Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Written for Rappler

Not again. Not another formulaic diatribe ridiculing and prophesying the decline, obsolescence, and inevitable doom of the Philippine Left. The Left was supposed to have disintegrated many, many years ago after the fall of Berlin, the internal split in the 1990s, and the rise of neoliberal globalization as the supreme doctrine of our time. But against the wishes of Establishment apologists, the Left not only survived but is resurgent.

It is easy to dismiss the anti-Left rant of Yoly Villanueva-Ong as a condescending and simplistic appraisal of the political legacy of the Left. But, to be fair, she did attempt to historicize the issue and she appreciated the radical meaning of a John Lennon song; thus this rejoinder.

Insulting the Left is a common tactic used by many cheerleaders of the Yellow regime. They mock the Left’s political platform not by disputing its merits but by questioning the sincerity of dead and living leftists; and belittling the right of a supposedly dying movement to make demands of Malacaňang.

Curiously, the Left’s critics are quite obsessed in spreading the propaganda that it is a political force suffering from irrelevance. But is the Left truly a redundant historical necessity? Perhaps we can cite several mainstream political science indicators to answer this question: The Left has representatives in Congress, its electoral base is growing, it has a nationwide organized constituency, it has sympathizers, supporters, and varying political influence in all sectors and in almost all islands of the country, its views and courses of action to controversial issues are sought by mainstream media and its support sought by traditional politicians.

As I write this, news commentators are discussing online libel, the president’s pork, and soaring electricity prices. The Left is actively and directly involved in opposing all these issues whether as petitioners in the Supreme Court, oppositionists in Congress, and consumers condemning the inaction and/or wrong actions of the government. For the well-entrenched, these are nothing but noisy and nuisance interventions. But for ordinary citizens, these are appropriate interventions to protect free speech, curb corruption, and lower the cost of living.

Which is irrelevant? The Left and its stubborn insistence that democratic rights must not be surrendered to the vested interests of the elite and the caprices of politicians? Or those who want the people to abandon dissent and just keep on trusting the “goodness” and “incorruptibility” of the Yellow leadership?

Ong hits the Left for receiving PDAF but failed to mention that the progressive bloc in Congress has never been accused of committing pork-related anomalies. Three-term leftist legislators ended their stint in Congress without being involved in corruption deals; in fact, they were among the very few who remained non-millionaire members of the House of Representatives. (Recall the iconic labor leader, Representative Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran.)

Strangely, Ong wants the Left to be responsible for the 1970s activists who ended up as deodorizers of Gloria Arroyo’s messy regime. This argument actually vindicates the Left. Those who stayed with the mass movement continued to be principled leaders of our country while some of those who broke ties with the Left degenerated into corrupt bureaucrats and some of the worst of traditional politicians. If we use Ong’s reasoning, then perhaps we should also castigate UP, Harvard, and the Catholic Church for educating some of our corrupt leaders many decades ago.

Ong accuses the Left of being unprincipled during election campaigns and hints that the movement abandons its principles in exchange for campaign funds. It must be clarified that the Left does not venture into electoral politics to gain money but to advance its radical reform agenda and win representation on behalf of its marginalized grassroots constituency. There’s no compromising of principles every time we advocate a particular issue during elections. I take pride in the fact that our parties are able to achieve small and big electoral victories at the local and national levels even with very few resources.

Ong echoes the absurd charge that the Left is silent over the China bullying issue. A simple Internet search would reveal that a) Leftist organizations have issued statements and organized protest rallies to condemn the bullying behavior of China; b) Leftist legislators have consistently tackled the issue in Congress; and more importantly c) the Philippine Left has publicly attacked the Chinese Communist Party for being a revisionist party. Filipino communists may be admirers and students of Mao but they do not see themselves as comrades of the current Chinese leadership.

Ong waxes nostalgic about being a product of UP, a university where various ‘isms’ are openly talked about such as Marxism and communism. But this is true because of the bourgeois liberal tradition of UP. Leftist students and teachers in the late fifties and sixties allied with the bourgeois liberals on campus, fighting attempts of the dominant church to infringe on the separation of church and state and flout the academic freedom of the state university.

The truth is, to this day, UP is still a bastion of liberalism, not radicalism. Nevertheless, the latter continues to constitute a vibrant counterculture. For every activist that UP produces, there are many others in the campus who are apolitical or have little interest in the idea of radicalism. And for every revolutionary cadre there are very many more reactionary politicians who hail from UP. (Need we mention the likes of Ferdinand Edralin Marcos?)

Yet those activists and revolutionaries who come from UP have made their difference to the betterment of Philippine society, most especially the exploited and oppressed. And even the more conservative products of UP take pride in UP’s liberal tradition that sees the Left occupy an important place and role in the academe.

Nonetheless, no thanks to sustained anti-communist propaganda emanating from the state and the ruling elite, communism is a dreaded, misunderstood and much maligned word in UP and in the rest of Philippine society. But it is not the “ism” which should be faulted for the many wrongs in our country. In her article, Ong already mentioned imperialism which is one of the supreme evils of our time. The other two are feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism. Unfortunately, many UP graduates contribute to the strengthening of these terrible “isms” in our country either by turning out to be unprincipled leaders in the government or by becoming spin masters who help vision-less politicians win elections by distorting the truth.

As mentioned earlier, Ong raises several issues which have already been leveled against the Left in the past, most notably by Palace propagandists. But her advice to ‘exterminate the dwindling force permanently’ was something new. And quite surprising, especially coming from someone who claims to be convent-educated and a product of UP. Even some of our military leaders would suggest peace and development reforms, however insincere, when they publicly talk about the armed rebellion.

Actually this kind of mentality is the reason why many activists have been harassed, abducted, and killed with impunity even post-martial law and during the supposedly democratic regimes that followed. If the Left is really a spent force, why the need for such a militarist solution? Why not simply let it fade away into oblivion? Ay Pilipinas, ay Pilipinas, kay bagsik!

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