Philippines: The Staying Power Of Filipino Communism


Patricio N Abinales

The Communist Party of the Philippines' (CPP) resiliency seems out of place. Armed revolution has ceased to be a viable political option, the Cold War is over, and socialist regimes like the People's Republic of China have gone capitalist. This remarkable pliability is doubly significant since the CPP was practically declared politically dead after it split in 1992 and after the subsequent 'reaffirmation' of its Maoist roots by the victorious faction led by its chairman Jose Maria Sison at a time when even China has declared the Great Helmsman irrelevant.

Yet, today the CPP is back on centre stage. Worsening rural poverty has provided its New People's Army (NPA) with new recruits, allowing it to recover the zones it lost in the 1990s. In the cities, its electoral front, Bayan Muna (The People First) ran a successful 2004 campaign, increasing its seats to four in the lower house of Congress. And while 'parliamentary struggle' is merely subsidiary to the maquis, these representatives' savvy politicking has combined well with access to patronage resources to give their 'militancy' a high media profile.

The masochistic desire of the country's political elite to keep the political economy in a perpetual state of crisis has provided the CPP with an easy propaganda target as well. Despite her May election victory, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo remains unpopular and weak (of late she still has to craft a unified legislative coalition to pass revenue-generating and cost-cutting programs bills in Congress). Moreover, her closeness to George W Bush has made her prime target for nationalist criticisms.

Arroyo's dismal leadership has likewise boosted Sison's Maoist analyses and forecasts. The more nuanced assessments of the 1980s had given way to a simplistic view of politics: there is now no need to theorize the Philippines state further as its anti-poor policies, its corruption and its violence give ample evidence that it is indeed an instrument of the ruling class (albeit a rickety one). It follows then that the revolutionary option for the poor courtesy of their proletarian vanguard was just as obvious.

This 'line of march' has given comfort to those shaken by the debates of the 1980s, becoming a morale booster to cadres whose political commitment is - like many of today's Christian fundamentalists - underpinned by a sense of prosecution. The more besieged they are, the more convinced cadres are of the righteousness of their course and the correctness of their leadership. It has even provided them with a legitimate excuse to justify the killing of comrades who fell out of Sison's grace (the list has grown recently, and now includes an anti-globalization academic, a member of the House of Representatives from a left wing rival Akbayan; and the widow of a renowned political CPP martyr).

In its isolation, the CPP has become a more cohesive machine. But this is where its future dilemma may also lie. Coordinating an organizationally lean body is quite unproblematic, but once the CPP returns to its pre-1986 levels, when it had become a national movement, it would likely encounter difficulties in synchronization. It was the problem of crafting a national strategy that led to the dissensions of the 1980s when regional and local organizations, gaining valuable experiences in their arenas, became more critical of the viability of the Maoist strategy. These troubles associated with the process of growing up were never really examined, nor thoroughly evaluated (Sison simply ousted those who disagreed with him, and then had their top leaders killed).

It is therefore likely that this rebirth will only be momentary. The CPP's goal of establishing a people's democratic republic of the Philippines will remain a pipe dream based on the deadly ruminations of an aging Great Leader long disconnected from the everyday reality of the society he claims he wants to liberate.

WATCHPOINT: How will the government tackle the issues of poverty and economic disparity, which fuels grassroots disgruntlement?


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