Philippines: 100 Days of the Duterte Presidency
This article has been presented and discussed by the leadership and organizers of the Partido Lakas ng Masa (Party of the Laboring Masses - PLM) to mark the coming 100-day anniversary of the Duterte administration.
It is a contribution to the discussion among the Left and progressive forces on how to view this administration and the tasks ahead.
I. The tactical period
According to Vladimir Lenin, the Marxist conception of a tactical period is based on “an objective consideration of the sum total of the relations between absolutely all the classes in a given society, and consequently a consideration of the objective stage of development reached by that society and of the relations between it and other societies, [which] can serve as a basis for the correct tactics of an advanced class.” [ From Tactics of the Class Struggle of the Proletariat, V.I. Lenin, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/granat/ch05.htm ]
How do we assess and analyze the tactical period faced by the broad working class movement and its positioning in relation to all other classes under the present Rodrigo Duterte regime?
Let’s begin with the ruling class. The ruling class today is undergoing intensifying factionalism because a new faction has emerged vis-à-vis the older factions coming from or supported by the oligarchy and the so-called Yellow trapos [traditional politicians].
The new faction is the Duterte faction which is based among the local trapos and the local elite that have long been opposing the rule of “Imperial Manila” or the older factions. One of the main goals of this faction is to overturn the rule of the previous factions by enforcing ‘federalism’ or a federal with a parliamentary or presidential/parliamentary system.
The broad masses, who have been disenchanted and dissatisfied with the previous regimes that ruled after the Edsa Revolution (regimes which they lump together as the Yellow/Dilawan), are generally still supportive of the Duterte presidency. Duterte has the highest trust rating, reaching as high as 91%, among presidents during the first weeks of his presidency.
Duterte’s pronouncements on providing peace and security to many (through an anti-drugs, anti-criminalism campaign), eradicating corruption, increasing social benefits for the poor, and the likes, fuel the expectation of the masses that change is indeed coming under this administration. They consider the Duterte administration the last bastion of hope for a better future. It is however only a hundred days of Duterte administration and the masses seem ready to wait for a while and see whether the promised change will come their way.
A large section of the middle classes supports Duterte, especially his war on drugs or the peace and order campaign. Those who have assets and properties to protect (big or small) are relieved that the campaign gives them some security.
Left and progressive groups
In general, the Left and progressive groups are divided into those in coalition with Duterte and those against Duterte’s presidency. The former includes those aligned with the Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic Front forces. The CPP has characterized Duterte as the “chief political representative of the ruling classes and the head of the reactionary client-state” today. Duterte has offered them some choice positions in his Cabinet, which they accepted by putting open leaders of the mass movement there. However, there are different signals on how they stand on the Duterte regime, ranging from outright collaboration to critical collaboration or critical engagement with the Duterte regime.
The anti-Duterte groups include former leaders and members of Akbayan (or leaders and members who are still with Akbayan but critical of its dalliances with the Liberal Party or the Yellow forces).
There are however some sections of the Left and progressives who long consider themselves independent from both the elite factions: the Duterte and the Yellow forces. It is in this third force that PLM (Partido Lakas ng Masa) positions itself.
How strong and consolidated is the state apparatus under Duterte? Duterte’s Cabinet continues to be under the helm of neoliberal technocrats and trapos despite the posts given to the CPP-allied leaders. The parliamentary apparatus (Senate & the House of Representatives) are now under Duterte supporters, since a large section of the Liberal Party Coalition has joined up with the majority faction out of political opportunism. But they’re not really loyalists of Duterte; they can easily change sides depending on how the wind blows or on undue pressures from US imperialism and the oligarchs.
