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Building Alliances: The Way Forward The Lessons of the Philippine Left Experience

GREETINGS

A warm good afternoon to all our comrades! This Asian Conference on Participatory Democracy and Alternative Forms of Popular Power organized by our partners and comrades is a great opportunity for all of us to share, listen and learn from the many lessons our rich experiences have brought us as Left political parties from all over the world. I wish to personally congratulate the organizers for generously giving this stage to us so that we could initially interact and dialogue with each other. I would also like to express my warmest welcome to all our foreign comrades who are here and have participated in this conference. May your visit here in the Philippines be productive and fruitful!

INTRODUCTION

Let me start my sharing with a brief definition of alliance building found on the 4 th page of the conference program. It says there, “Alliance building – to unite the opposition to the politics and attacks of the ruling elite on people’s lives and living conditions.” Certainly, I agree that it has emerged as a necessary and even key component of developing the movements in several countries, including the Philippines, as you will hear it very much evident in my sharing. I attached with the central theme of this plenary, the title that I gave my talk, “Building Alliances: The Way Forward – The Lessons of the Philippine Left Experience”. I am much privileged to have interviewed some of the key players of our local Left political formations and, therefore, what I will share with you is not only from my own personal experiences and perspectives which I managed to formulate resulting from my active participation in the broad Philippine Left movement.

In the Philippines, the post-EDSA days are known as the golden days of alliance-building. The Filipino people then were very much hungry for democracy that was deprived of them for over 13 long years under the Marcos dictatorship. They wanted to experiment on new ways of coming together and, this time, pro-actively. Various progressive formations and groups offered alternatives and even proposals to the government which were not clearly emphasized in earlier Marcos-era formations. It was a welcome change from the expose-oppose strategy that alliances used back then.

It has been proven that in most political situations, the convergence of different groups and formations is inevitable, particularly if there are valid, urgent and compelling issues at hand. Alliances are built primarily to enhance the capacity of both allied and contending forces to face a common enemy. The aim of building alliances is to create a broader unity among like-minded and different-minded organizations and individuals, thus producing a greater force that could shift the balance in favor of the majority. In the context of the Left, varying formations surface depending on the objectives of the subjective forces. For example issue(s)-based coalitions are initiated and developed on the basis of political objectives attained through basic unities and agreements. United Fronts (UF), on the other hand, are aimed at building higher unities by welcoming other forces to join a more organizationally cohesive political project to carry out a more effective revolutionary agenda.

What is essential in building alliances is that social building blocks are created to effect positive, humane and just changes in our society.

Building Alliances: The Way Forward The Lessons of the Philippine Left Experience

ALTERNATIBA! AND LABAN NG MASA: ATTEMPTS TOWARD A BROADER ALLIANCE

In sharing concrete examples of building alliances, I do not want to go far back and instead, I would like to pick up on recent developments and formations.

The most recent attempt at a broader alliance project prior to the creation of Laban ng Masa (LnM) came through the formation of ALTERNATIBA! more than three years ago. It died a natural death after groups and individuals within it started disengaging until only a few were left to remain.

The next major alliance project similar to ALTERNATIBA! is what we now have, Laban ng Masa (LnM).

Why was ALTERNATIBA! not able to prosper? What were its limitations? I have attempted to compare the two formations by listing general observations and making my own analysis of what was present in LnM that ALTERNATIBA! failed to possess in its short life-span.

During ALTERNATIBA!, the political situation at that time did not compel member organizations to stay on. ALTERNATIBA! was born on the eve of the 2004 election period. Major member blocs were engaged in their respective party list campaigns and thus, were not focused on ALTERNATIBA! The understanding and appreciation of the tactical and political situation was not fully cultivated among the member organizations of ALTERNATIBA! Therefore, members started to decrease their attendance in meetings and disengaging from ALTERNATIBA! Laban ng Masa, on the other hand, was primarily created due to the urgency of the political crisis that targeted Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as a common enemy. As such, the anti-GMA political crisis remains until the present.

In relation to the first observation, the political situation then was not able to reach its maturity brought about by the members’ disengagement and their reactions and responses to the situation did not mature as well. Members were not giving much priority and propriety and as a result did not appreciate ALTERNATIBA! as theirs. This is in contrast, to the claim-making being done by LnM member organizations today.

The basis of unity in ALTERNATIBA! was not as clear as what we have now in LnM. The OUST GMA call before was still an internal debate within ALTERNATIBA! The political groups were not yet united in their call for ouster and were clouded with doubts as to its feasibility (“Is it achievable?”) and saw it as merely propaganda. In LnM, the OUST CALL and the establishment of a transitional revolutionary government (TRG) are very much clear to all the members from LnM’s very beginning.

Unlike in LnM, other political groups and formations invited to sit within ALTERNATIBA! did not join and, therefore it did not build a stronger force in the face of a common adversary causing the latter to bog down.

A DEEPER LOOK AT LABAN NG MASA

In broader political formations like Laban ng Masa (LnM), there are essential factors, unique in every formation, that might be present to help define and sustain the struggles of such alliances

Building Alliances: The Way Forward The Lessons of the Philippine Left Experience

and which could eventually lead its members to tactical (and further strategic) unities and alliances. These inherent factors, which are found within, is now leading LnM to more substantial results that even go beyond expectations and which should give a positive picture to the history of Left alliance work in Philippine history.

