Philippine Elections: “For a new politics, for a new economy”

The May 9 national elections in the Philippines are taking place in a country reeling under the blows of the multiple crises of the system – pandemic, climate, economic, social. More than a fifth of the labor force (22.1%) or almost a tenth of the population (9.78%) are underemployed or unemployed. The current minimum wages in the Philippines are basically slavery wages with 18.0% percent of all families to cross the official regional poverty thresholds as of the 1st semester of 2021. Meanwhile the collective wealth of the 50 richest Filipinos grew by 30% from 2020 to 2021 despite the pandemic. The Philippines is also one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate-related impacts, such as typhoons and the environmental crisis. By 2030 some 50% of the population are expected to be affected by the rise in sea levels, with sections of major urban centres submerged, including the capital Metro Manila.

In the political arena we find the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ clan relentlessly pursuing their ambition to get back into power in the country and have formed an alliance with President Duterte and his clan, who are equally determined to protect their dynasty’s hold on power in the upcoming national elections. The son of the former dictator, Bongbong Marcos Jr. is running for President along with the Sara Duterte, the daughter of President Duterte, as his Vice President. These clans have united with some of the most rightwing clans in Philippines politics – such as the Arroyos and the Estradas – backed by sections of the Philippine ‘billionaire’ capitalist class (many of who are listed in the Forbes list of Asia’ are backing this Marcos-Duterte presidential tandem).

These forces represent the most rightwing faction of the Philippine ruling class.

‘Business as usual’, even with limited reforms, offer no solutions at all. A radical and socialist alternative is needed.

Filipino socialists under the Partido Lakas ng Masa (Party of the Laboring Masses — PLM), a nationally registered political party of the marginalized, supported by several left and green coalitions, decided to take on the challenge and run an opposition ticket against what they have popularly termed the “Marcos-Duterte axis of Evil”, based on a radical anti-capitalist platform.

This is a truly historic campaign. It’s the first time that the left has contested the presidency. It’s the first time a worker and a labor leader has run for President. It’s the first time that an anti-capitalist and transitional socialist platform has been put forward by a presidential candidate. The PLM election campaign has broken the mold of traditional politics. We have broken new ground and laid the basis for a genuinely new type of radical and pro-peoples politics in the electoral arena.

As our Presidential candidate labor leader Leody De Guzman declared in a national television debate, “We need a new politics, a new economy”.

Duterte — A rise in authoritarian rule

The Duterte regime, elected to office in May 2016, represents a rise in far-right, authoritarian and even neo-fascist governments internationally, from Brazil’s Jair Bolsanaro, to ‘Trumpism’ in the US, Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Narendra Modi’s ‘Hindu fascism’ in India. This international trend is the political manifestation of the multiple and intersecting crises of the capitalist system – economic, social, political and the underlying and encompassing environmental crisis and the utter failure of ‘liberal’ neoliberal governments to address these crises. This phenomenon is also a consequence of the inability of the left to build and mobilize around a genuine anti-neoliberal, anti-capitalist alternative.

In the Philippines the election of Duterte is a result of the failure of the post-Marcos ‘elite’ democratic regimes, from President Cory Aquino onwards, who came to power through a ‘peoples power’ revolution in February 1986 that toppled the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos, which declared martial law in September 21, 1972 and closed down congress.

Duterte’s infamous ‘war on drugs’, basically a war on the poor and democratic rights and human rights, has resulted in the extrajudicial killing of some 27,000 people. He has weaponized the law in order to silence the opposition. The Anti-Terror Act of July 2020 allows for warrantless arrest for 24 days. The definition of terrorism is vague and broad and covers legitimate dissent or protest. with mere intent being criminalized. The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ElCAC) was formed, with a large budget, to carry out combined military and psywar attacks in communities with suspected CPP-NDF-NPA activities. The ‘cyber crime’ law introduced by the government of President Noynoy Aquino effectively renders opposition in the social media platforms a crime. Duterte used this law to arrest and charge the world renowned journalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa, the CEO of the online news service Rappler, for ‘cyber libel’.

The masa were disillusioned and weakened by decades of neoliberal rule that has destroyed the socio-economic foundations of society and their very lives — unemployment, irregular work, lack of basic services, failed land reform, extreme poverty and hunger, impacts of climate change and the environmental crisis – all exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic. It was in this context that Duterte was elected, drawing mass support for his populist program and rhetoric. This included the promise to end contractualization (precarious labor or the subcontracting of labor), which won him support from sections of the labor movement, to end the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States (a military agreement which allows for US military presence in the Philippines) and backing China against the US in the disputed South China Sea and Spratley Islands dispute. Duterte was a former ally of the CPP-NPA and he appointed several leaders of the mass organizations aligned with the CPP-NPA to cabinet and senior positions in various departments.