The PNP and the AFP are reported to be still supporting Duterte as the latter continues doing the rounds of visit to police and military camps all over the country. Duterte has put his own people at the helm of the PNP (Chief ‘Bato’ dela Rosa) and the AFP (Chief of Staff Ricardo Visaya) and has been campaigning hard to attract the police and soldiers to his no-nonsense, seemingly strong style of leadership and to promise them more support and funds. Yet, it’s more likely that the forces in the AFP and PNP who are supportive of US imperialism, the oligarchy and the Yellow trapos are waiting in the wings to make their moves soon.
The foreign powers, especially the US government and its adjuncts, are becoming wary of the Duterte government. A few weeks ago, the US considered the Duterte administration under a “business as usual” situation. The country has a “colorful president” who still adheres to a neoliberal program that does not pose a threat to their political, military, and trade and economic operations in the country.
After the US and its allies critiqued the Duterte government for human rights violations, Duterte has counteracted by threatening to kick out US military troops in the Philippines, review the US-RP Mutual Defense Treaty (which he said was an unequal treaty), and open up more trade and economic relations with China and Russia (including buying arms from these rival countries of the US). Now it is not only the US but the European Union which has taken a critical stance against the Duterte regime’s human rights violations.
Duterte’s tirade has continued by calling for an end to the joint US-Philippines military exercises and by threatening to “cross the Rubicon” soon, meaning deserting the alliance with the US and opening up “new alliances” with its rivals. These declarations may still be rhetoric, but there’s consistency in Duterte’s tirades that come from the nationalist positions he took when he was a young activist of the Kabataang Makabayan. These may not be anti-imperialist pronouncements, but a threat to shift to rival alliances surely will rile the chief imperialist power, the United States.
Duterte must have known that this early, the United States might have been contemplating a “regime change” in the country. Duterte is too unpredictable and his dalliances with the revolutionary Left are problematic to them. To plot for a “regime change” is something that the US imperialist forces have done in a number of countries in order to keep their interests intact and to retain a docile government that it can use as a proxy to serve their interests. It is also in the interest of the US to restore the rule of the Yellow forces and the old oligarchs as they have been its partners for a long time. It is not unrealistic to say that the Senate inquiry on extra-judicial killings and the anti-drugs war, initiated by the Yellow forces, and the counterpart House of Representative inquiry are part and parcel of the “regime change” scenario and its attendant reaction coming from Duterte’s legislative supporters.
II. The political scenario
Where is the situation heading? Right now, we are in a very unstable period; we can even say it’s a very perilous period for the Left and progressive forces.
There are two possible scenarios in the immediate future:
2.1. One is the degeneration of the Duterte regime into a dictatorship or a neo-fascistic regime. This scenario is already being raised by many forces including independent forces among the Left and the progressives.
2.2. The other is the intensification of US intervention and the ouster of the Duterte government either through constitutional (impeachment) or extra-constitutional means (coup d’etat or assassination). This scenario is being raised by forces of the CPP and those supporting Duterte.
Both scenarios can also coexist as one can be a counter-reaction to the other.
A seeming third scenario of Duterte going to the Left by siding with the revolutionary movement in actual deed, not only in rhetoric, is somewhat far-fetched. It is being hampered by the nature and character of the Duterte regime itself (still a reactionary regime of a faction of the elite), its avowed program of neoliberalism, the weak state of the revolutionary movement, the support of the state institutions especially the military and the police, the regional balance of forces (in terms of US imperialism and the rival powers in the region), and others.
The dictatorship scenario
The degeneration of the Duterte government into a dictatorship is indicated by the warlord and authoritarian mould of the Philippine president. The phenomena of warlordism in the country is itself characteristic of a political system shaped by a mongrel, backward capitalism (others call it the semi-colonial, semi-feudal system). This points to a weak nation-state, headed by oligarchs and top political clans who care less about the regions and provinces as long as they dispense the loot in government. This may be the first time that a local warlord has come to sit as the national president.