After the massive split of revolutionary Left and progressive forces in the early 1990s, Laban ng Masa (LnM) is today the broadest left formation outside of the mainstream National Democratic movement. The key factors that led LnM to its present status are:

1. Personal relationships and ties. During the early days of the progressive movement, we saw our comrades, especially those outside the fences of our own ideological groupings, as mere ideological equations (NATDEMS, SOCDEMS, etc.). It was during the late 80s, at the height of coalition work, that we started to humanize our political environment. We began creating and maintaining personal ties with former rivals in the movement. This distinctly Filipino culture of building strong ties cannot help but surface, which helped in softening up ideological differences. Through this, a level of confidence and trust among us was cultivated. In LnM, we are now at that stage wherein we have forged relationships with co-member organizations and blocs and slowly shedding off negative vestiges of the past. This “sense of community” that is developing within LnM makes the internal organizational atmosphere more conducive at the very least to dialogue and come to terms with each other.

2. The fulcrum. One essential factor of political groupings is the presence of a fulcrum that balances the differences and dynamics of various opposing forces within the group. The fulcrum can be an independent political personality or organization that is acceptable, neutral and non-threatening to all. A fulcrum helps in highlighting more the unities than the diverse position inside the formation. It is worth mentioning the early days of Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) as an example when the leadership was mostly dominated by independent personalities. The system of decision-making was then consensus-building which discourage political maneuverings by a single bloc, thus, preventing the fragmentation of the coalition. In this regard, FDC is recognized as the longest-running coalition in the Philippine progressive movement until today.

In LnM, the current chairperson serves as the fulcrum along with the other many independent personalities. Without this fulcrum, the major political blocs will clash and disunity may ensue.

3. The need for a compelling enemy. The formation of Laban ng Masa (LnM) was brought to life by one compelling enemy – Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Most member organizations joined LnM because of their anti-GMA sentiments.

4. A compelling vision. Different political organizations and personalities too have come to join Laban ng Masa (LnM) because they believe and are encouraged by one compelling vision: the establishment of a transitional revolutionary government (TRG)

All these factors are present within and among members of LnM and has made each and everyone responsible and accountable for Laban ng Masa (LnM) as a broad left project. This has greatly encouraged them to protect and claim LnM as rightfully theirs.

Building Alliances: The Way Forward The Lessons of the Philippine Left Experience

Nevertheless, Laban ng Masa (LnM) like any other formations has some undercurrents within its umbrellas. Internal debates are a regular scene in meetings and discussions but are considered as an open and healthy discourse. Debates are challenges that can often contribute to the richness of our political line and position. Here are some of the on-going debates within LnM:

1. Relationship with the opposition elites. Laban ng Masa (LnM) as a third pole or alternative (that is anti-systemic and extra-constitutional) should be strengthened first before any links are made with the opposition elite, especially that neither is yet acceptable to the people. However, tactical, practical and pragmatic positions should be considered as well in building linkages and alliances with the traditional political elite.

2. Meager resources. Finance matters and other resource concerns are always the primary cause of split-ups in any formations and groupings. Hence, should be able to devise a mechanism for monitoring and develop the value of transparency and establish credibility to avoid this tension point.

3. The dynamics of the past are affecting the present debates within Laban ng Masa (LnM) and as a coalition, LnM through the fulcrum has the responsibility to carry the burdens of other member organizations but at the same time prevent these burdens from affecting the formation and to pre-empt this tendency to become dominant.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE LABAN NG MASA EXPERIENCE

In any undertaking, the most important factor that needs to be looked at and understood is the lesson(s) brought about by each opportunity. This is to help us rate the effectivity of our actions and in turn use it as a guide for our future engagements.

1. A fulcrum is an essential factor within a formation.

2. Because of the wounds of the past, the baggage and burdens that the progressive movement is still carrying, our continuous inward processing of these pains remains at present, which prevents us to focus on the needs of the people. Meanwhile, majority of our youth was lost to the hands of traditional alliances (e.g. charismatic groups, Gawad Kalinga) because of the progressive movement’s inability to use the political crisis to alter the balance of forces. The masses continue to be passive and are usually never attracted to take active part in the movement no matter how beneficial it is to them. Until now, we have not mastered the correct formula on how we will convince the masses to join us in our struggle.

3. While Laban ng Masa’s “sense of community” is now picking up and slowly taking deeper roots within its core, the women’s movement, on the other hand, should be proactive and help in providing LnM members a guide on how to cultivate their inner self, maintain relationships with comrades and heal the wounds of the past. In return, the youth will slowly be attracted to join us in our advocacies and even encourage more of them who are in touch with their humanity to help LnM maintain its “sense of community.”

Building Alliances: The Way Forward The Lessons of the Philippine Left Experience

4. Laban ng Masa should start to continuously study thoroughly the mass movement and prepare do-able objectives to revive and strengthen the organizing component of the progressive movement. This will help us to inspire more youth to take on active role in changing our society and thus, joining us in the struggle.

To end my sharing, I would like to borrow a quote from an article which I also used as a source of my talk. I believe that what our comrade said is still very much valid in our alliance-building work. It will stress on how the recent political developments in the Philippines pushes us to come and work together as an acceptable alternative to what the Filipino people should have achieved a long time ago. Here is what it says, “the left has to persevere in its revolutionary task of creating a political alternative for the masses – a third pole to both warring factions of the elite. A political alternative embodying the people’s democratic statements on a given issue but at the same time raising the analysis and political calls for a genuine change in the ruling system.”

I hope I have shared with you some of my substantial thoughts of the Philippine Left experience in building alliances as a revolutionary way forward.

Thank you.