This was, as anticipated by many on the left, short-lived. Duterte broke with the CPP-NPA, kicked them out of government and began to hound their underground leadership, which included brutal killings, and launched military operations against their base areas, especially in the indigenous communities in Mindanao.

The opposition aligned with the Liberal Party was significantly weakened to the point of being unable and unwilling to mount a clear and consistent opposition to Duterte. A majority of them in Congress simply switched sides and supported Duterte. The Vice President in the Duterte administration was Leni Robredo, the current Chair of the Liberal Party, who is contesting the presidency in the May 9 elections as an independent (an anomaly that can exist as the President and the Vice President are elected directly in the Philippines). Leni Robredo did not mount any serious political opposition to the Duterte regime, preferring to playing the role of a ‘responsible’ elected official.

It was the mass movement, led by the left, that has been in the forefront of the resistance against Duterte.

Blaming the masses, Not the System

A recurring refrain of the liberal bourgeois opposition is that the masa are to be blamed for voting in Duterte. We reject this argument as it ignores the systemic problems, that is a political system that nurtures and replicates elite rule. In the Philippines elite rule is based on a political system characterized by the rule of dynasties and political clans.

In the senate 17 out of 24 senators belong to dynasties and political clans. In the lower house of Congress 71% of the district representatives are from political clans and dynasties. In the Party List seats set aside for the marginalized sectors, 62 out of 134 have links to political dynasties and clans. Governors in 81 provinces, more than 80% are from dynasties and more than 51% are aligned with Duterte. This system of ‘dynasty politics’ is built on electoral fraud, backed by coercion and violence. The liberal opposition plays the same game of dynasties. They also have their share of dynasties and political clans. There needs to be a real breach in the system, the system of dynasties, for the left to make any meaningful gains in the electoral arena.

System change in the Philippines is a struggle to dismantle the political dynasties. This is the context in which the May 9 elections are taking place.

The Elections

In this context, with a gaping political vacuum in the electoral arena, the Liberal Party procrastinating unable to present an opposition candidate and Leni Robredo finally announcing her candidacy for presidency but running as an independent, PLM took on the challenge and decided to run a full slate of candidates and present a radical alternative to the electorate.

Leody De Guzman and long-term labor leader, a founding member of PLM and Chairperson of the socialist labor centre the Solidarity of Filipino Workers (BMP) is running for President. Walden Bello, renowned international scholar and political activist, the Chairperson of the socialist coalition Laban ng Masa is running as his Vice President. Our senate team is being led by Luke Espiritu, a labor lawyer, former national council member of PLM and President of BMP. PLM led the formation of a socialist-green alliance with the Nature Party and Green Party, whose leaders Roy Cabonegro and David D’Angelo are running for the senate as PLM candidates. We are also running for the lower house of Congress under the Party List system as the PLM Party List. We have several mayors and local councilors running against local political clans and traditional politicians.

Our radical platform of demands aims at starting the urgent process of transforming Philippine society in a socialist direction. It includes:

  • The introduction of a wealth tax of the richest families with a net worth over P100 million to address inequality.
  • Cancellation of debt repayments for five years; repealing the Automatic Debt Appropriation law; and reviewing and auditing all existing debts.
  • The recovery and return of the remaining stolen wealth of the Marcos’s; amounting to PhP126 billion and prosecute Marcos family members who havekept and utilized their stolen wealth.
  • Together with the proceeds from the wealth tax and thedebt cancellation, use the stolen wealth to respond to theCOVID pandemic.
  • Immediate increase in the daily minimum wage to P750 a day nationwide.
  • Uphold the principle of workers’ control; ensure that workers are consulted in all

industries and economic sectors through the establishment of unions and workers’

committees parallel to corporate boards for policy and daily operations;