The warlord type of rule, which includes a command of private guards and goons and an impunity for violence, including violence against women and extreme forms of sexism, has been emblematic in areas such as Davao (Duterte with the Davao Death Squad), Isabela (the Dys), Escalante (the Yaps), Maguindanao (the Ampatuans), and the likes. Warlordism is founded on authoritarianism and violence, and can easily slide into a destruction of bourgeois or formal democratic processes and the imposition of martial rule.
Duterte’s authoritarian and violent bent is being unraveled by the mass killings and the human rights violations incurred by its war on drugs in the communities. The killings are happening in urban poor areas and have reached a death casualty of more than 3,000 during the 100 days of the Duterte government. Those killed, either by direct police actions or so-called vigilante operations, are generally the small-time pushers and users in the communities.
Although there’s a rising number of children and innocents killed in the war on drugs, the main target is the so-called underclass – the layer of society which has been alienated and debased by the very system of mongrel, backward capitalism that exists in our urban jungle or in any other Third World cities in the world today. This is the layer that was originally called by Karl Marx as the lumpen – it’s the “class of outcast, degenerated and submerged elements that make up a section of the population of the [urban centers]” which include beggars, prostitutes, gangsters, racketeers, swindlers, petty criminals, tramps… and all sorts of declassed, degraded or degenerated elements.” [Marxist Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/l/u.htm] For Marx, this is the layer of the working class that is unlikely ever to achieve class consciousness and can even be an impediment to the realization of socialism.
Much has changed in the categories of lumpen or lumpenproletariat as Marx defined it. This is a fluid, not a static or sharply defined category. (Some of the anti-social activities for instance are being done by members of the capitalist class itself). In today’s underclass belongs the millions of people who have been hooked to shabu (methamphetamine, meth, ‘ice’ or ‘crystal’ in other countries) and are the ‘living zombies’ who carry out criminal activities under the influence of this drug or to support their vices. It is no wonder that even in the urban poor communities, people are supporting the war on drugs campaign of the government, as it provides them the peace and security that they long for.
The trading of shabu has replaced jueteng as a form of livelihood in urban poor communities where many people are chronically unemployed or unemployables. This increases the number of probable targets (three million pushers and users according to Duterte) of the war on drugs. In the government list, we do not add yet the police force and its generals who are the coddlers or main operators of the drugs trade. This only means that the Duterte government cannot really implement a successful war on drugs if the very forces it unleashes to stamp the drug trade are the main perpetrators.
While we point to the underclass as the main target of Duterte’s war on drugs, the Left should never countenance a murder spree to get rid of these elements. We strike at the very root of the problem, which is the existence of a mongrel, backward type of capitalism which drives people into utter destitution and into a life of criminalities and drugs.
The intensification of US intervention in the country is not only based on the human rights violations of the Duterte regime, although this is now being used as the main excuse for a possible “regime change” scenario. Duterte’s pronouncements go against the US consolidation of military might in the region and the containment of China through its “Pivot to Asia” (now called “Rebalance to Asia”) by the US imperialist forces.
The De Lima inquiry in the Senate is an attempt to launch an early impeachment proceeding against Duterte. This immediately lost ground as Duterte and his cohorts in the Senate ousted Senator Leila de Lima as chair of the inquiry and are now using every effort to shift the investigation away from Duterte’s role in the DDS (Davao Death Squad) killings. Then there is the Kangaroo court in the House of Representatives which is using every trick in the book to undertake a demolition job against De Lima (including resorting to personal, misogynistic, vilely sexist- shaming tactics). As to where this will head depends on the balance of forces that will arise in the unceasing faction fight among the trapos.
III. Our Calls, Our Tasks
What is our stand in this tactical period?
We should intensify our campaign for a stop to the killings and the drift towards more authoritarian rule or the imposition of dictatorship by the Duterte government. But this campaign (Stop the Killings, No to Dictatorship) should not play into the hands of the Yellow forces, the oligarchs and the US imperialists who are using the campaign to their own advantage. We should lead the campaign as an independent force, so it will not be seen or used as just another plank of the US and the Yellow forces to discredit and bring down the Duterte government.
