For those unfamiliar with the history of the fractured Left in the Philippines, the past few days were a very compelling – if not agitating – crash course. As Anakbayan and Akbayan have locked horns on the matter of “red-baiting,” “yellow-baiting,” and baiting of all sorts, we saw two things unfold. First: the arguments and principles that fractured the Left were brought to the limelight. Second: the same old problems are taking place under the red lights flashed around these days.
“Red-baiting” hearkens back to 1950s America and the antics of the anti-Communist Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy. It’s apparent that there are those around us with a very small tolerance (or none at all) for any idea that can be traced to Marx and Engels. I wouldn’t be surprised if this business of red-baiting becomes a full-blown McCarthyist witch-hunt: that anyone who subscribes and believes some Marxian notion, no matter how minuscule or out-of-context it may be, may be summoned and demanded to explain some “anti-democratic” or “anti-Filipino” agenda.
But McCarthy is dead: historically, even disgraced. And so should, I think, the allergy that exists towards ideas tagged as “leftist,” or to things that “sound Communist.” The crucible of debate, unfortunately, has resulted in the breakdown of peace negotiations, the killing of activists, the exile of leaders, and the abduction of community organizers. Anyone who says, “we should be free and open to discuss the matter,” should tell that to the likes of the Morong 43, Sherilyn Cadapan, Karen Empeno, Jonas Burgos, and James Balao, who have not had that chance. The evils of red-baiting in the Philippines can be summed up in the untold stories of 48 out of so many people. Forty-eight – of so many others – who are victims of the very same red-baiting of today.
Discussion free from red-baiting lends nuances and perspectives to words like “Socialist” and “Progressive” and “Communist,” other than pejoratives and insults used by modern-day McCarthys and the Jovito Palparans of the nation. It remains a theory – and lip-service – in the Philippines that a reasonable and diplomatic discussion of all things Left can be done without a human rights violation, much less red-baiting. All that has to stop somewhere. Right now the calls for diplomacy and sobriety is coming from a place that can afford those things: your access to diplomacy and sobriety is so limited and so narrow if society-at-large – led by leaders who cringe and cower at the sight of anything and everything red – treats you as nothing more than a pariah.
But the principled fight should not detract from the other issues at hand. As Anakbayan continues to claim that Akbayan should not be accredited for party-list representation, the issue still remains that the political system continues to be co-opted and hijacked by political and economic elites who use the party-list system for their own interests. The debates on rejectionists and reaffirmists, on national democracy and social democracy, who’s an NPA and who’s not, have their day in the sun, but these should not come at the expense of things that matter to the people, especially on the road to 2013.
The business of red-tagging provides an opportunity for the rich and the powerful to screw with the people once again. Every election season, every candidate aims to represent the “marginalized:” a term thrown around not to represent advocacy, but to gain votes and legitimize existing orders, than to create new ones. The classic example being the son of a former President representing tricycle drivers and security guards having a seat in Congress as a party-list representative. Shouldn’t these things deserve the most powerful condemnation from Akbayan and Anakbayan alike?
The issue remains that political parties in the Philippines aren’t “parties” – the last one condemned to the underground by the elites – but loose aggregates of powerful people and personalities, bound not by ideology or platform but by ties like blood, money, and bloody money. The issue remains that as long as this is the prevailing system of political association in the Philippines, true representation is not achieved by divergent ideas, but converging bloodlines. We cannot belittle the disagreements (and even the violence) that took place between the sides of the Left, but we cannot set aside the continuing havoc wreaked upon the political system by parties and politicians who claim the marginalized as theirs, and end up marginalizing them even further as soon as they take their seats in Congress.
At the end of the day these are matters that should be placed higher up the food chain. These are things that should transcend party-list representation or even elections, for that matter. As long as there is a rampant phobia and paranoia of anything remotely resembling a Marxist idea we cannot move forward and take the system back for who and what it’s supposed to represent.
If the table still denies a place for the well-meaning “Communist” but accommodates a space for the tenured landed and rich, there is something really wrong. If there’s anything more anti-democratic and anti-Filipino, it’s the co-option and the conspiracy of the powerful to stay in power, while leaving the rest to duke it out for scraps.