Part 2: Progressives in a bind

Patricio N. Abinales
Part 2: Progressives in a bind
Akbayan can comfort itself with the fact that it is not the first leftist group to face this dilemma over which to prioritize. Localist demands led to the unraveling of their communist rivals in the 1980s.

This is part 2 of an examination of an internal document of Akbayan party list assessing on June 23, 2013, why its candidate Risa Hontiveros failed to get elected to the Senate (READ: Part 1: Progressives in disarray: Risa Hontiveros’ loss)

In this executive committee meeting, the participants kept going back to the issue of messaging and local politics. How did we project Risa? Why was there a problem in our message at the local level? Why were we unable to merge Risa and Akbayan as one message? How come we had variable results in the provinces?

Then on local politics: why did our negotiations with chapters of the Liberal Party and other groups at the local levels falter? Why were local allies in one province wholeheartedly supporting Risa while in other regions, they ignored her despite our efforts?

Illustrative of these dilemmas was the observation of a former Akbayan party-list representative. Walden Bello complained: “Sa pagkakahati ng mga local sa mga kandidato ang sense ko ay hindi nakaganda. Tapos ‘yung ibang area natin na nagkakahiwalay-hiwalay – case in point ‘yung sa Iloilo, pero sa Laguna naman maayos. Baka panahon na para magkaroon tayo ng basis ng negotiations.”

(My sense is that the split among our local candidates was not good. The break-up and go-at-it-alone attitude in other areas – case in point, in Iloilo, but it was okay in Laguna. Maybe it’s time for us to have basis for negotiations.)

He went on: “Implication ‘yan – how well do we manage our machinery? Hindi lang sa political alliance pati sa ibang things pa. Sa Iloilo, pagdating namin hindi na kampanya pero sumasagot na kami sa mga nangyari, kung bakit nagbigay ng ganitong resources sa ganito sa iba hindi. Pero baka naman konti lang yung ganun at hindi siya ‘in general’ na nangyari.”

(The implications [for not doing so] can impact our machinery, not simply in the cases of our political alliance[s] but on other matters as well, particularly in the allocation of resources – why to some and not to others? Then again maybe these incidents are few and do not reflect our capacities ‘in general’?)

Smaller pool

Another discussant had a different take on local politics. The cadre reminded his comrades how much the space for party-list politics had constricted with the rise of many other party-list organizations. “Dumadami ang players, lumiliit ang corridors kahit sa urban areas (The number of players are growing, the corridors, even in urban areas, are getting smaller).”

Once one added the rising cost of electoral campaigns, then the ills of organization cohesion become more apparent. “May mga mahina kagaya ng Agusan Sur, na binitbit ng Gov, halos ganun din ang boto natin. Urban centers, hirap tayo kahit malapit….Kahit may perceived power tayo.”  

(There are weak spots like in Agusan Sur….We have difficulty in urban areas even if it’s near….Even if we have perceived power.)

The question, the cadre asked, was whether Akbayan’s “cadre-operators” were “in tune” with Akbayan’s battle against or alliance with traditional politics. To which another discussant added that in places like Iloilo, General Santos, Manila, Caloocan, and Muntinlupa, Akbayan activists were not negotiating around national issues but local ones. And when it came to the latter, it was party-list politics that proved more important than a national figure like Hontiveros.

Or the opposite arose: because of the fusion of campaigning as a party and campaigning for Hontiveros, Akbayan was tagged in a lot of local places as Hontiveros’ party, not a party list worth sending to the House of Representatives.

The rest of the document talked about money matters and the party’s growing difficulty of raising funds on its own. The outcome was increasing reliance on the graciousness of Liberal Party provincial and city bosses as well as on national connections. This brought the conversation back to Akbayan’s relationship with the ruling coalition. The conclusion was it had very little influence in the coalition despite the access. “Walang command as a force sa kanila (There’s no command on them, as a force).”

What then had to be done? One suggested a more professional approach in running the campaigns. “We need to be more cunning at ang reality ng politika ay hindi ganun-ganun lang (the reality of politics is it’s not that easy).” Another saw the solution in a better management of the campaign machinery, especially in harmonizing the different parts. It was time to build a lasting bailiwick, to invest in vote rich areas (and not just rely on spin) like northern Luzon, to – as a cadre put it – “Build ng Movement beyond Akbayan.”

Easier said than done

Hontiveros said very little in the deliberations, reconfirming the activist lore of her being consistently loyal to the party (hell or high water). When she did say something, she calmly told her comrades that she would abide by any decisions made and strategies agreed upon. “Para sa akin as candidate, I can practically do anything or whatever style basta mapagkasunduan ng partido (For me as a candidate, I can practically do anything or whatever style is agreed upon by the party).”

Bello interrupted her to ask, “Bakit wala sa discussion si Risa kung 2013 o 2016? (Why is Risa not in the discussion, on whether it’s for 2013 or 2016?)” Her response was odd but also expected: “Hindi, what I’m saying ay ngayon ko lang nalaman, pero I would still run (No, what I’m saying is I only found out now, but I would still run).”

This may be easier said than done. Akbayan had “lost” a number of its major players. Bello resigned as the party representative in Congress and then made use of this “freedom” (he is still, formally, a party member) to go rogue, issuing statements that often contradicted his party’s positions. He has also gone back to doing political economy, but his writings indicate very little change from arguments he made almost 20 years ago. The other one who left was Ricardo Reyes, a former CPP cadre. He was a strong advocate of Akbayan reorienting to privilege local politics.

While Bello was making a grand fuss over Akbayan’s too close an alliance with President Aquino, Reyes quietly sent a letter of resignation from the party in protest of this continued compromise. One is beginning to enjoy the hoopla of trapo politics and ill-advised punditry; the other one went back to organizing peasants.

Of course, Akbayan can comfort itself with the fact that it is not the first leftist group to face this dilemma over which to prioritize. Localist demands led to the unraveling of their communist rivals in the 1980s. The CPP had to go after regional organizations that wanted to assert more autonomy and break the Stalinist iron grid that defined the Partido.

The results traumatized the communists. Sison and the Politburo had to have rivals in Manila, Negros, and Mindanao assassinated, while hysteria led to the widespread torture and killing inside the organization. The CPP may brag about its resurgence these days, but the real story is it has never gotten over that trauma. And it never will. –

Patricio N. Abinales is an OFW

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