To better understand the history of Anarchism in the Philippines and the police terror unleashed by Rodrigo Duterte, we were thrilled to speak with the Bandilang Itim collective for a two part conversation.
Part one of our conversation can be found here. Below please find the conclusion of our chat.
Asia Art Tours: Much of the criticism I’ve read from Anarchists in the Philippines, is that movements like Communism either became co-opted by the state, or calcified into brittle, dogmatic institutions.
Could you walk us through how other leftist tendencies (such as social democracy or communism) have historically fared in the Philippines and how (if I am reading this criticism correctly) they have either become co-opted BY or become parodies OF the State?
Malaginoo: Most non-National Democratic tendencies have went to three paths: armed struggle, trade unionism and electoral politics. They’re doing somewhat fine, but the shadow of Establishment Leftism looms over them. Which is funny; we don’t need the state to co-opt radicalism—the Nat-Dems do that for us!
Magsalin: I agree with Malaginoo’s assessment. National Democracy has become a tendency to co-opt and constrain radicalism rather than intensifying it. The historian Joseph Scalice has shown that the program and practice of Stalinism in the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP-1930; old communist party) and the National Democracy of the newer Communist Party of the Philippines has always been to subordinate the working class movement to the interests of a faction of the so-called “National Bourgeoisie.” The old PKP-1930 allied with President Macapagal and then the dictator Marcos but this opportunism failed to manifest into real gains. This happened again with National Demcoratic forces in the Makabayan Bloc constantly allying with bourgeoisie populists and liberals first with presidential candidates Manny Villar in 2010, then Grace Poe in 2015. Then Rodrigo Duterte came into the scene and party ideologues like Joma Sison came out into full support for Duterte and curiously the Makabayan Bloc likewise followed and came to support Duterte through their actions and ground campaigning while Makabayan Bloc leadership still paid lip service to their alliance with Grace Poe. So Duterte won the presidency with the help of both the underground and legal Nat-Dem organizations.
Photo & Caption Credit- Bandilang Itim: Let us not mince our words. The EDSA Revolution has failed. But even an aborted revolution can bring the blossoms of freedom. A reminder of the failures past can be a guide for the success and victory of tomorrow. Read: “Blossoms of an Aborted Revolution”: bandilangitim.noblogs.org/2020/02/25/blossoms-of-an-aborted-revolution/
The Nat-Dems then laundered the Duterte administration. They claim they were in a “critical alliance” with Duterte and they did make a little noise with regards to the practically genocidal war on drugs, but they continued to still support the president and his policies until it was clear their opportunism was winning them no gains and Duterte had no intention of really solving their issues. The Nat-Dems were used and up to this day they refuse to acknowledge their role in laundering Duterte and in allowing him to implement his murderous policies. I would think that this consistent opportunism has disillusioned some in the National Democratic ranks, though not enough to make a visible impact.
The social democrats have not fared much better. Akbayan is the largest social democratic grouping in the country and they delegated to essentially become the social democratic wing of the Liberal Party during the presidency of Noynoy Aquino. They were part-and-parcel to laundering the Aquino administration to the point that the major Akbayan ideologue Walden Bello resigned in disgust. Now Akbayan and their youth wing are galvanized by the success of democratic socialism in the United States so now they organize under that banner. Commendably, they refused to support Duterte’s candidacy and presidency, but alas are still collaborating with liberal oppositionists. Time will tell on whether they will strike a principled position or if their opportunism will cause them to stumble yet again.
On a final note, you asked about these tendencies as parodies of the state. Well ultimately all parties whether social democratic, National Democratic, or communist are all states-in-waiting as if little parodies of the states themselves. In a party apparatus we see the concentration of power in a circle of a few personalities or a committee. We see a division of labor between those that decide and those that carry out. This replicates the social relationship of the state where there are some who have agency and power and others that do not. Indeed this power and agency can even be the power over life and death where ardent communists were murdered by the their fellow cadre during the purges inside the CPP several decades ago. These murders did not stop inside the party, the CPP also ordered the assassination of rival socialists and social democrats. No one should ever have the power to murder their comrades. No revolutionary group should use assassination as a means of dealing with rivals; it is clear that their ideas could not stand. National Democracy is not only a history of defeats, but also a history of betrayals.
