A statement attributed to Jose Ma. Sison, chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front and founding chair of the reestablished Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), describes President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as “vulnerable to criticism for her performance in office during the last more than three years.”

In comparison, the statement describes actor Fernando Poe Jr. as “vulnerable to outright rejection as someone totally lacking in intellectual preparation and political experience for the presidential position.”

That part of the statement sounds distinctly like an endorsement of Arroyo. That impression is inevitable, since the sentence was preceded by a paragraph that said that “the front runners” are “the powerful incumbent president Glorias Macapagal Arroyo and the supposedly popular movie star Fernando Poe, Jr.”

In addition to the interpretation that it is an endorsement, it has also invited speculations that the statement, if indeed it was Sison’s, was solicited by the Arroyo administration.

The seeming endorsement contradicts statements by the current CPP leadership that the party doesn’t participate in elections, and therefore does not endorse anyone. The CPP has also declared that the peace negotiations between the NDF and the Philippine government are likely to better prosper once a new government is in place—which amounts to a dis-endorsement of Arroyo.

Meanwhile, the aboveground Left organizations, which have been feeling the brunt of a military campaign of suppression in the rural areas since 2002, have written off the Arroyo government as a hopeless captive of the military and the militarists’ within it. They have declared on many occasions since 2003 that Arroyo should be removed from office in 2004. In keeping with that conviction, the party-list group Bayan Muna early this year invited all the presidential candidates except two to present and explain their platforms. Mrs. Arroyo was one of the two.

Panfilo “Ping” Lacson was the other. The mainstream Left (meaning the CPP and all other Left groups that share its analysis, goals and program of action, though not they may not necessarily be organizationally linked to the CPP) regards Lacson as a human rights violator and rejects his mailed-fist approach to governance. In contrast, it was open to Poe, at least initially.

A statement by the militant labor union Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU—May First Movement) last January implied support for Poe because he was supposedly anti-globalization. Former KMU Chair Crispin Beltran followed that with a comment that Poe was acceptable to the working masses, among other reasons because he has played working-class heroes in his movies.

There was absolutely no proof that Poe was either. His list of economic advisers—and his apparent cluelessness over what globalization means, let alone its costs to the country’s workers and farmers– in fact suggested that if elected he’s likely to continue the policies for the country’s rapid integration into the global economy initiated by Fidel Ramos and continued by both Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Poe’s acting in movies that celebrate resistance to foreign occupation and social injustice can be interpreted as a reflection of his personal convictions. BUT only if he’s articulated the same concerns as a citizen and social activist, in the same manner that, say, Hollywood’s Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, or the late Greek actress Melina Mercouri, reflect their commitment to women’s rights and other issues in the movies they make or made.

There is of course no record of Poe’s having said anything about achieving and defending national sovereignty, or fighting for workers’ rights. What happened in the KMU case was wishful thinking. It was reflective of the frustrated worker quest in this country for the authentic working class hero who’s both popular enough to win political power, as well as committed to the same vision of social justice and authentic independence that has driven the Philippine labor movement since Isabelo de los Reyes’ time.

The KMU is only one of many organizations that share the Left’s analysis and program of action, but its issuances seem to have been the basis for the impression that the Left was supporting Poe. (Poe’s erstwhile media bureau chief Rodolfo Reyes in fact made that claim in a March interview with the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s Philippine Journalism Review.)

Other Left groups, however, also tended to treat Poe with kid gloves, despite the obvious presence of the putrid remnants of the Marcos and Estrada regimes in his KNP, and even after he formalized his alliance with the Marcoses less than two weeks ago.

Either the statement attributed to Sison is indeed his or it isn’t. If it is, the impact and significance of its seeming endorsement of Mrs. Arroyo should be seen in the context of the apparent multiplicity of views within the Left this election season.

Far from being the monolithic entity governed from an absolutist center that the Left is popularly and mistakenly regarded, many centers appear to comprise it, which could help explain the inconsistency of some of its allied organizations’ recent utterances in connection with the campaign for the May 10 elections.

Sison’s statement, although dismissed as “run-of-the-mill” and inconsistent with the Left’s supposed support for Poe, should be seen as an attempt on Sison’s part to help put things in perspective. Sison could also be anticipating an Arroyo victory, which would mean the NDF’s having to negotiate with the same government it has been talking with for the past three years.

When he endorsed Loren Legarda’s candidacy for vice president early this year. Sison was described by CPP spokesman Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal as only one individual entitled to his views.

Although true, and according to his lawyers no longer in command of the CPP or the NPA—the charter of the CPP clearly stipulates that its Chair must be resident in the Philippines—Sison enjoys an elder statesman status in the mainstream Left. He’s not primarily addressing the press, but an entire social and political movement. His views are still taken seriously by hundreds of thousands of CPP members, political and social activists, and NPA guerillas, in the same way that, say, Lee Kuan Yew’s views are taken seriously in Singapore.

What kind of impact will the statement have? It could provoke a reexamination, not necessarily of whom the aboveground Left should support this May, but of its soft criticism of Poe and of a possible Poe presidency. Sison’s fifth and sixth paragraphs imply precisely the need to “say it as it is”:

“…the masses of working people should not be underestimated as lacking in discernment. Given time and the opportunity to hear all views, they sharpen their awarness of their own conditions and needs and make the intelligent decisions.

“The electoral campaign period has gone far enough to make the broad masses of the people realize that FPJ is inferior not only to GMA in terms of preparation and experience but also to his close friend Joseph Estrada when he was a presidential candidate in 1998.”

These paragraphs and succeeding ones are focused on describing why Poe’s campaign has lost steam. More significantly, however, the Sison statement does imply, short of saying so outright, that, for those who choose to participate in the elections, Arroyo is the better choice. This negates the common view that voting for Arroyo would be the same as voting for Poe.

As Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal said early this year, Sison’s views are his own. But those views are likely to be still influential enough to make a difference in the way the Left views these elections. The inevitable interpretation is that Arroyo is Sison’s choice.


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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