2022 Philippine Elections

[OPINION] A socialist worker for president? Why not?

Herbert Docena
[OPINION] A socialist worker for president? Why not?
'It sounds batshit crazy, even delusional.... But it actually makes perfect sense, in my view.'

So over the past few days, I’ve been hearing a growing number of people dream and say what previously seemed un-dreamable and un-sayable: that Ka Leody De Guzman — a socialist labor leader who ran in the 2019 senatorial elections — should run for President.

It sounds batshit crazy, even delusional — and you can be sure that all the defenders of the establishment, all the respectable commentators, all those seeking intellectual cover for their collaboration with the elites, and of course all those paid trolls, will all dismiss this bold proposition as such.
But it actually makes perfect sense, in my view.

Unlike Isko, Pacquiao, and those other pretenders, Ka Leody represents the real opposition: A former garments worker who became politicized during the 1980s, he was fighting the Marcos dictatorship before Toni Gonzaga was born. Even after Marcos was deposed, he continued to march against the human rights abuses committed by the more “democratic” post-Marcos administrations. He was at the forefront of the fight against corruption during the time of Erap, GMA, and Noynoy. He was ready to join us as we used our bodies to physically block Marcos’ burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. And he was there with us in so many protest actions against Duterte’s war on the poor.

Life is full of uncertainties, but I think we can be certain of one thing: unlike Isko, Ka Leody will never offer a cabinet position to Duterte if he wins — he will put him in jail.

But not only does Ka Leody represent the real opposition, he represents that part of the opposition that is uncompromisingly on the side of the poor, of women, of the LGBTQ+, and of other oppressed groups.

Like Isko and Pacquiao, he comes from the working class. But unlike them, he is rid of the illusion that anyone from this class can be an Isko or a Pacquiao if they only only work hard enough. Born to a peasant family in Mindoro, he learned from experience that the system is stacked against the poor and that for everyone to succeed, individual hard work is not enough: collective struggle is necessary and the entire system needs to be changed.

Also one very important difference: unlike Pacquiao, Ka Leody does not think of people like me, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, as an “animal” or as an inferior being. Indeed, Ka Leody and the groups to which he belongs have come out in full support of marriage equality, as well as of other pro-women measures such divorce and the decriminalization of abortion.

To be sure, Isko and Pacquiao also champion social reforms that could improve the plight of the downtrodden. But unlike Isko and Pacquiao, who only began fighting for more social services for the poor in the course of nourishing their political ambitions, Ka Leody has been fighting for free, dignified housing for all, for universal health care, for quality education for everyone, for agrarian reform, for an end to contractualization, and so on all his life without expecting any personal rewards in return.

More importantly, unlike Isko and Pacquiao — and unlike so many well-intentioned reformists, for that matter — Ka Leody knows fully well that good intentions and good ideas are not enough to bring about reforms and to sustain them; one needs a strong and militant mass movement capable of countering the structural power of the top 1% in the country.

Ka Leody has devoted all his life, sacrificed so much, and gave up a life of comfort (as a labor aristocrat pampered by capitalists) in order to build such a movement.

But won’t Ka Leody only divide the opposition? 

Sadly, the opposition is already deeply fragmented, and that’s simply not the fault of the Left or the working class. On the contrary, Laban ng Masa — the coalition of workers and other oppressed groups to which Ka Leody belongs — has been pushing for a unified opposition from the very beginning. But for this to happen, members of this coalition insisted (not unreasonably, in my view) that their grievances ought to be heard and that their main demands should be included in the opposition’s platform. Indeed, they have reached out to and have been trying to set a meeting with leaders of the “opposition” for the past two months, but the latter has yet to get back to them. Is it wrong for people who feel they are not being heard and represented by the “opposition” to rally behind someone else who not only listens to them but is one of them?

Must Read

But is Ka Leody “winnable” at all? Won’t he just be a “nuisance candidate?”

All the apologists for the establishment, all of those pundits in the pockets of the rich, all of those desperate to cloak their opportunism — every single one of them will of course say that Ka Leody is a joke, a sure loser, an “adventurist,” etc. But we know why they will say that: at least in part because they’ve got so much to lose if a socialist worker is actually taken seriously by many — or if, god forbid, he actually wins the presidency.

“Winnability” is not a static fact that we should just accept — it is a product of deliberate collective human action. Socialists (or candidates who espoused socialist views) have won or nearly won elections many Latin American countries, even in the US, and in Peru most recently, through grassroots mobilizations — why not here? If all of us who oppose tyranny, believe in human rights, and seek social justice come together and fight like this is the fight of our lives, Ka Leody can win — if not in 2022 then soon thereafter.

A socialist worker aiming for the presidency is crazy or delusional?

What’s madness, in my view, is the belief that enduring reforms can be won, that the Left can grow stronger, or that we can have more “breathing space” if we just go on doing the same things we have been doing, tailing behind this or that “lesser evil,” all these years.

 What’s delusional is the belief that radical change can be achieved without someone who actually believes in radical change aiming for — and winning — the highest office.

As movements for transformation — against colonialism, racism, homophobia, dictatorship, and various other forms of oppression — have shown time and again throughout history, sometimes the most rational course of action is to insist on the seemingly irrational. – Rappler.com

Herbert Docena teaches sociology and makes really good granola.

Voices is Rappler’s home for opinions from readers of all backgrounds, persuasions, and ages; analyses from advocacy leaders and subject matter experts; and reflections and editorials from Rappler staff. 

You may submit pieces for review to opinion@rappler.com.