Photo & Caption Credit- Bandilang Itim: Loving is a revolutionary act. To be queer is to love all. Read: “To Be Queer is to Love All: A Perspective on Queer Activism and Anarchism in the Philippines”: bandilangitim.noblogs.org/2020/07/01/to-be-queer-is-to-love-all-a-perspective-on-queer-activism-and-anarchism-in-the-philippines/”
Asia Art Tours: Are there any points of solidarity or strategic alliances that anarchists have or make with Communists/social democrats or liberals in the Philippines?
Magsalin: I recognize that there are still tasks we can cooperate on with the social democrats and socialists. One of these are opposition to the Anti-Terror Law that practically classifies anti-oppression organizing as terrorism. However while cooperating with socdems and socialists, we do not forget our principles. We will not stop our red friends from pursueing legal and other mediated remedies but we firmly remind them that we cannot trust that such mediated remedies can assure us victory. After all, the petitions against the Anti-Terror Law in the Supreme Court will be heard by judges appointed by Duterte. These mediated institutions are not ours; these belong to the state. Liberal democracy is stacked against by design. We cannot rely on these institutions to defend our interests.
Asia Art Tours: Then to center Anarchism, could you discuss for us one historic example that you find meaningful to explain the Anarchism that exists in the Philippines today (For example the Diliman Commune)?
Magsalin: Like many (but not all) other colonized countries, we must remember that statelessness was the primary mode of life for many people. Sure proto-state factions have existed such as monarchial chiefdoms, but what also existed and still do exist are indigenous peoples like the Ifugao who have carved entire mountains and established essentially rapeless societies all without the use of states, slavery, or police.
Photo Credit – Bandilang Itim: Poster on Police violence in the Philippines. Thousands have been murdered by Police in Duterte’s horrific ‘drug war’. Less reported is that during Covid-19, these police murders have surged, along with citizens murdered by police for violating ‘pandemic rules‘ that are nearly impossible for the poor to follow.
Not only do these indigenous forms of freedom still exist and persist, but even urban forms such as the barangay (a sub-municipal unit of government) have at times proven to have some potential for liberatory projects. The libertarian theorist Murray Bookchin noted that municipal politics has historically been pushed to liberatory political projects where people meet another as equal citizens and deliberate in a free manner. However we must also realzie that while there is a liberatory potential, the actuality can be that the barangay is also a site of capture by political dynasties and can be treated as feudal fiefs.
Aside from organizational forms, there have also been a history of mutual aid and direct action in the archipelago. The anarchist scientist Peter Kropotkin noted that mutual aid exists in every society and tradition in the world in some form. In the Philippines this is bayanihan whose image conjures up a village (or bayan) carrying a house to help their neighbors move.
In another example of direct action, farmers in the countryside practice bungkalan or farming land that they do not own in order to expropriate it in fact and strike at absentee holdings. Urban groups like the Nat-Dem group Kadamay also practiced direct action when they expropriated empty homes in 2017; they were even called anarchists for it, much to their dismay!
As for the Diliman Commune where radical students staged an insurrection, we have seen in that episode how students and faculty could organize in a free and egalitarian way spontaneously. While cadres were involved in the Diliman Commune, the way the insurrection was staged was notably non-hierarchical. Such are the nature of revolutionary situations like the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution, and France 1968. In all these situations including the Diliman Commune, spontaneous forms of organizations tended towards non-hierarchical forms. It could assume so again in the future.
Photo Credit – Bandilang Itim: This graphic was from the summer of 2020 when mass protests occurred in Hong Kong, The US & The Philippines.
Asia Art Tours: Within Covid-19 in the Philippines, where have you seen capitalism and the state fail to provide for the safety and health of citizens? And have you see the emergence or anarchist principles or initiatives (such as mutual aid) to fill these gaps?
