Round and round

While Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison was studiously careful not to endorse a presidential candidate in a recent Bulalat interview—endorsement being, after all, a validation of the very system that the CPP and its various arms would see consigned to the dustbin of history—I find it worth noting that, between front-runners Noynoy Aquino and Manny Villar, Sison thought Villar had a “relatively better”, if “underplayed”, program, and that Villar, because of said program and the people around him, would be more likely to enter into serious peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

The assessment itself is nothing new, considering that the CPP, in a statement issued to mark its 41st anniversary last December, said Villar seemed to be “the most patriotic and progressive insofar as he advocates the interests of Filipino businessmen, expresses sympathy for the workers and peasants and condemns human rights violations”. Of course, the CPP has also derided Villar for his bureaucrat capitalism, for being “the biggest among [former President] Estrada’s stooges“—are these remarks that belong to the dustbin of history as well?

In any case, the statements of Sison are interesting to me for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that it unfailingly leads me to the question, “What program?”

Granted, there was that much-vauntedmutual adoption” of platforms between the Nacionalista Party (NP) and the Makabayan coalition, but the resultant document was published in the NP web site only on February 20, several days after the official campaign period had started, and over two months after the same material was available on the Makabayan web site. Perhaps more importantly, can the document be found in Villar’s main campaign site? As of this writing, it cannot.

I wish to stress that, as I have pointed out elsewhere, Villar is utterly dismissive of platforms, and his dismissiveness is a matter of public record. In an interview with Ricky Carandang, he said, “Kasi yung mga plataporma, madaling sabihin ‘yan e. Pagagawa mo lang sa speechwriter mo ang mga plataporma mo, sasabihin mo ‘yan, me-memorize-in mo ‘yan, okay na.” Such a statement should strike no one as having come from a man who takes platforms in particular, and governance in general, with any gravity or sincerity.

This brings me to the second reason that I find Sison’s evaluation interesting: in claiming that Villar would be more amenable to negotiations with the NDFP—Aquino being supposedly surrounded by anti-communist and pseudo-progressive elements—Sison appears to have overlooked the fact that the NP is a former ally of, and is still friendly with, Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL), of which the honorary chairman is none other than former First Lady Imelda Marcos, the living half of the conjugal dictatorship that was once touted as the most effective recruiter for the CPP. Moreover, Villar and the Marcoses are on such good terms that they, along with the so-called solid North founded by the late dictator Ferdinand, will be voting for Villar.

Even if Sison later quibbles and says that he had, after all, been asked to pick between undesirable choices, his seeming willful blindness to the Marcosian specter and spectacle that is necessarily connected to the “relatively better” Villar, is disturbing.

Does Sison believe that delivering justice to a body politic that continues to suffer from the ravages of the Marcos regime is no longer the priority that it was? And what about the allegations of abuse against Villar himself—do not these matter? Has Sison yielded to the inevitability of a Villar-aided Marcos restoration? Or, as Business Mirror columnist Manuel Buencamino suggested some time ago, is the revolution indeed over?

Insofar as the concept of revolution implies the presence of a circle, closing with this quotation from Imelda Marcos may well be apropos: “My economic theory is that money was made round to go round. Money was made to encircle man so that he would blossom with many flowers. The whole trouble is, the center is money. All the heads of people thinking about money. All the hands of people reaching out for money. All their poor little bodies working for money. They are running in all directions for money.”

[This also appears in Filipino Voices.]

Truth and lice

Whatever else can be said about the adoption of Makabayang Koalisyon ng Mamamayan (Makabayan) senatorial candidates Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza by the Nacionalista Party (NP), it is definitely nothing less than an event for the history books. After all, Ocampo and Maza are militant leftists, while the NP is a party headed by real estate mogul and presidential candidate Manny Villar, and also includes Bongbong Marcos, the son and namesake of dictator Ferdinand, in its line-up for the Senate.

