REFLECTIONS ON THE PHILIPPINE LEFT by Roland G. Simbulan
2008 U.P. Centennial Professorial Chair Awardee University of the Philippines
(Book Review of Raul E. Segovia’s Inside the Mass Movement . Manila: Anvil, 2008.
Read during the booklaunching at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, Aug. 23, 2008)
Raul Segovia has written a frank and concise narrative of his personal experiences and insights in the Philippine mass movement in his book,
INSIDE THE MASS MOVEMENT: A Political Memoir.
It spans decades of organizational, political and cultural work in which he comes not as a mere observer, but fortunately as an active advocate, leader and participant. He knows this movement so intimately that he also considers it as his life’s history for the past 50 years. But this does not diminish the book’s critical lenses. Thus, true to form, the author locates the mass movement in the trajectory of the Filipino people’s struggle for democracy, sovereignty and social justice.
This new book explores why Philippine social movements–now ideologically in their plural form –have been organized, grown, risen and declined and like the proverbial Phoenix, have risen again. He investigates in the form of a personal political memoir, the fortunes as well as misfortunes of the Philippine Left’s mass movements. The dilemmas, contradictions and vulnerabilities of social movements are included. He analyzes everything from the movement’s tactics, to its contradictions, dilemmas and internal dynamics–above ground (AG) and underground (UG).
This may be awkward to ask: How do successful political transitions affect the mobilization of popular forces? Do they necessarily weaken mass movements and make them vulnerable as more openings for democratic space are made available to people’s empowerment, or do they make them more vigorous and strong to explore the new political arenas? Do mass movements fare better in a neoliberal political system compared to an authoritarian dictatorship?
In Nepal just a few years ago, it was unthinkable that the leader of the decades-long Maoist armed insurgency, Pushpa Kamal Dahal– with the nom de guerre Prachanda (“the fierce one”)–would now be elected democratically as prime minister of this upland nation of 27 million people.
Meanwhile, in Latin America, social movements in Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador have succeeded in electing nine anti-free market leftists as Presidents, the recent one being a former Catholic bishop, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay.
To what extent can Philippine social movements maximize constitutional provisions—hard-won space by popular struggles—which have institutionalized people’s participation in governance? Let me refer to pertinent provisions of the 1987 Constitution to wit: 1. “The State shall respect the role of independent people’s organizations to enable the people to pursue and protect, within the democratic framework, their legitimate and collective interests and aspirations through peaceful and lawful means. People’s organizations are bona fide associations of citizens with demonstrated capacity to promote the public interest and with identifiable leadership, membership and structure.” (Sec. 15, Art. XIII: Social Justice and Human Rights – The Role and Rights of People’s Organizations, 1987 Constitution)
2. ” The right of the people and their organizations to effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political and economic decision-making shall not be abridged. The State shall, by law, facilitate the establishment of adequate consultation mechanisms.” (Sec. 16, Art. XIII).
3. ” The State shall encourage non-governmental, community-based, or sectoral organizations that promote the welfare of the nation.” (State Policies, Art. II, 1987 Constitution).
Can social movements completely put their trust in written guarantees that are effectively shattered by disappearances and extra-judicial killings by state security forces?
Segovia’s take in the book’s penultimate chapter is refreshing. He punctures ludicrous claims that Philippine social movements are declining, but presents them as dynamic and resilient. Even recent writings of intellectual counter-insurgents who have in the past repeatedly forecast the dissolution of the Philippine Left, cannot explain the rise, decline and rise again of the social movements in the Philippines. Having survived various OPLANs from the time of the Marcos dictatorship, vigilantes, DPAs and Kahos, Bantay Laya I and II, and more than a thousand extra-judicial killings and desaperacidos (involuntary disappearances), the Philippine social movement has not only survived, but has grown, reminding us of Nietzsche’s words, ” What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
The U.S. empire and its subservient state in the Philippines which has failed to serve anything but elite and foreign interests, has long subjected non-elite social movements to violent attacks, harassments and repression. In my recent U.P. Centennial essay, The Future of the Philippine Left, I have said, ” …even with the sheer strength of the magnitude of their organizations, the organized power of the Left especially of farmers and workers are most vulnerable to the coercive forces of the state and the oligarchy’s private armies trying to decimate these organizations. The means to defend unarmed people’s organizations will still figure prominently in deterring the violence of private armies, goons and the armed forces of the state. But the emphasis will have to be, as it has always been in practice, on the assertion that this is largely a political struggle, and the objective is to empower the people.”
Indeed what is remarkable is how the mass movement has survived despite these ups and downs. Its counterparts in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world did not survive the ideological dilemmas of the end of the Cold War and the decline of socialist regimes. Not only has it grown, but the influence of Philippine social movements has become more mainstream. For better or for worse, despite Philippine Left doomsayers who, in chorus with that squatter in Malacanang and that warmonger General Hermogenes Esperon, have been revising their eulogies for the movement.
The author fills his book with so much detail, names, dates and places. Segovia’s desire to strip out the myths about an invincible movement is commendable. To challenge deeply held beliefs was brave enough, but to contradict movement propaganda is to be admired. To this he interprets, quite fairly, the genuine hopes and aspirations of social movement advocates. He gives crisp and engaging vignettes of his own experiences–both emotional and political–and this gives his story a fitting perspective. His shift to diary form in the discussion of the international relations of the mass movement, may be quite distracting, for he began with a narrative form, and should have continued using that narrative form using his diary as his primary reference.
On a cautionary note, the book’s repeated shift from the UG (underground) to AG (aboveground) and UG again, may give away many of the still-active individuals and mass movements especially in these times of extrajudicial killings. Advocates and social movements in the Philippines are still engaged in a life-or-death struggle as they continue to face the challenge of an oligarchy and state that considers empowerment of the people a threat to national security and as acts related to terrorism. Defining the social movement from an insider’s point of view can have some unintended consequences.
The last few chapters, however, feel somewhat rushed, which is a shame because I know that Mr. Segovia has worked on this book for several years and has had many years of geriatric reflection. Many chapters come to no definite conclusion on the events and data that they present, perhaps leaving it for the reader to decide. Perhaps another book from Mr. Segovia should be forthcoming.
But the book is written in an elegant and accessible style as Mr. Segovia gives a human face to the doubts, anxieties, conflicts, and dilemmas that has affected a social movement in the Philippine political landscape in five decades, involving millions of people. To the disenfranchised masses who comprise the majority of Filipinos, the movement may be the only hope for their social liberation. This book is essential to understanding the visible and invisible aspects of a movement that dares to continue to engage the neoliberal forces of globalization and their local lackeys. Despite the facts and interpretations that some other participants of the struggle may contest and even question, Segovia’s book is a gem of reflection and soul-searching that we all need to be truly human in a dehumanizing world of markets, consumerism and neoconservative true believers.
In recent years, this is not really the first book to come out locally or abroad about Philippine mass movements, for there has been quite a lot lately from a variety of authors ranging from disenchanted activists who have made academic or journalistic careers out of being professional hitmen against the Philippine Left, or have become so-called experts on the Philippine Left. Fortunately, this book is neither of these, for it maintains its unshaken belief in the collective power of the people and their organized people’s power. It could also be the most human of the recent works on the subject as it gives us a reflective perspective on the social movement’s impact on the lives of those it has touched, most especially the author’s.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on Sept 30th 2008