Lahumbuwan: Magsalin has actually written a great article about how the militarization of our lockdowns signify the failure of the state & capitalism over here. Police in military uniforms, checkpoints—we’ve definitely been giving a bit more breathing room since we first went into “community quarantine,” as it’s called here, but we’re also about to hit 365 days of lockdown in March. So yeah, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the state has just totally failed to keep people safe and healthy. We still don’t have access to testing, students all over the archipelago being forced to do school remotely, and there is still cash aid that has gone undistributed. And this is on top of everything else that this specific administration is trying to do to tamp down on all forms of resistance.
As for anarchist initiatives popping up to fill in these gaps, a couple good examples are aid initiatives for the Typhoons Rolly and Ulysses. The typhoons came around November last year, so they were hitting us right in the middle of the pandemic. Where the state had slacked when it came to rescue & relief operations, other people had stepped in. You could see people organizing themselves online to help coordinate rescues, combing social media for information about people stranded on the roofs of their homes. Of course, this information still had to be sent to local governments to be acted upon, but you got the sense that if these people just had the means to rescue, that they would have done it themselves.
Post-typhoon donation drives for relief goods were not definitive examples of mutual aid (though there are mutual aid efforts every now and then over here) but they were instances of self-organization. In my experience, people usually depend on NGOs, National Democratic orgs, and schools orgs to organize these drives. But this time we saw friend groups, fanbases, and affinity groups blasting calls for donations. They got goods together, packaged, and sent into the provinces that needed it on their own. Again, despite not being explicitly or definitely mutual aid initiatives, this is a promising example of the potential of anarchism in the Philippines. It’s already here, growing from within the husk of these dead things (as it always does).
Photo & Caption Credit- Bandilang Itim: The resistance to the National Security Law in Hong Kong and the Terror Law in the Philippines are interlinked. Against the consolidation of state power we must consolidate our power from below. To learn more, read this article published by Lausan & Bandilang Itim: https://lausan.hk/2020/against-emergency-hong-kong-and-philippines/
Asia Art Tours: And finally what are real, tangible ways to build solidarity internationally with the Phillipines and the struggles it (and so many other places) are enduring?
Magsalin: I get messages sometimes about people who say they don’t know which Filipino/a/xs to support if National Democratic groups dominate the radicalism in the Filipino/a/x diaspora. Internationally, the diaspora National Democratic organizations—the so-called the “kasama” tendency from the Tagalog word for “comrade”—are one of the few groups to denounce both American and PRC imperialism. (Though I might add, they don’t do it out of principle; they do it out of nationalist interests.) These kasamas do find natural affinity with the Hong Konger diaspora who similarly struggles against PRC imperialism, and these Hong Kongers find few allies among the far left because of the tankie phenomenon.
What I tell these groups like the Hong Kong diasporans is that ultimately the harmful elements are the cadres within the Nat-Dem organizations, not the rank-and-file specifically. So perhaps don’t give them money, but if they do mutual aid activities you can help out. Though from Filipino/a/x comrades in Turtle Island I am told that kasamas mine new recruits until they’re burned out; I suppose judge for yourself given the circumstances. As always, be wary of leadership.
As for other tangible ways, a recommendation of education and self-study is always good. There are some among the international libertarian and anarchist tendencies that think the CPP and the NPA are the “good communists” simply because they fight against the Duterte administration. This critical support comes from an ignorance of the Party’s opportunist politics and Stalinist praxis. Should people know that the Party consistently collaborates with bourgeoisie factions or that they murdered their own rank-and-file and assassinated socialists and social democrats, this support ought wither away.
I would think one can be in solidarity with National Democratic activists targeted and killed while maintaining our critique of their party lines and collaborationist strategy. This amounts to a tactical unity against state repression while maintaining an independent politics.
Photo & Caption Credit – Bandilang Itim: Even as the police state and pandemic rage on in the east, we stand in solidarity with our cousins from across the ocean. Our fight for freedom and yours for justice are interlinked. Together we can amplify both.#OurStrugglesInterlinked #StopAsianHate #MilkTeaAlliance
- For part 1 of our interview w. Bandilang Itim, check it out here: asiaarttours.com/bandilang-itim-anarchism-the-philippines-part-1/
- All photos used are by Bandilang Itim, please contact them if you wish to use, remix or redistribute.