If I understand the official statements on the alliance correctly, Ocampo and Maza, as well as the members of Makabayan, view it as a significant opportunity to shift their revolutionary struggle onto the center of the national stage and into the limelight of public affairs. It may be useful to frame the situation in classical terms: Ocampo and Maza constitute the Trojan Horse of the Left, with which the walled city of Philippine politics, sitting high on its dung heap of graft and corruption, and gleaming with impunity, will be infiltrated, conquered, and rebuilt anew. Of course, one must admit that such an explanation is not quite adequate: to resort to it is to elide the fact that Ocampo and Maza were already mainstream politicians to begin with, as both have been serving in the Lower House of Congress as party-list representatives since 2001.

In any case, already the horse has begun to roll forward, as the NP agreed to integrate the Makabayan platform into its own, leading to the production and release of the document entitled, “In Response to the People’s Concerns“—a document strangely unavailable on the official NP web site as of this writing.

Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond “Mong” Palatino, in “Misunderestimating the Philippine Left“, one of the more recent commentaries on the issue, put it this way: “Villar’s brave decision to openly embrace a platform-based unity with the left has smashed the taboo in Philippine politics. From now on, the participation of the left will be expected in future electoral contests for top political posts.”

That a taboo exists at all, as may be inferred from the assertions Palatino makes in the essay, has to do with how (orthodox?) leftists have been spoken of by various “academics and commentators”, “liberal right-wingers”, and “apostates”: demonized all and sundry as destabilizers and terrorists, leftists suffer from “not [being] recognized as legitimate political players who can use valid political practices in the electoral arena”. This is a claim not without merit: surely it cannot be just to refuse the left a seat at the table of democracy on the basis of what Palatino refers to as its “past mistakes”—ones, he adds, that the extreme left has apologized for. To reduce the left to its history of bloody violence is itself an act of violence—such an act condemns the left always and forever to irrelevance, death, or both, and denies the transformative possibilities of ideological difference.

That said, I have to take exception to how Palatino read the motives of those attacking the NP-Makabayan alliance: “The anti-left gang is mad not because the left endorsed a presidential candidate. They are mad because the left has refused to endorse Noynoy Aquino.”

Tonyo Cruz has said in his Asian Correspondent blog that, “It is a matter of public record that Noynoy Aquino shut the door on Ocampo and Maza, despite the Makabayan coalition’s earnest overtures.Manila Standard Today columnist Jojo Robles, who recounted how Ocampo described his meeting with Aquino, thought it was “unfortunate that Noynoy Aquino and his traditionally bourgeois collection of yellow-clad supporters may have missed out on this major political development.” How, then, can Palatino’s statement make sense? If (a) Aquino and the Liberal Party rejected the left, and (b) the anti-left “gang”—whatever that might be, as I am not convinced it even exists—supports Aquino, how does one arrive at the conclusion that (c) the anti-left “gang” is angry at the left for not endorsing Aquino?

Furthermore, anti-left sentiments are hardly exclusive to any one political group: BANTAY Party-list, to cite one example, was founded precisely on such sentiments, and its leader, Jovito S. Palparan, is running as an independent candidate for senator.

It may well be accurate to say that I am guilty of nitpicking, but one would be wise to bear this in mind: where there are nits, there are lice—which is to say that more than simple logic is at stake.

If, as Palatino says, the left is treated unfairly when it is conceived of as a monolithic, hence totally reprehensible, entity, is he not doing the same thing by speaking of an anti-left “gang”, which he then uncritically equates with the Aquino camp? Does not the lack of self-reflexivity in his argument—the same lack that he decries as the “pathological narcissism” of the anti-left—register as disingenuous, as an instance of victimage?

For the members of any given minority to strive to overturn the regime that tyrannizes them is perhaps understandable, and yet what is gained if and when they accomplish exactly that? To succeed in turning over structures of oppression is certainly to redistribute power, so that what once was reviled becomes revered, but by no means does the oppression dissipate—rather, the instruments of torture simply change hands. To seek a reversal of terms is merely to honor, reinforce, and perpetuate such terms. Therefore, when a political project remains trapped in old categories, how can it claim to be truly revolutionary?

[This also appears in Filipino Voices.]