Workers Vanguard No. 946
6 November 2009
Aquino Funeral and the Left
No Illusions in Bourgeois Liberals—For Workers Revolution!
On August 1, the Philippines woke to the news that former president Corazon “Cory” C. Aquino succumbed to colon cancer. Aquino, who was catapulted to the presidency of this Far Eastern U.S. neocolony by “peaceful revolution,” is deeply revered in bourgeois circles that have elevated her to near cult status as an icon of “democracy and freedom.”
The late Cory Aquino was a member of the old landed aristocracy which has dominated Filipinos for centuries, both under Spanish and American colonial rule and following independence in July 1946. She assumed office in February 1986 during the so-called “People Power Revolution,” a misnomer for the combination of a U.S.-engineered military revolt and massive street demonstrations encouraged by the Roman Catholic hierarchy and big business to send the hated dictator Ferdinand Marcos packing.
It is hardly surprising that Aquino’s supposedly nonviolent “People Power” movement serves as a blueprint for the “color-coded revolutions” spawned by Washington from the Ukraine to Lebanon. When the U.S. pulled the plug on Marcos, who had become a liability to stability in the country, we said “Beware of coups ‘Made in U.S.A.’” (“Reagan Pulls Plug on Marcos,” WV No. 398, 28 February 1986).
Cory Aquino’s “revolution” did not bring the Philippine working masses any closer to power. Instead, it was, as described by Der Spiegel (7 July 1986) journalist Tiziano Terzani, “the reinstatement of the old aristocratic oligarchy of Spanish descent, with which Marcos clashed and which he partly replaced by his own clique of relatives and hangers-on.” For example, when the wealthy and powerful Lopez family dynasty fell out of Marcos’s favor, it was stripped of most of its political and economic assets. Following Aquino’s rise to power, it got back its television stations and ownership stake in the country’s largest power utility.
A devout Catholic, Aquino promulgated the 1987 Constitution, which includes one of the most severe anti-abortion laws in the world. A hard anti-communist, Aquino was a staunch supporter of a strong American imperialist military presence in the Philippines. In the face of domestic political opposition, she unsuccessfully tried at the end of her presidency to maintain U.S. operation of the huge Subic Bay naval base. But the American military remains a potent combat force and continuous presence in the Philippines through rotating military exercises. All U.S. troops out of the Philippines!
The Philippines was seen by imperialist planners as an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Cold War offensive against the former Soviet Union and in the hot war against the Vietnamese Revolution, as it is in a strategic location to serve as a military staging ground and supply base as well as to guard the sea lanes along the western Pacific Rim. It still serves a similar purpose today, with the current U.S. military encirclement and provocations aimed chiefly at China and North Korea. As part of our struggle against imperialism and in defense of working people and the oppressed around the globe, we stand for the unconditional military defense of the Chinese, North Korean, Vietnamese and Cuban bureaucratically deformed workers states against imperialist attack and capitalist counterrevolution. At the same time, we fight for proletarian political revolutions to oust the Stalinist bureaucracies and establish regimes based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalist policies.
The Persistence of “Yellow Fever”
According to bourgeois observers in the Philippines, Cory Aquino’s death could not have been more timely. The former president, a vocal opponent of the current regime, passed away while the highly unpopular right-wing president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was in Washington to curry favor from President Barack Obama. The highly publicized refusal by the Aquino family of a state-sponsored funeral and the cold reception given President Arroyo during the wake laid bare to the population the deep factional divisions within the Filipino bourgeoisie, as the country prepares for national elections in May 2010. Arroyo, the daughter of a former Philippine president, has been suspected of rigging the 2004 election in her favor. Her husband Mike, a member of the oligarchy, has been accused of amassing kickbacks for state-sponsored projects and showering cronies with perks, much to the displeasure of the Makati-centered bourgeoisie, sections of the clergy and the general population.
As Cory Aquino lay in the hospital, the powerful Roman Catholic church and Aquino supporters in the media were exhorting Filipinos to join in prayers for her recovery while yellow ribbons—the symbol of Cory’s “People Power” movement—festooned the major avenues and buildings around the capital, Manila. From her sickbed, Aquino gave a final statement in support of thousands of demonstrators gathered in the nearby Makati Central Business District, many of them mobilized by the Philippine left, to protest Arroyo’s attempts to get the Philippine Congress to rubber-stamp her proposed changes in the constitution that would consolidate her hold on political power.
