Rodrigo Duterte (Photo: Rody Duterte Facebook Page)
Rodrigo Duterte (Photo: Rody Duterte Facebook Page)

It may still be weeks before his inauguration as the 16th president of the Philippines, but President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has already generated enough controversy to occupy the country for the rest of the year through (1) his declaration that he would pursue peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), and release all political prisoners as a confidence-building measure; (2) his subsequent meeting — described as “cordial” by observers — with NDFP emissaries; and (3) his alloting four Cabinet posts to individuals from, or nominated by, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

During the campaign for the presidency, Duterte also declared that he was a “socialist” and that if elected he would be the first “leftist” president of the Philippines. Days before election day, he also presided over the release of several policemen who had been captured by the New People’s Army (NPA), while later engaging in a friendly long-distance conversation with his former professor, CPP founding chair Jose Ma. Sison.

None of these has sat well with the legions of anti-communists in this country, most of whom may not know the difference between socialism and communism, or even the difference between these systems’ methods and their programs, but who have nevertheless made anti-communism their life’s work. If in the United States, anti-communism — to quote Massachusetts Institute of Technology emeritus professor of linguistics Noam Chomsky — “is the State religion,” so is it in this US neo-colony. That all the more makes Duterte’s policy statements about peace talks and even a “coalition government” with the Left surprising.

No Filipino politician — certainly not Benigno Aquino III, to whom the mere mention of peace talks with the NDFP was enough to provoke summary dismissal of the idea — has ever gone to such lengths to assure the combatants and the political leaders of the longest running “insurgency” in Asia of his commitment to an honorable peace, much less to assume that there is something the government can learn from the program of the mainstream Left for the transformation of Philippine society.

The reasons for the garden variety Filipino politician’s refusal to do either go beyond their familial and class interests. In the 1950s, the mere suggestion of then President Carlos P. Garcia’s “Filipino First” policy that Filipino interests should be above those of foreigners was enough to provoke coup plotters into spreading rumors that they would take preemptive action. And what made the Corazon Aquino presidency so problematic were, among others, the actual coup attempts generated by both the intent to restore authoritarian rule and the perception that by releasing political prisoners and appointing nationalists to key executive department positions she was being “soft” on communism.

The usual suspects in both instances was and still is that wing dominant in the military that has been ideologized by its years of tutelage at the feet of its colonial and imperial patrons who inculcated in their brains the idea that any attempt, whether armed or unarmed, at changing the status quo of poverty and mass misery was the devil’s handiwork and needs to be expunged at all costs. At the top of its pantheon of evils are, of course, the communists and communism.

The anti-communist cannot appreciate Duterte’s “closeness” to the CPP and the NPA — particularly his presumed appointment of CPP nominees to the departments of social work and development, environment and natural resources, labor, and agrarian reform — as an approach to both the achievement of peace as well as an effort to draw from the former’s program those elements that could mitigate the poverty that provokes the rebellions that have characterized much of Philippine history.

The anti-communist too often also mistakes methods for programs, thus his or her describing communism as terrorism — which the CPP renounces, given its meaning as the indiscriminate use of violence for political ends — rather than as an economic and social program.

Duterte’s policy statements and actions have predictably led to coup rumors — rumors fanned as recently as a week before the May 9 elections by Antonio Trillanes IV, who declared that a Duterte administration would be subject to the same coup attempts as Corazon Aquino’s was, except that this time it would be because of perceptions that he’s not only close to the communists; he might even be a communist himself.

The rumors persist today, fed by unidentified active and retired military officers’ expressing their fears of a “communist takeover.” The bases for these fears include apprehensions that a peace agreement could finally be signed between the NDFP and the government after years and years of the military’s claim that it can defeat the “insurgency” through purely military means, and outrage over the appointment of CPP members or its nominees to four Cabinet posts. The first suggests that only a peace won through the military defeat of the NPA is worth anything, while the first implies that four appointments to government posts would mean a communist seizure of the Philippine government.

The defeat of the rebellions that have haunted Philippine history is an illusion for so long as their root causes are not addressed. The Philippine Revolution was defeated by US imperialism at the turn of the 20th century only to rise again, and the Huk rebellion was quelled only to be replaced by the NPA. The reason is simple enough. Rebellions are the consequences of underdevelopment and poverty, and their handmaidens, injustice and mass misery. Rebellions are not these ills’ causes. Only by eliminating the causes of rebellion can rebellions end. A peace agreement could conceivably lead to that process, so long resisted by the ruling dynasties that it has become nearly impossible to attain.

As for the appointments of CPP members or nominees to four Cabinet positions, it may help make the government a bit more responsive to the needs of labor, to the miseries of the underclass, and to the need for the real rather than the pretend protection of the environment as well as the enforcement of existing agrarian reform laws.

Those Cabinet secretaries will still be subject to the president’s policies and the laws governing their respective jurisdictions. Their presence will not signal the beginning of a “socialist experiment,” socialism being an economic system based on State control of both the means of production as well as of every strategic sector of the economy.

As for communism, the anti-communists can improve their minds by reading — or trying to read — Karl Marx, or at least Mao Zedong. The latter once said in an interview that communism will be attained only after a hundred or even two hundred years—and he was being optimistic. After all, said Marx, communism can occur only when all classes shall have disappeared, an eventuality which will then lead to the withering away of the State. Four Cabinet posts and a peace agreement do not communism — or even socialism — make.

(First published in BusinessWorld. Image from Rody Duterte Facebook Page)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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