Forty people attended a forum Oct. 29, “Revolution in the Philippines: Daring to Struggle, Daring to Win.” The forum at Mayday Books featured a presentation by Joe Iosbaker, a Chicago-based anti-war movement leader and member of Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) who participated in a recent international solidarity delegation to Western Mindanao in the Philippines.
The delegation to the Philippines consisted of 160 activists from several countries. Iosbaker said they went to witness the human rights abuses taking place on a daily basis in the countryside of the Philippines. These human rights abuses are committed by foreign mining companies, agricultural companies that own entire islands of the Philippines, the landlord class, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Philippine National Police. The struggle of the Filipino people in the countryside is sharp, and the struggle of indigenous peoples of the Philippines is particularly sharp now with the discovery of one of the five largest deposits of gold in the world on their land.
But in the Philippines there is not only oppression and exploitation. There is also a powerful and dynamic revolutionary movement fighting for fundamental change. That movement is led by the National Democratic Front (NDF), the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Launched in 1968, the armed struggle waged by the New People’s Army follows the strategy pioneered by Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party – a protracted people’s war that builds a base in the countryside and gradually accumulates forces to surround the cities from the countryside. The movement is active in 70 of the country’s 81 provinces. The New People’s Army, under the political leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines, operates in more than 100 guerrilla fronts throughout the country. But NPA members don’t just engage in armed struggle, they also carry out work to serve the people and do educational work in the communities where they are based. The National Democratic Front’s allied mass organizations build movements fighting for justice among many sectors of society including workers, farmers, women, students and more.
The national democratic movement has played an important role in major struggles in the Philippines, like the People Power movement that ousted U.S.-backed dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1980s, and other mass movements since then. But the revolutionaries have not made their peace with the system after cosmetic changes while exploitation and oppression continue. The mass movement and the armed struggle have continued for more than 47 years, and are strengthening in the current period. Their struggle builds on the 400-plus-year history of the Filipino people’s struggle against brutal Spanish and then U.S. colonial domination of their land.
During the question and answer part of the forum, much of the discussion turned to questions about newly-elected Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, a controversial figure who has already declared that he will pursue a foreign policy independent of Washington D.C., and has announced a warming of economic and political relationships with China. He also quickly restarted peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front and freed some of the movement’s political prisoners. The NDF has issued statements welcoming the advances in peace negotiations and the freeing of political prisoners, which they had been demanding for years. They have also united with some aspects of Duterte’s policies, most particularly his declaration to be independent of Washington’s influence. They have also strongly criticized Duterte where they disagree with him or have seen inconsistency between his rhetoric and the reality on the ground, and they are continuing their struggle for fundamental change in the Philippines.
The current geopolitical importance of the Philippines is underscored by the U.S. government’s declared ‘pivot to Asia.’ This pivot, announced in 2012, is in part a military response to the rise of the People’s Republic of China. It’s also designed to help enforce U.S. corporate interests in the Philippines and elsewhere in the Pacific. U.S. imperialism as a factor in national economic and political affairs is constantly present in the Philippines.
The Philippines has long been a key launching pad for the U.S. to project its power in the Pacific and toward Asia, so Duterte’s declarations of an independent Filipino foreign policy and his warming to China have raised major alarm bells among the powerful in Washington D.C. Predictably, the Western capitalist media is treating Duterte like a crazy person.
In this context of U.S. imperialism’s ‘pivot to Asia’ and the resulting increase in oppression of the Filipino people, it is vitally important for progressive people in the U.S. to learn about and show solidarity with the dynamic movement fighting against oppression and exploitation, and fighting for a new society in the Philippines.