Many are understandably outraged at the recent Supreme Court decision allowing the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, with much ire being directed at Rodrigo Duterte and the justices who decided in the affirmative.
However, if only it were as simple as pinpointing blame on specific individuals. The road towards Marcos’ burial at the LNMB has been paved way earlier, and via historical forces that should swiftly have been counteracted by principled decision-making and action – as manifested in the half-hearted prosecution of the cases against the Marcoses, the reaffirmation of US-Philippine ties in spite of the former’s support of the dictatorship, and the allowing of the same oligarchic dominance in government to continue.
Be that as it may, this can only be expected from a ruling-class that scrambled to put things back to the way they were. What should have been the proper progressive response of intensifying the line between those for true revolutionary change and those for the restoration of the old, accustomed-to order was not grasped well in the overriding atmosphere of euphoria after the ousting of the dictatorship. What emerged hegemonic were the more sweet-smelling inducements towards reconciliation and pluralism that sat well with a middle-class population eager to be at ease.
As a case in point, let us look at my university, the University of the Philippines. During the Marcos years it was the bastion of student activism, of students and teachers unafraid of taking a stand and declaring intellectual war on those considered to be reactionary enemies. But post-EDSA, the pendulum has swung in the other direction: now the University has merely become the setting for the free-for-all traffic of ideas, where just about anyone can get a free pass under the pretext of plurality.
This was the excuse used to justify the University hosting talks by Armed Forces Chief Hermogenes Espero n (during the height of searching for disappeared student activists Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan), and Budget Secretary Butch Abad (during the height of the pork barrel scandal), when activists were criticized for “acting rudely” towards guests “protected by the mantle of free speech”.
In local student politics, student parties associated with the social-democrats campaign under the banner of pluralism to contrast with student parties associated with the national-democrats, the implicit message there being that the latter’s calls for unequivocal stands and responses on various issues infringed upon contrary opinions, and accusing them of running counter to the cultivation of multiple perspectives.
The logic here, of course, is that the free traffic of ideas is needed in order for the youth to make informed and critical opinions and decisions that would lead to concrete action. But then again this falters in the light of recent University policies that seek to geld critical thought (such as the General Education reforms, but that is another column), and the overall frowning down upon anything that has a whiff of activism.
The problem, therefore, is that that crucial moment of judgement – the moment of risking a radical decision – never comes: hampered as it is by all sorts of empty gestures upholding that so- called plurality as sacrosanct: endless data gathering, endless “listening to all sides”, endless “accommodation of views contrary to our own”.
This is what has allowed historical revisionism to take root in our schools, educational institutions, media, and even casual conversation where taking a stand must defer to respecting “the other opinion”.
It is therefore no wonder that the acolytes of this unbridled pluralism ar e those who are unable to put the proper depth to their stands about issues, because their pluralism has come round to bite them in the backside. They can critique the President and the Supreme Court Justices and incorrect ideas per se, but not the long term conditions that allowed for the proliferation of those incorrect ideas in the first place – the privileging of dialogue as an end in itself, the emphasis on harmony over contradiction, and the belittling of militant struggle.
Another point related to this that must be said is that this actually presents a unique opportunity (as must all weakening and defeats be converted, according to Mao Zedong) for the national democratic movement. The time is ripe to distinguish ourselves from all the other groups that purport to present an alternative that have suddenly popped up during this much-contended Duterte presidency.
As it stands this is a tricky task for the NDs, given the overlap of their positions on many of the immediate issues of the day, such as the Marcos burial and extra-judicial killings. But, as mentioned above, the distinction must be demonstrated in the depth of analysis. If the national democratic movement does indeed hold the sharpest tools in the analysis of social conditions, then it must wield these expertly now, more than ever, especially to bear upon two specific ideological matters.
First is that these tools must be used to unmask those very pseudo-progressives who have suddenly crawled out of the woodwork. That they simply place responsibility on Digong’sdoor jives well with their ultimate motive which is to simply discredit the President. I would not hesitate to predict that, if ever Duterte is removed from his position, most of them will return to their silent state, mindless of whether change that is beneficial to many has been effected or not.
The situation to be forged is not one in which we are lumped along with them (and with whatever position is popular at the moment), but one in which we set ourselves apart; in a situation when so many claim to be progressive, it is the ND’s task to draw a sharp line between those who really are and those who are not.
In order to do this, (and second) we must elevate the discussion to go beyond simply expressing dismay and outrage at the President, something that progressive poseurs are already doing. After all, of course we critique presidents, but we must never lose sight of the basic ills that continue to outlive any single presidency: imperial domination and exploitation, bureaucratic capitalism characterized by oligarchs and corruption, and backward feudal economics and culture.
In the current administration’s case, when writings raise the question of human rights (as claimed to be “universal” and “transcendental”), is there a coupled explicit stand on “people’s rights” and the rights of exploited classes? Is there a recognition of the politicized nature of the “rights” concept in that it can be used against the marginalized? Also, when writings argue against the burial of Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, is there a recognition that the same injustices during the Martial Law regime persist until today in the form of continued political repression and the existence of political detainees?
That the very conditions that Marcos in the first place sought to preserve by declaring Martial Law are precisely those that the current GRP-NDF peace talks wish to overturn? If not, then, to borrow from David Hume: “commit them to flames for they contain nothing but sophistry”, if not plain destabilization acts and pseudo-mobilizations devoid of revolutionary goals.