Left won’t fold flags despite alliance with Duterte

Renato Reyes Jr

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Will activists still be staunch critics of the government? Bayan explains the Left's alliance with the Duterte administration

On President Rodrigo Duterte’s inauguration day, not a few friends from the media asked us what our role would be under the new administration. Will we still be watchdogs and critics? Will there still be rallies from the Left? I already made a previous post answering the latter. In fact, we already told the new President that we will be holding a rally on the day of the SONA and he is fine with it.

Still, there are those who question the Left’s current relationship with the Duterte administration. They insinuate that the positive attitude towards Duterte is simply the result of getting positions in government and that the Left has already capitulated. They insist that the Left has swallowed its principles in favor of securing government posts.

They make these claims not because they are genuinely concerned for the Left but because they oppose the alliance and cooperation between the Left and Duterte. They either hate the Left, Duterte, or both. For them, there is no justifying any Left alliance with Duterte. These critics have already made up their minds.

I write this piece not for them but for those who are sincerely seeking answers, to those who want clarification because they see the need for an active mass movement that serves as a watchdog of government. This is for folks who do not hate the Left but have some misgivings or reservations about the Duterte regime. They want to understand where this new situation is headed.

Has the Left capitulated?

Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way. Does accepting government posts mean the Left has capitulated? Definitely not. We have not abandoned the struggle. We are not about to fold our banners and streamers. We are more than ever determined to arouse, organize, and mobilize now given the favorable conditions. You will see this in the coming weeks.

We shall continue to oppose anti-people policies and programs wherever they exist. We shall continue to be visible in the streets. A big rally is already being planned for the State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25.

Government posts in a reactionary state have never been the end goal of the struggle. This is very clear to the mass movement. What may not be clear though to observers, allies, and friends is the context of the offer and acceptance of government posts. 

The posts were not originally offered to Bayan or the Makabayan Coalition or any of the legal personalities you may know. The posts were offered to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), to the revolutionary movement. It was an offer in line with the President’s thrust of reviving the peace talks towards achieving national unity.

The offer was unprecedented. No Philippine president has ever allowed the Left to have such a huge role in the reactionary state. But if you look at it from the standpoint of creating a favorable climate for the resumption of the peace talks, it makes sense. (READ: Joma: Left welcomes Duterte offers of Cabinet posts)

Now the CPP and the revolutionary forces could not just lay down their arms and join the government without having any meaningful peace agreement, because that would be capitulation. That would mean abandoning the struggle without achieving any meaningful socio-economic, political, and constitutional reforms.

So the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the organization representing the revolutionary forces in peace negotiations, nominated progressives to the government posts even as peace negotiations were still ongoing. That way, the progressives can help in implementing policies that would be beneficial to the people while maintaining a climate that is favorable to peace negotiations. 

ACTIVISTS IN MALACAÑANG. Leftist leaders discuss the 'People's Agenda for Change' with President Rodrigo Duterte after his inauguration.

Handling differences with Duterte

Let it be clear that the Left never sought these government posts. These were offered by Duterte. And that’s what makes him different from other presidents. He has a 3-decade relationship with the Left, from his time as mayor of Davao City. He recognizes the strength of the revolutionary movement and the necessity of engaging it in peace negotiations. He knows that a purely military solution will not work.

It is this difference in the character and outlook of the President which has also necessitated an adjustment in our approach to his administration. To put it plainly, he is an ally. The alliance and cooperation with Duterte is based on his pro-people and progressive policies and pronouncements and on his track record and long-standing relationship with the revolutionary forces. It is the first time that we have this kind of an alliance with a sitting president.

As in any alliance, there are contradictions. To develop the alliance, there will always be unity and struggle. We have made this clear even in media interviews and public fora. However, the contradictions or differences are handled in a non-antagonistic way. There is a certain amount of restraint. Why? As we said, Duterte is unlike former president Benigno Aquino III. He is considered an ally.