The announcement of Aquino’s death touched off a massive emotional outpouring, even among the plebeian masses of Manila and key cities around the country. Business ground to a halt as the capitalist bosses joined white-collar employees in the Makati financial district to salute the funeral cortege in a blizzard of yellow confetti streaming down from surrounding high rises. A quarter million Filipinos waving yellow flowers, chanting “Cory” and flashing the thumb and index finger “L” sign (for “Laban,” meaning “Fight”) came out for the funeral procession, which took nine hours to wind through the storm-drenched streets of Manila. These televised scenes, exclusively carried by the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN network, were eerily reminiscent of the funeral march for Cory Aquino’s husband, Benigno “Ninoy” Jr., a millionaire bourgeois politician with close ties to the CIA, who was assassinated by agents of the Marcos regime in August 1983. That event sparked the bourgeois-led “People Power” movement that brought Cory Aquino to power a few years later with U.S. backing.
Acid Test for the Philippine Left
Like the first Aquino funeral over 25 years ago, the second Aquino funeral graphically displayed the Philippine reformist left in the political tow of the bourgeoisie. Obscenely, the Philippine left in general has lined up behind the ghost of “Tita (Auntie) Cory.”
The social-democratic Akbayan party, which includes numerous ex-Stalinists, is the most prominent in the yellow-shirted political milieu. Its political predecessors cheered Cory Aquino’s rise to power in 1986. Today, they are loyal drumbeaters for the Liberal Party of Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who has emerged as Liberal presidential standard-bearer in the wake of the massive turnout and media hype during his mother’s funeral. Akbayan has since formed a bloc with smaller bourgeois opposition parties and so-called “civil society” organizations to support “Noynoy,” whom these reformists describe as “a symbol to a nation yearning for unity and greatness.”
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)—through the National Democratic Front (NDF)—eulogized Aquino as “an outstanding and inspiring figure in the anti-fascist alliance” who was “willing to join up with the patriotic and progressive forces of the people in mass protest actions.” The CPP-led guerrilla insurgency by the New People’s Army (NPA) is in its 40th year. Ever since Aquino became president, the NDF umbrella political arm has been engaged in on-and-off peace negotiations with the government.
Born to the Cojuangco clan, Cory Aquino promised to make the family-owned Hacienda Luisita sugar estate a model of land reform, but she later reneged. Upon taking power, Aquino responded to popular expectations and enormous social turmoil with bloody repression. She presided over the military’s mass killing of peasants in Lupao in Nueva Ecija province and outside the Malacañang presidential palace itself. She then unleashed rural death squads like the Alsa Masa (Mass Uprising) in a “total war” against the CPP and other leftists. In November 2004, Hacienda Luisita again captured headlines when heavily armed police and soldiers, backed by armored personnel carriers, attacked strikers affiliated with the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), a labor federation aligned with the reformist left Bayan Muna (Nation First) party, killing seven, including a child, and wounding hundreds.
Despite having borne the brunt of repression, the CPP has absolved Aquino of the string of atrocities committed against the working people during her six-year term in office. The bloodiest of these attacks was the suppression of the 22 January 1987 demonstration for land reform, when Filipino cops and Marines fired pointblank into the march, killing 18 peasant protesters and their leftist supporters and wounding nearly a hundred, just outside the presidential palace. The CPP and its allies in the leftist umbrella group Bayan initially denounced Aquino. But in their pursuit of class collaboration, they soon began to alibi her. Bayan declared she was not “directly” responsible for this massacre by the military and police.
For the likes of Satur Ocampo, a Representative in the Philippine Congress who was once a senior cadre of the NDF, it’s all just comrades’ blood under the bridge. In 2001, Ocampo’s Bayan Muna party mobilized the warm bodies for the military-backed “People Power II” coup. They supported President Arroyo’s “People Power Coalition” senatorial slate, even while the blood of ousted populist president Joseph Estrada’s plebeian supporters, gunned down at the gates of Malacañang, had barely dried. More recently, the “Honorable” Congressman Ocampo, a cothinker of exiled CPP founder and NDF political consultant Jose Maria Sison, was prominently flashing the “Laban” sign at Aquino’s funeral procession. He is now reportedly being considered for a guest senatorial slot on the ticket of multimillionaire Manny Villar’s Nacionalista Party.
