacienda Lusisita, purchased in 1957 as part of the anti-communist “agrarian reform,” and go on to the Arroyos’ Hacienda Grande sugar estate in Negros Oriental, formally the property of 27 dummy corporations.

The League for the Fourth International says: Not another EDSA, but workers revolution! Warning against giving political support to the bourgeois opposition, as the reformist Stalinist and social-democrats do, the Trotskyists call for building a revolutionary workers party that fights for a workers and peasants government. As the Makati businessmen, Catholic bishops, hardline generals and corrupt bourgeois politicians call demonstrators into the streets demanding “impeachment or resign,” the millions of workers, peasants, poor people, students, oppressed national and linguistic minorities and other victims of this semicolonial capitalist regime must begin to organize independently of and against the exploiters and oppressors. Authentic communists fight for the program of permanent revolution:  Not another “people power” popular front of class collaboration, but a revolutionary offensive of class struggle!

How to respond to political crises initiated by sectors of the bourgeoisie anxious to head off a popular uprising is a question has come up before. In the classic case of the ouster of a certified war criminal in recent times, that of American president Richard (“I am not a crook”) Nixon in 1973-74, the Trotskyists in the United States proclaimed, “Impeachment Is Not Enough!” calling for immediate elections, a break with the capitalist Democrats and the formation of a workers party to fight for a workers government (in Workers Vanguard No. 43, 26 April 1974).

In Brazil in the early 1990s, a movement developed similar to the current “oust Gloria” protests in the Philippines, calling for the ouster of President Fernando Collor de Melo, a notoriously corrupt politician responsible for privatizations and anti-labor repression. The social-democratic Workers Party (PT) eventually joined the “Fora Collor” (Collor Out) movement, while the fake-Trotskyist Convergência Socialista (today PSTU) became the “best builders” of the impeachment movement, calling for a “real” parliamentary inquiry. Another pseudo-Trotskyist group, the PCO (Partido Causa Operária – Workers Cause Party) called for “general elections.” But this was all posed on a (bourgeois) democratic basis. Our comrades who later formed the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (LQB – Fourth-Internationalist League of Brazil), predominantly black workers in the largest steel plant in Latin America, fought against this line, calling for the formation of a revolutionary workers party (see “Workers Struggle vs. Popular Frontism in Brazil,” The Internationalist No. 14, September-October 2002).

Elsewhere, the “People Power” model has been repeated in recent upheavals in various of the the ex-Soviet states, notably Ukraine. As we wrote last December:

“The model for the current operation was the ‘people power’ revolt in the Philippines that ousted strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Then, too, you had huge crowds massing in opposition to a decaying authoritarian regime that had become a liability to the U.S. ... In the end, the power ended up not with ‘the people’ but in the hands of Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and General Fidel Ramos, with Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, scion of one of the leading landowning families installed as figurehead president. Communists and other radicals, whose popularity had been growing in opposition to Marcos’ brutal rule, were effectively sidelined by the elaborate manipulation – with their popular-front politics they were beholden to bourgeois allies, who then did them in.”

–“U.S.-Sponsored Coup d’État in Ukraine,” The Internationalist No. 20, January-February 2005

This dismal history is well-known to the opportunist left. “All the EDSA uprisings where majority of those who took part comes from the marginalized sectors of society brought us nothing,” declares the Partido ng Manggagawa. So why do they keep calling for yet another EDSA, which will be different this time? For the same reason they fell in line behind Aquino in the first place: the reformists program of “two-stage revolution” requires that they join with the “progressive” (or not so progressive) capitalist sectors. So when the bourgeois opposition sounds the bugle, the Stalinists and social democrats salute.

1EDSA refers to the Epifania dos Santos ring road in Manila that has been the focal point for “people power” demonstrations. The 1986 EDSA 1 revolt against dictator Ferdinand Marcos installed Cory Cojuangco Aquino as a front for General Fidel Ramos and then defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile. EDSA II refers to the January 2001 ouster of President Estrada, charged with corruption (!), by means of mass demonstrations mass mobilizations which was originally instigated by the left, and then taken over by key sectors of the bourgeoisie, particularly the influential Makati Business Club and the Catholic Church led by Jaime Cardinal Sin, which considered the former movie star weak and erratic, and installed Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in his place.

2Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN – New Patriotic Alliance), whose acronym spells “people” in Pilipino, was founded during the Marcos dictatorship. Following the popular-front program of the Stalinists in the 1930s, it seeks to build a nationalist “democratic front” including members of the bourgeois opposition. Bayan is regularly accused by the AFP of being a front for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) of José Maria Sison, its National People’s Army (NPA) and the underground National Democratic Front (NDF).

3Sandigan ng Lakas at Demokrasya ng Sambayanan (SANLAKAS – Upholder of People’s Power and Democracy) was led by Filemon (“Popoy”) Lagman, founder of the BMP union federation and former head of the Manila committee of the CPP, who was assassinated in February 2001. Lagman also founded the Filipino Workers Party (PMP -- Partido ng Manggagawang Pilipino).

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