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WHICH WAY, PHILIPPINES?

By ADELBERT S. BATICA
May 19, 2005

(The article came as a result of fleeting reflections on a whole host of issues including the Philippine “situation”, the political experiences of other Third World countries, and my impending trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina (which triggered images of the “Dirty War”, the “desaparecidos” or disappeared, and the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo.  Incidentally, we will be setting foot in Argentina on the occasion of the country’s 195th year of independence from Spain [May 24, 1810].)

In a little over a week we (my wife Elsa and daughter Maya), will be setting foot in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a few days of R&R.  How I wish time were on our hands so we could make a trip across the Rio de la Plata – to Uruguay.  Well, I’m sure there will be a “next time”.  There’s a very interesting political experiment going on in Uruguay which I’d want to learn more about:  the election of a socialist president in the person of Tabare Vasquez and the rise to power of former Tupamaro leaders Jose Mujica (now Senate President) and Nora Castro (Speaker of the House).  Since we’ll be billeted at a hotel near the Rio de la Plata, I’ll just content myself with dreaming of Montevideo.  Yes, perhaps when I’m in better physical shape, I can make a trip there…someday.

Assuming the “Uruguayan Experiment” does not fall apart (or gets overthrown a la Salvardor Allende in Chile), I wouldn’t mind getting holed up in Uruguay to do an in-depth study of the Left’s rise to power in that South American country.  I’ve been dreaming of putting together materials for a class in “Comparative Models of Development”, which I wouldn’t mind co-teaching with Da Professor Torres, assuming of course, that the elitists at UP would be willing to trust someone like me – who didn’t grow spurs in academe.

On a more serious note, my hope is that our armed elements in the Philippines might someday learn from the experiences of other countries, instead of simply listening to themselves.  Could you imagine it – the Senate President, an ex-Tupamaro?  And the Speaker of the House (and a beautiful lady at that!) – an ex-Tupamaro?  But it’s true.  There was a time in the 1960’s and ‘70s when the Tupamaros (who got their name from the last Inca, Tupac Amaru) were as feared as the NPA’s “Sparrow Units”.  But did you know?  The Tupamaro ideology was simply a mish-mash of radical ideas, but for all intents and purposes – they were no different from the Baader-Meinhof Gang in the 1970’s.  Today, ex-Tupamaro Jose Mujica declares that he is “closer to Marx than Lenin”.  Somehow the Tupamaros have matured, and look at where they are now.  (I must admit that prison has its way of softening people up.)

Mind you, the Tupamaros (who now call themselves the “National Liberation Movement”) did not get elected via some party-list system, but rather competed openly with other mainstream political parties.  Uruguay’s elections took place a few days before the U.S. presidential election.  Many were concerned that, with many ex-Tupamaros running for office, the streets of Montevideo (the capital) would turn scarlet red with blood.  Nothing of the sort happened, the army stayed in the barracks, and popular will triumphed.

Yes, the Philippine Left will have to learn from other countries, especially Uruguay – where former guerrillas now walk the corridors of power in partnership with a leftist doctor who is now the country’s president.  This is not the first time Uruguay has ever made some bold moves.  It was the first country in the world to establish a social security system, the first to legislate and implement an 8-hour labor law.  But of course, they’ve had their ups and downs, too, no big thanks to the disease called “corruption” that bankrupted not just their social security system but the entire economy.  In that respect, the Philippines could well be following in Uruguay’s footsteps:  our social security system is near-bankrupt, the forces of Right and Left are shooting it out, and who knows – they just might get tired of shooting at each other and we’ll finally see a “Philippine Experiment”.  Once down, the only other way to go is up.

The challenge for the lefties who are now in Congress is to simply cool down, be patient.  And they have to stay away from “double dealing” – because one can’t be engaged in parliamentary and armed struggle at the same time.  One can’t be aboveground and underground at the same time.  It’s time to learn how to play with all cards on the table.

Let me just say that the poor and hungry masses (the “garbage-eating people of Payatas and Pingkian” in Da Professor’s lingo) want the hunger pangs, the deprivation, poverty, homelessness, etc. – addressed Now.  We can’t wait another 36 years for our problems to be solved.  The “protractors” will have to come up with solutions for the here and now, not for the hereafter.  We know fully well that change doesn’t happen overnight, but the millions of poor and hungry Filipinos (plus the millions of others who are not poor but are simply sick and tired of the same crap) – want change now, not 36 years from now.