There is really no point in insisting that we criticize Duterte with the same harshness that we criticized Aquino. (The Yellow diehards often insist that we should do to Digong what we did to Noynoy, not because they truly care about an issue but because they want to see the alliance break up. You know this to be true because the Yellows on social media do not mobilize for anything. They just want to see the Left and Duterte slug it out while they eat popcorn and watch their Twitter feeds.)

To be immediately confrontational with no quarters given every time the President said something disagreeable during the past month would have weakened the alliance even before Duterte could sit as president. In struggling out our differences, we will have to be firm, principled, and always conscious of what would be beneficial to the people. 

JUST PEACE. This is the context of the Left's alliance with the Duterte administration. Photo by Efren Ricalde

Appreciate the bigger picture

And when we talk of what is beneficial to the people, one of the most important things to consider would be the peace negotiations and the resolution to the roots of the armed conflict. There is a real chance for the peace talks to move forward farther than before. 

This is more important than any government post. This is about achieving land reform, national industrialization, a self-reliant economy, national sovereignty, and a just peace. Perhaps that is the bigger picture which we hope our friends and allies will be able to appreciate.

This is the context by which we should understand the Cabinet appointments. The new president somehow wants to bring about peace and national unity during his term. This much he told us when we met with him in Malacañang on his inauguration day. We should at least give him a chance. (READ: Jeans-clad Bayan leaders meet Duterte in Malacañang)

The mass movement is treading carefully even as we hope to maximize the new space for reforms. It will not be easy to say the least given that there are indeed policy differences with the new regime. We’re keenly aware of the differences when it comes to the K-12 system, neoliberal economic policies, the Marcos hero’s burial, and so on.

We may have disagreed with some of his pronouncements on media killings, but we should welcome his pro-active stand of creating a task force to address the problem of media killings. 

There are also many issues that Duterte and the Left agree on and we hope to highlight those as well. We have been struggling against contractualization, destructive mining, corruption, and for a greater budget for health services, for free irrigation, for the distribution of the coco levy funds, freedom of information and many more. 

Duterte’s Health Secretary was criticized for her framework on corporatized health services. In his first Cabinet meeting, Duterte announced that the DOH should go to Cuba to study their free health care system.

Wow! Surely it would not be wrong to cooperate with the new administration on these issues. 

RAISED FIST. President Rodrigo Duterte meets with leaders of Bayan and other progressive groups at the Osmeña Room of the Kalayaan Hall in Malacañang after his inauguration.

A little trust, please

To our friends and allies, we are in uncharted territory and we continue to learn by the day. There may be some rough patches along the way. I suppose that’s only normal.

Sa aming mga kaibigan at alyado na may pagdududa, hiling ko lang po ay ito. Kaunting tiwala lang. (To our friends and allies who have doubts, this is my request. A little trust.) We have been struggling for more than 4 decades, and have made great strides in building people’s power in many parts of the country. Why would the movement flush all of that down the drain? For Cabinet posts?

Parang hindi nyo naman kami kilala. Pag-ibahin nyo naman po kami sa Akbayan. Nagsisimula pa lang ang bagong kabanata. Natututo tayo sa araw-araw. Tignan natin hanggang saan tayo dadalhin nito. Huwag tayong matakot sa hinaharap. At humusga tayo ‘di lamang batay sa salita kundi lalong-lalo na sa gawa.

(You know us better than that. We’re different from Akbayan. This new chapter has just started. We learn every day. Let’s see where this will take us. Let us not fear what is ahead of us. Judge us not merely based on our words but on our actions.)

We will remain an active and militant mass movement and we will continue pushing for change whether we are inside or outside the government. 

Salamat po sa inyong pag-unawa. (Thank you for your understanding.) – Rappler.com

Renato Reyes Jr is the secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), a multisectoral alliance of progressive groups struggling for national and social liberation.

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