  • Ban contractualization in all its forms; impose price controls on oil, electricity, internet, water, farm inputs, and other basic commodities.
  • Institute small farmers’ control of agriculture and ensure food sovereignty; distribute for free all remaining lands under the agrarian reform; prevent land conversions especially by large property firms; freeze compliance with all World Trade Organization directives; and repeal the 2019 Rice Tariffication Law that relaxes rice importation into the country.
  • Implement an anti-dynasty law; start the immediate dismantling of political dynasties by approving an enabling law to implement the anti-dynasty provisions in the Constitution – ‘the state will prohibit political dynasties as defined by law’.
  • Uphold climate justice; demand reparations from rich countries for their historical responsibility for the climate crisis; pursue just transition to a low carbon economy and democratically-owned, renewable and clean energy systems; repeal the pro-mining Philippine Mining Act.
  • Institute measures to fully achieve gender equality and strengthen gender rights; end violence against women; pass a divorce law; decriminalize abortion; pass new legislation to address the gender wage gap; recognize and compensate reproductive and care work; legalize the LGBTQIA+ gender category; uphold marriage equality and support alternative forms of family arrangements.
  • Unconditionally resume peace talks with the CPP-NDF-NPA; Repeal the 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act; significantly reduce the budget of all security-related and defense agencies relative to the budget for social services.
  • Uphold the right to self-determination; support the Bangsamoro people’s struggle for full and meaningful autonomy; strengthen and enforce indigenous principles of common ownership and stewardship of natural resources
  • For a non-aligned foreign policy based national sovereignty and internationalism;end military agreements with the US and immediately close down all US de facto military bases in the country. Reject the expansionist and sphere-of-influence claims of China and the U.S. in the South China Sea, promote a commons-based development and utilization of natural resources in disputed areas.

Promoting the platform has been the central focus of our campaign. The campaign has had a significant national impact, with the masa responding to our platform. The statements by our candidates have gone viral on social media, with daily coverage in all the major conventional media outlets and even legal and verbal threats against our candidates by those aligned with the Marcos-Duterte opposition.

The rest of the left have failed to respond to the challenges posed in this political conjuncture.

They have followed their ‘business as usual’ strategy in the electoral arena which has been to run left candidates hitched to the presidential campaign of a faction of the capitalist class (and not necessarily even a ‘lesser evil’ option, such as in the case of support for Duterte by the CPP).

This time around CPP, Akbayan and Partido Manggagawa (Labor Party) are supporting Leni Robredo. The labor movement is divided with the unions aligned with these parties supporting the liberal bourgeois opposition. The rightwing Trade Union Congress of the Philippines is supporting Marcos Jr.

Currently the Marcos-Duterte tandem are leading in the polls, with Leni Robredo trailing in second place, but with growing support. These polls are commissioned and paid for by the candidates and are biased in favor of those with the money to pay for them. Apparently the polls pointing to a Marcos Jr. victory have been angled towards the areas where his support is strong. The lead for Marcos is based on almost solid support from the dynasties – 71 out of 81 Governors are supporting the Marcos-Duterte. This could lead to massive electoral fraud. The Commission on Elections has signed a contract with the company F2 Logistics, owned by Duterte’s crony Dennis Uy, on the distribution of vote-counting machines, for example. There are rumors of pre-shaded ballots in Singapore. All these would favor Marcos Jr.

Leni Robredo also has some support from a few dynasties. The role of the United States is always a political factor in the Philippines. The indications are that the current US administration would support a Leni Robredo victory. Robredo is extremely cautious in attacking US interests, such as in the case of foreign policy, most of her pronouncements are about honoring military agreements with the US, etc.

Both sides are also wooing the military, with Leni Robredo supporting the continuation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, thus supporting the military approach to end the insurgency.

While Robredo herself is a clean and honest politician, the Liberal Party is a different matter, steeped in playing all the cards associated with traditional politics, including accusations of electoral fraud.

We have been asked if we will withdraw and support Leni Robredo’s candidacy. However, on our key platform issues, there is no basis for this. Even on gender equality, Leni Robredo, the only female candidate does not support the legalization of divorce or the decriminalization of abortion, for example. Even on the low-carbon energy transition, she is open to considering the option of nuclear power. Greenpeace Philippines has questioned her stand on ensuring that “the government institutes climate action as a central policy of the state”, while approving of our platform on this existential challenge.

As PLM Campaign Manager Sonny Melencio has explained in a recent media interview; “No to withdrawal, Yes to unity on the ground [against the axis of evil – Marcos-Duterte]”.

The Post-Election scenario

There is a real possibility of a Marcos-Duterte victory. The same strategy and machinery that was operationalized in the 2019 elections are still in place to ensure their win. In 2019, a massive vote-buying spree catapulted the price of a vote at P3,000 or more, because of the pool of money that came from national candidates, party-list groups, district representatives, gubernatorial candidates, down to the local mayors. The same well-oiled machinery is in place today, coupled with the bandwagon effect of expensively-paid survey polls. We need to be prepared to mobilize against electoral fraud and the election of this regime of jackals. ‘Unity on the streets’ will be key in this scenario. Because of the political impact of our campaign, we are well positioned to intervene and politically influence, the inevitable struggles ahead.

Reihana Mohideen
National Council member
Party of the Laboring Masses (PLM)

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