And how can change possibly happen?  By working together, not working against each other.  It is, indeed, an idealistic model.  But given the current situation, the only other alternative would be rivers of blood and mountains of skulls a la Khmer Rouge and Kampuchea.  We don’t always have to look West for solutions, we can look East and South also.  Rizal and his contemporaries had to look West, simply because their paradigm taught them so.  So it was to Europe where they looked for answers and models.  And it was this “looking West” that gave us the First Philippine Republic.  Even Bonifacio himself had to look West, reading Les Miserables and the History of the French Revolution.  Were it not for U.S. intervention, the First Republic would have flourished.  Alright, enough of history.

The here and now:  one would think that the “Uruguayan Experiment” is made up of just one potent force in the persons of the former Tupamaros.  Wrong.  The party in power is called “Frente Amplio” or “Broad Front”, meaning it is an umbrella organization of erstwhile competing and contending leftwing parties.  There are actually 8 leftwing political parties that make up the Frente Amplio.  The current President, Tabare Vasquez, belongs to the Popular Participation Movement.  However, the ex-Tupamaros or the National Liberation Movement, makes up the largest bloc.  Just how all 8 left parties ended up under one umbrella, would make for a good study.  Suffice it to say that the left finally won in Uruguay by working together, not against each other.

Will the Philippine Left finally come together?  Only time will tell.  A Philippine version of a “Broad Front” might not be a bad idea.  Then the voters will really have a choice between the forces of action and the forces of reaction.  Perhaps the Left can begin by ending the “pro-Beijing” and “pro-Soviet” polemics.  For one, the USSR is dead and gone.  For another, the Chinese themselves have taken the capitalist road.  The chances of the Maoists ever regaining power in the People’s Republic are about as good as an ice-drop in hell.  Even the Vietnamese have taken the capitalist road and have overtaken the Philippines economically.  (Alright, there’s still corruption in Vietnam.  So what’s new?)

Cuba, perhaps Uncle Sam’s biggest pain in the ass – has been experimenting with capitalism.  Of course, the Land of Fidel is still a communist and police state.  I know, because I’ve been there, albeit for a short visit.  However, many of the fidelistas have also learned to shave their beards and are tinkering with capitalism, which they call “market socialism”.  But what the heck, it’s still about making profit and channeling those profits back into programs for universal health care, education, and the like.  The Cubans have even learned to respect and protect the freedom to worship (it’s in their 1992 constitution).  Again, I know – churches over there are packed, they have processions galore, in fact, one time I wanted to go to church - the Havana Cathedral was jampacked, I couldn’t get in.  And nuns in that communist country still wear habits, the priests wear their black sotanas.  Overkill, but I like it.

Some might be tempted to think that I was on a “guided” tour.  N’yet.  Nobody can take me on a guided tour – I blended in, talked to everyday, ordinary people (including peasants working in the tobacco plantations).  For a police state like Cuba, it came as a shock to me that there was no curfew, even if there was a very visible police presence.  Some nights, I was up until 3:00 a.m. enjoying Cuban cigars and rum with everyday folks who had invited me into their homes.  I got teased, though, when I touched on the subject matter of Rizal.  You see, more Cubans know about him, and they didn’t hesitate to ask me:  “If he were truly a patriot, why did he volunteer to serve as a surgeon in the Spanish Army – here in Cuba?”  Nabukó!  And my reply was always:  “Because he had become irrelevant in the Philippines.”  It was the Katipunan that had become relevant.  Then, our conversations would turn towards 1898 – when Uncle Sam grabbed Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam from Spain.  And then we’d be back on common ground.  Yes, we can still learn many things.

Many Cubans I met, told me that they watched EDSA 1 unfold on their TV screens (they cheered, of course!)  Now we’re back in the same hole, or perhaps even worse.  And yes, Cubans also asked me if the stories about Filipino “mail order” brides were true.  I could feel a stab in my stomach.  But yes, we’ve indeed gone from bad to worse.  However, it would be a mistake to simply give up hope.  There’s got to be an answer out there…somehow.

In the meantime, we in Gugma will just have to do our best, with or without government.  After all, people still have the right to improve the quality of their lives – with or without government.  There will be major challenges ahead of us, but perhaps it’s Samar that will show the way, lead the way, and others will follow.  To paraphrase a great German theologian, Rudolf Bultmann, what we are doing in Samar is “…a radical demonstration of our faith.”  When all is said and done, it all boils down to – Faith, Hope, and Love.  What could be a greater cause?

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