Are Philippine workers abandoning their role as the vanguard class?


The Communist Manifesto proclaims: “The proletariat can no longer liberate itself without at the same time liberating the whole of society.”

Given this Marxist dictum, are not Philippine workers being currently subjected to a most severe test? Duterte’s killing rampage goes on unabated and there appears to be no let up to it. If it is true, as Marx proclaimed it in the Communist Manifesto, that workers’ liberation is to be had with the inclusion of the liberation of all other classes in society, then being the class vested with that vanguard role, workers should be at the forefront of protesting and, in fact, taking concrete action to stop the Duterte carnage.

But no, nothing to that effect. Virtually it’s all quiet on the workers’ front.

As of the latest count, on top of the 3,800 recorded drugs-related cases of extrajudicial killings within three months of the Duterte administration, seven from the workers sector now account for the blood spillover for September. And there is no assurance that the number won’t increase as the month goes on.

But only two groups from that sector, SENTRO (Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisang Manggagawa) and NAGKAKAISA (SOLIDARITY), are known to this column as having come out in the open condemning the slayings. Big labor groups, like the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) on one side of the Left spectrum and the National Confederation of Labor (NCL) on another side, are simply mum on the issue.

In the case of the KMU, this seems to be a matter of course. KMU is known to be aligned with the Joma faction of the Left insurgency, and that faction being currently engaged in “peace talks” with the Duterte administration, its underlings necessarily must toe the line. Ditto with the Anakpawis Partylist, the Bayan Muna and the giant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) whose spokesmen, at the recent wake of Ka Arman (Alfred G. Simbulan), expressed hopes for “good prospects” getting realized in the ongoing “peace negotiations” in Oslo, Norway.

Good prospects, sure enough, but for whom?

So, all told, whether from the radical Left or from the light-to-moderate ones, prospects of a Philippine workers frontal clash with Duterte on the issue of extrajudicial killings is not forthcoming, at least in the immediate sense.

I visited the offices of the NCL the other night purposely to discuss the matter with Atty. Ernie Arellano, a long-time comrade at the KASAMA (Katipunan ng mga Samahan ng mga Manggagawa) in the pre-Martial Law period. The visit was a letdown for me.

To my initial salvo of “I wish to sound out labor on the Duterte killings,” he unleashed an unabashed, “You are talking to Duterte supporters here (gesturing to himself and those around in the office, describing each as either “ito luma” or “ito bago”, the reference being, in the manner of a jest, to the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas or the New Communist Party of the Philippines).”

To be sure, I felt I got walloped by a Pacquiao punch. I did not expect it from someone who had been my sparring partner in organizing labor unions for KASAMA at the height of the upheavals of the ‘70s. As education department head of the Party unit in the federation, my job was to sow seeds of working class consciousness into the minds of prospective unionists and once this was done, I turned over the educated workers to Ernie for formalizing into trade unions according to legal norms.

But then, between that day of the declaration of Martial Law in September 1972 – when our Party unit members went each individual way of going underground – and the night of my visit to the NCL offices the other day, there must have formed a great divide so that what was once a life of pure proletarian camaraderie had turned into hardened pursuits of pragmatic imperatives.

On my part, I had turned into a journalist whose sole concern is to write the truth, while continuing to promote the proletarian ideals that had steeled many an activist in furious struggles in the past. On his part, Ernie is chairman now of a huge labor federation which must see to it that its masses of membership are well taken care of in every aspect, economic, political, legal and otherwise.

If striking up an alliance with an administration avowing pursuit of socialist ideals is possible, then why not?

When the October 17 Revolution brought down the regime of Czar Nicholas II in Russia and resulted in the installation of the Kerensky government, Lenin vigorously opposed the Menshevik agitation for the establishment of a separate government by the revolutionary ranks. Instead, Lenin insisted in participation by the proletarian party in the Duma, the government legislature. Only when the revolutionary forces had gotten themselves consolidated within the new dispensation – highlighted by Leon Trotsky’s tight control of the Russian Red Army – did Lenin execute his grand takeover: arresting the entire Kerensky cabinet, with Kerensky sent scurrying away for safety in other lands.

Only then did Lenin make his famous proclamation: “All power to the soviets!”

And thus came about the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Certainly that was brilliant of Lenin. It is said that when he died, there were efforts made to preserve his brain so it could be studied and yield information on exactly how his thinking went.

It won’t be surprising if leaders of the Philippine working class are thinking along the Leninist line in dealing with Duterte’s killing rampage. But if they do, then they are utterly condemnable.

Allying with the bourgeoisie at the downfall of the feudal czarist regime was the hallmark of Lenin’s political genius – a brilliant tactical move, indeed. But there was never an issue at the time of the Kerensky government being anti-people, much more, mass murderer.

Moreover, the alliance with the Kerensky government by the revolutionary forces was born out of the concrete common struggle by the rising Russian bourgeoisie and the Russian people’s soviets against the feudal rule of Nicholas II. Duterte’s rise to power has not been born out of such a people’s struggle but rather out of one man’s personal quest for glory. That quest, packaged along public relations principles as those that made Ramon Magsaysay similarly a legend in 1953 – or for that matter, Adolf Hitler by the great propagandist Goebels in the lead up to the Second World War – gained phenomenal success in the 2016 Philippine presidential elections.

Recall how wishy-washy Duterte was during the election period: now he runs, now he is not running. Why? Was it because it is really in his nature to say one thing now, then say another thing the next time around? One has to be really in on what exactly transpired in Duterte’s private run-up to the presidential polls to be able to say why he finally decided to run – and won.

In the visit to the NCL offices, I pointed out to Ernie that in the history of the Philippine presidency, no one sat at Malacanang who was not a US boy, or if one succeeded in elections due to his personal popularity, nobody has stayed seated as President, as was Erap’s case, who was not a US boy. Erap was deposed just two months after defying US wishes for him not to attack MILF Camp Abubakar.

Ernie would not accept such, he called, a generalization, contending that Duterte captured the imagination of a people who are fed up with crime, graft and corruption, and, yes, the drugs problem.

I finally concluded to myself that Ernie was not jesting at all when he said that, “you are talking to Duterte supporters here.”

How so alone even more did the remark make me feel. At the last night of the wake for Ka Arman, I had found greater reason for grief at knowing that certain other former comrades in the anti-dictatorship movement who were present in the wake were gloating over “good prospects” to be had from the ongoing “peace talks” between the CPP/NPA/NDF triad and the Duterte government.

Where have all our proletarian ideals gone? Are we to tolerate wanton violations of civil liberties and human rights, and worse condone unbridled extrajudicial killings, all for the potential of having a share in the political power of a despot?

What does it profit the workers to gain the DSWD, for instance, or the DOLE or the NAPC, but lose the soul of the great proletarian revolution?

By participating in the Duterte government, do we not ourselves become the perpetrators, too, of those very evils we so decried and were ready to lay down our lives for under the Marcos dictatorship?

There ought to be a clear line between political tactics and selfish personal gains.


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