By Glenda Gloria
March 15, 2007
The Right is ascendant in Southeast Asia, and the Left is being pummeled — literally, to death — in the Philippines.
When the military seized power in Thailand last year, some pro-coup Filipinos in neighboring Manila were green with envy. The Thai coup came months after young Filipino soldiers botched a mutiny to oust Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on charges that she cheated her way through the 2004 presidential race. It was the second failed coup since Arroyo became president in 2001 through a military-backed revolt.
The rebel soldiers’ failed experiments pushed the Arroyo government to the right. Battling a four-decade communist insurgency — the longest in Asia — and faced with intermittent grumbling from the army, President Arroyo found a way to keep her soldiers preoccupied: She has given them a hefty budget to crush the communist rebellion within the next two years.
Is it by coincidence then that for the last two years, at least a hundred Leftist activists have been gunned down by unknown and unpunished assailants? For a time last year, one activist was being killed every single day. The Left is accusing the military of masterminding the killings, while the government is insisting that the Left is killing its own. The government line is a hard one to bite.
Last month, Philip Alston, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights, spent 10 days in the Philippines listening to both sides. He left with a stinging report against the government and the military, and asked the President to take more decisive steps to look into the soldiers’ involvement in the extrajudicial killings.
Yet, while the deaths have had a chilling effect on older activists, they have galvanized the youth on the Left.
The party-list group, Bayan Muna, which is being linked to the communist party, remains the most popular party-list group in the upcoming May elections. This is out of a list that includes groups created by the government and its politicians.
The other party-list group on the Left, Akbayan, which is not associated with the armed underground but subscribes to socialist views, is also popular. (The Constitution allows party-list representation in parliament from the marginalized sectors.)
What does the acceptance of some parts of the Left — despite state efforts to finish it off — tell us? It tells us a lot that nothing has changed much in the Philippines, except that the gap between the rich and the poor has widened since 1986, when a people-power revolt ousted a dictator and ended Ferdinand Marcos’ corrupt regime.
Today, Filipino farmers need not be lectured on the nuances of globalization to understand what it means to be where they are. For several years now public markets have been flooded with cheaper rice, garlic, and fruits from abroad than could be produced domestically. A bag of apples from China costs much less than many local fruits.
A number of Filipino shoemakers have closed shop because they can’t compete with the cheap prices of Chinese-made shoes that have invaded the Philippines. The small sectors are suffering, and the Left is there to offer them succor.
A faction in the government thinks that the way to cut that link is to kill the activists. But that approach has been tried before, and it failed miserably.
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