I find it deeply illogical – and extremely disgusting – how some commentators (such as the Inquirer’s Rina Jimenez-David) have gleefully taken the violent dispersal of the Lakbayan of National Minorities at the United States Embassy in Manila several days ago to stick their tongues out at the protest participants composed of indigenous peoples, Moro minorities, poor peasants, and their allies from the urban sector. They cloak such a crude objective with supposedly lofty analyses of the relations between the national democratic movement and the Duterte administration.
Their premise: The Left does not protest the recent cases of unsolved killings that have been linked to the Philippine war on drugs. Their conclusion: Buti nga (Good on them), they were violently dispersed with water cannons, tear gas, and a rampaging police van. Gives them a dose of their own “selective human rights” medicine.
How on earth does that make sense? Even from a purely defend-human-rights-as-such perspective (which these people fancy themselves to hold), how on earth does that make sense?
Let me posit that the Left is actually the only organized force that is struggling to address EJKs as holistically as possible. Why? First is a matter of definition: theirs is the most expansive, which covers not just the drug-related killings, but all unjustified killings perpetrated by state forces. I would even think that the reason why the phrase “extra-judicial killings” has (unfortunately) such currency in the Philippine context is because of the Left, when a new term had to be found to refer to the systematic murders of activists, and their family members and supporters throughout the post-EDSA regimes.
Second is operational. Jimenez-David says it herself: denunciations against recent drug-related EJKs outside the rubric of the Left have been “paltry” and “lukewarm”. I would agree with her there; but why demand massive rallies and flag-waving only from the Left? Perhaps she acknowledges that the extent of political engagement the so-called “yellow” forces are capable of is merely tweeting and posting on Facebook.
What she does not acknowledge is that the Left has been fighting against EJKs on all fronts, which, yes, includes tweeting and posting on Facebook, but goes beyond this. Condemnation of EJKs through forums and candle-lighting have taken place in “Left” bulwarks like UP Diliman and the University Belt, helped organized by groups such as Kabataan Parylist and Anakbayan. Makabayan solons have filed resolutions and made public pronouncements against EJKs. Former Bayan Muna Congressman Teddy Casino has written much about EJKs; he provides a good contextualization here. Even the New People’s Army (here and here) have sought to lead by example by focusing instead on its established system of dealing with criminals in Red Areas by working to reform those involved in low level drug use and trade, as can be seen in the recent releases of POWs.
Of course, the most comprehensive way to address all this is by going to the roots of these social ills, which is what the peace talks are all about. Giving deep support to the success of the present GRP-NDF peace talks is the more expansive frame to address the drug problem and EJKs.
But none of these matter for persons who would forget their own principles the moment any opportunity, no matter how slim, to discredit the national democratic movement presents itself (a self-proclaimed women’s rights advocate and no mention at all of the policeman pulling the hair of a Manobo woman? Tsk tsk). It is clear, then, that such commentaries only betray a deeply reactionary belief.
Just because the Left chose a different protest theme aside from the one which Jimenez-David and friends would wish to impose upon them (and everyone else), the stand and motivation of the Lakbayan participants were thus questioned. Here we see tottered out that cockroach-like refrain (because it refuses to die) that the indigenous peoples were only manipulated. They question, why would they be angry at the US Embassy? What do they know of imperialism from their far flung mountain tops?
My goodness, I can only just roll my eyes. Alright, fine, anyone with a formal educational attainment lower than yours are automatically sheep who can be herded around at whim. And yes, that is really what the indigenous peoples are like: they squat around contentedly in front of their nipa huts dressed in nothing but g-strings, docilely going about their day, and they hide amongst the trees at the first sign of outsiders because that is how shy and gentle they are.
This simplistic and condescending approach is likewise laid down upon the Left as a whole, compounded by the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t pontificating of the closed-minded. If the Left does not maximize parliamentary channels, they are unhappy. If the Left does maximize parliamentary channels, they are still unhappy. If the Left does not participate in mainstream government, they are unhappy. If the Left does participate in mainstream government, they are still unhappy. They are unhappy, whether the Left engages in protest or not. Why are they protesting this and not that? They ask. But they are revealed to be caught up in their own contradiction if we instead ask, why is the Left still protesting at all? If the Left really has been coopted, why would they still mobilize in shows of force (rallies and camp-outs) that are traditionally regarded as oppositional to the status quo? If the Duterte administration is really playing footsies with the Left, why would his own police troops act thusly?
The answers to these questions do not just validate the current position of the Left, but the continuing significance of struggle grounded on principled analyses.
The violent US Embassy dispersal shows that the bourgeois State, no matter how accommodating it may seem, will, at the end of the day, revert back to its reactionary essence to preserve the existing state of affairs. Lenin’s State and Revolution had, a year shy of a century ago, already poetically described why: “The old state machine [is] bound by thousands of threads to the bourgeoisie [and Capital-driven economy] and permeated through and through with routine and inertia…” Not even Digong, now as President and no matter how powerful that position may be, can singlehandedly change that.
This also shows the utter weakness of the mantra of the moderate of “changing the system from within”; even with all the “opportunities” the Dutere administration has opened to the Left, they are under no illusion that genuine, long-term change can be so easily achieved.
Many critics of the social democrat persuasion should already have learned these lessons under the BS Aquino regime, when, after being given government positions they all but abandoned mass organizing and mobilizations (seriously, do you remember any Akbayan-led rally of any significance, and violently dispersed, at that?). Again, to go back to good ol’ Lenin: change will not come simply with a new group “commanding, governing the old [State] machine”, with its “routines and inertia”, but by replacing that with a “new machine”, that is, new (revolutionary) routines, habits, and threads or networks to forces other than Capital.
It is also incorrect to say that the condemnation of the Left of the dispersal sprang from some sort of disbelief along the lines of “I thought we were friends, how can you do that to me” directed to the police – that kind of analysis is the height of pragmatism, political naiveté, and jaded acceptance of the aforementioned “inertia”. The condemnation springs, quite simply, from the fact that it must be condemned: the purposeful and repeated running over of civilians by a duty-sworn police officer, the yanking of a woman protester’s hair and head backward as she was cowering inside a jeepney, the dragging of an unarmed jeepney driver from his vehicle and beating him bloody and senseless – these are excessive, abusive, and as principle dictates, just plain wrong. The struggle, then, is real, and the principles remain the same.