Why not a presidential candidate from the Left?

By: Eduardo C. Tadem, PhD, is professor of Asian studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman, editor of Asian Studies (Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia), and president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition.


Fielding a presidential candidate from the Philippine Left may seem preposterous and foolhardy to many, but to others this is an idea whose time has come. The political and socioeconomic situation of the great majority of Filipinos calls for radical change, not piecemeal reforms. Decades of rule by an oligarchic elite have only magnified poverty and deepened inequality.

Contrary to the now-worn-out mantra of the Aquino administration, it is not corruption that causes poverty; rather, it is poverty that breeds corruption via a culture of patronage feasting on an impoverished people.

A 2013 study of the Asian Institute of Management shows that a mere 0.1 percent of families constitute the upper class which has benefited most from economic growth, and that 99.9 percent make up the middle and lower classes which have been marginalized. Given the French economist Thomas Piketty’s famous study of historical inequality under capitalism, we can expect inequality in the Philippines to be even more pronounced in the years to come.

Capitalism in the Philippine context may have something to crow about with high GNP growth rates. But as maverick economist Joseph Lim points out, GNP is a poor indicator of progress as it includes irrelevant data like the total cost of the fabulous gowns paraded by the women who showed up for President Aquino’s last State of the Nation Address. With the nation gearing up for another electoral circus in 2016, factions of the ruling elite masquerading as “political parties” are engaged in the massive makeover of aspirants promising change and reforms while making deals with big corporate contributors to further solidify the iniquitous status quo.

Not one of these aspirants, including the four leading “presidentiables,” will discuss the rot of the political and socioeconomic system and the crying need to overhaul it and put in place one that is dedicated to social justice and to overturning the social inequalities that breed unrest and revolution. As the left-wing scholar-activist Walden Bello remarked: “My great disappointment with all four candidates comes through clearly since our country really can come up with better people.”

Enter the Philippine Left. Throughout history, it has played an essential and indispensable role in leading the struggle to meaningfully transform society and institute radical change. It is the only political group with a sharp and solid analysis of the country’s ills and a thoroughgoing vision for a new and alternative society. It has an unshakable bias for the poor, the marginalized and oppressed. Furthermore, Left cadres are known for their high levels of personal sacrifice and self-denial.

In its vision for a new society, the Left is able to bring together various popular advocacies into one grand narrative as an alternative to the dominant capitalist paradigm.

Of course, the Philippine Left is far from perfect. In the electoral arena, it has fielded candidates at the local and lower national levels but never at the presidential level. This reticence is perplexing and flies in the face of political logic. The Left has sometimes entered into tactical alliances with major oligarchic parties, thus severely diluting its core principles. In such alliances, little was gained in terms of advancing the Left’s agenda. It has had some success in party-list elections, but with the limitations imposed by law and the system’s corruption by traditional political interests, hopes for meaningful interventions have been effectively curtailed.

But why aim for the presidency? The main purpose is to challenge oligarchic and dynastic politics and offer a genuine alternative, which only the Left can do. It is also to offer hope to the toiling masses that not all its leaders are callous and insensitive to their plight. It is time for the Left to get serious and raise the highest bar for electoral participation. Anything less than the presidency, and the Left is hobbled from the start. Without discounting the value of fielding candidates for local governments and Congress, the fact is that in these contests, the Left’s message is easily lost or muffled.

The Philippine Left, however, has to first rid itself of baggage from its past. Traditional Left analyses and strategies must give way to new formulations and programs based on the monumental changes that have taken place, globally and nationally, in the past decades. Internecine fighting and sectarianism among its various strands must end. Finally, it has to dissociate itself from the failed socialist experiments of the Soviet Union, China, and other similar projects. A radical reformulation of the socialist ideal has to be undertaken.

On the other hand, inspiration can be drawn from the electoral victories of the Left in Greece and in Latin America, particularly Bolivia. Evo Morales’ administration has shown that creative and innovative forms of socialism can work. The Guardian reports that under Morales, inequality decreased; poverty fell by 25 percent and extreme poverty by 43 percent; social spending rose by more than 45 percent; and the real minimum wage increased by 87.7 percent. And economic growth remains robust.

The time has come to end oligarchic and dynastic politics once and for all. The Left must take up this challenge, or continue to be consigned to the margins of Philippine politics.

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