We do not discount the possibility of a coup d’etat, impeachment or assassination plot against Duterte. As Duterte reacts by further threatening to take an anti-US position, an independent foreign policy position, and even join up with the anti-US rival foreign powers, it will be a matter of time before the plot of “regime change” will be implemented. To this, we say No to US intervention in Philippine politics.
The tactical period is also characterized by the government continuing its neoliberal economic program despite pronouncements against labor contractualization and expansion of social welfare for the masses. There has been no improvement in the lives of the poor but the neoliberal program, which victimizes the poor, continues without letup. Duterte’s supporters in government and those in the legislative even want to impose more taxes against the poor, diminish welfare benefits for senior citizens, and change the constitution to accommodate foreign corporations and liberalize trade and investment.
We call for an End to Neoliberalism and all its attendant policies – privatization, liberalization, deregulation, regressive taxation, and contractualization. Our campaign against contractualization and all its forms should expose the entire neoliberal program of the government.
IV. The Alternative
It should be clear to all that the alternative to the Duterte regime is not another form of coalition with the trapos, the oligarchy, the Yellow forces, or even the local trapos and the warlords themselves.
The genuine alternative is a Government of the Masses – for the masses, by the masses, and of the masses. We should be clear about this, although the present situation does not point to the possibility of such. The CPP has called for a Government of National Unity (GNU) which includes Duterte, i.e., if Duterte abides by an anti-neoliberal and pro-masses program of the government. The call for a GNU is in consonance with the multi-class provisional government or a ‘bloc/state of four classes’ (workers, peasants, petty-bourgeoisie, and national bourgeoisie) that the CPP adheres to in pursuing the national democratic stage of the Philippine revolution.
It is however problematic to base our call on the possibility of Duterte allying himself with the revolutionary movement, or abiding to a national democratic program of government. At some point, CPP leader Jose Ma. Sison has even acknowledged a Duterte regime that merely undertakes “bourgeois reforms” as the only possible relief that the masses can get from the government today.
We have a choice. We can be pragmatic and accept the realities and limitations of the present political juncture. But when the heat and the opposition build up, Duterte will more likely take a Rightist position than align himself with the Left. He’s not even a Peron, and perhaps will not be given time and opportunity to become one.
At this stage, it is perhaps better to put up the guidepost of the alternative society we want, including a strategic call for a Government of the Masses instead of a very tactical governmental call. A Government of the Masses is the only alternative to a series of regimes that merely continue to exploit, oppress and dehumanize the masses.
A Government of the Masses is a government of the broad working class and the peasantry and other oppressed sectors of society. It overturns the mongrel, backward capitalism and paves the way for a transition to socialism.
IV. An Independent Mass Movement
Our calls should be many-sided. We should go beyond single-issue calls and a single-issue movement as we are trying to develop a movement of a broad working class that seriously challenges the system and poses itself as an alternative power to the ruling class or its factions.
Lenin in What Is to be Done also called for an organization that conducts comprehensive and all-sided exposure against the tsarist regime, an exposure of issues that point to the need for a programmatic system change (towards socialism) instead of a regime change. In a sense, this is also what we need to do at this juncture.
In the present tactical period, we need a movement that can do this. The main tactic is to develop an independent mass movement carrying the independent class line of the broad working class masses. It is an erroneous tactic to ally or coalesce with any faction of the ruling class, with potentially disastrous consequences for the working class movement. It is bound to fail as the Left has experienced during the Cory period, the Erap period, the GMA period, and the Noynoy period.
Finally, the tactic is addressed to all Left and progressive forces and individuals – whichever blocs or parties they are aligned with -- who see the need for an independent mass movement that can take on the tasks of the present tactical period. This is where Left unity is crucial – if we can unite and combine our forces and resources, we can build a movement that can contest, even shift, the outcome of the present tactical period to our advantage. This is also the opportunity presented by the tactical period.#