For their part, the ex-Stalinist splinters from the CPP, like Sanlakas, Alab Katipunan and the newly formed “socialist” Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM—Masses Power Party), were among the left groups with banners held high at the funeral procession. Associated with Australia’s thoroughly reformist Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP), the PLM is headed by Sonny Melencio, who has emerged over the years variously as head political operator of the Liga Sosyalista, the Sosyalistang Partido ng Paggawa (Socialist Party of Labor) and the multitendency Laban ng Masa bloc.
While the PLM postures to the left of the CPP and is highly critical of Cory Aquino, its purpose remains to reinforce illusions in “People Power” among the working class. And though PLM leaders keep their distance from the Cory crowd, PLM supporters on the ground joined in the mourning for Aquino. The Melencioites are so enamored with “People Power” that they have been advocates of a broad, multi-class (i.e., capitalist) “transitional revolutionary government” in the same spirit as Cory’s “revolutionary” government.
Loyalty to the strategy of “People Power” coupled with the appetite for pursuing “progressive” friends in the bourgeois military officer caste is a common thread that runs through Melencio’s various “left” outfits. The Melencioites are the local cheering squad for “Third World” bourgeois nationalist leaders like Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales in Bolivia. Closer to home, they confer with shadowy opposition groups inside the bourgeois armed forces, like the Young Officers Union and the Young Officers Union of the New Generation. The PLM admits that its political program is inspired by the platform of these bourgeois military opposition groups.
Far from posing an independent proletarian political alternative, the Philippine left has repeatedly exhibited shameless subordination to the bourgeoisie—from the two “People Power” movements, through the string of botched anti-Arroyo coup attempts, to the maneuverings for the 2010 elections under cover of the recent Aquino funeral. By chaining the working class and the oppressed masses to one or another wing of the Philippine bourgeoisie, these reformist leftists will not and cannot lead the masses to break free from imperialist enslavement and capitalist exploitation.
Basing itself on the Menshevik/Stalinist schema of two-stage revolution—which amounts to mobilizing the workers to bring bourgeois “progressives” and nationalists to power in the first “stage” and ends in the massacre of workers and communists—the Philippine left opposes the fight for proletarian revolution. Whether in the bourgeois Congress, in the “parliament of the streets” or fighting in the hills as guerrillas, the reformist left is deeply wedded to the politics of alliances with a mythical “progressive” bourgeoisie—the “popular front.” And while the Philippine left courageously defies murderous repression, the purpose of its struggles is simply to pressure the capitalist class for concessions. Nevertheless, we defend the leftist guerrillas against the violence of the bourgeoisie and its blood-drenched state.
For Proletarian Class Independence
As Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky outlined in the theory of permanent revolution, the bourgeoisies in countries of belated capitalist development are more fearful of the superexploited masses than they are of the imperialists, on whom they depend to secure their class rule. The chief condition for any real struggle by the toiling masses against imperialist subjugation and capitalist exploitation and oppression is the class independence of the proletariat.
With its large peasant population, the Philippines also needs an agrarian revolution, in which the poor peasants and agricultural workers seize the land. But defeating the bloodsucking landlords, with their private armies as well as government death squads, requires a revolution in which the urban proletariat places itself at the head of the insurgent peasant masses to smash the whole framework of capitalist/landlord rule. Underscoring the potential for revolutionary working-class struggle is the growth of a young, militant proletariat due to industrial investment in the Philippines by the U.S., Japan and other countries. The Philippine proletariat must lead the terribly exploited and oppressed masses of peasants, urban poor, women and minorities in a struggle for socialist revolution against all wings of the capitalist class, crowning its victory with the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Socialist revolution in the economically backward Philippines would necessarily have to link up with the struggles of the working people in Indonesia, South Korea and, in particular, the more economically advanced countries. It would act as a powerful impetus for proletarian political revolution in China and for socialist revolution in Japan, Asia’s economic powerhouse. The millions-strong diaspora of Filipino workers throughout the Near East, North America and elsewhere can serve as a living link uniting the workers of the semicolonial countries and the imperialist centers.
The key to victory lies in forging an internationalist Leninist-Trotskyist party against all variants of nationalism and class collaboration. Defense of those subjugated by the imperialists around the globe demands the pursuit of class struggle in the U.S. and other imperialist centers. Here in the U.S., we seek to build a revolutionary workers party which champions the rights of blacks, women, immigrants and all the oppressed as part of the fight for proletarian revolution to smash racist American imperialism. The International Communist League fights to reforge the Fourth International of Leon Trotsky as the indispensable instrument for leading new October Revolutions around the world.