The Philippine Elections: “For a New Politics, For a New Economy”

On Monday, 9 May, national elections in the Philippines are taking place. President and the Vice President are elected directly. Beyond that, thousands of positions are being contested across the country – from the Senate to city mayors and provincial governors.

The elections are held in a country reeling under the blows of the multiple crises – pandemic, climate, economic, social. More than a fifth of the labor force (22.1%) or almost a tenth of the population (9.78%) are underemployed or unemployed. The current minimum wages in the Philippines are basically slavery wages with 18.0% percent of all families to cross the official regional poverty thresholds. Meanwhile the collective wealth of the 50 richest Filipinos grew by 30% from 2020 to 2021 despite the pandemic.

The Philippines is also one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate-related impacts, such as typhoons and the environmental crisis. By 2030 some 50% of the population are expected to be affected by the rise in sea levels, with sections of major urban centres submerged, including the capital Metro Manila.

A system of dynasties and clans

The political system of the Philippines is characterised by the rule of dynasties and clans. In the senate 17 out of 24 senators belong to dynasties and political clans. In the lower house of Congress 71% of the district representatives are from political clans and dynasties. Governors in 81 provinces, more than 80% are from dynasties and more than 51% are aligned with Duterte.

This system of ‘dynasty politics’ is built on electoral fraud, backed by coercion and violence. The liberal opposition plays the same game of dynasties. They also have their share of dynasties and political clans. There needs to be a real breach in the system, the system of dynasties, for the left to make any meaningful gains in the electoral arena.

In the political arena we find the clan of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos relentlessly pursuing its ambition to get back into power. They have formed an alliance with President Duterte and his clan, who are equally determined to protect their dynasty’s hold on power.

The son of the former dictator, Bongbong Marcos Jr., is running for President along with the Sara Duterte, the daughter of President Duterte, as his Vice President. These clans have united with some of the most rightwing clans in Philippine politics – such as the Arroyos and the Estradas – backed by sections of the Philippine ‘billionaire’ capitalist class. 

Duterte — a rise in authoritarian rule

The Duterte regime, elected to office in 2016, represents a rise in far-right, authoritarian and even neo-fascist parties internationally, from Brazil’s Jair Bolsanaro, to ‘Trumpism’ in the US, Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Narendra Modi in India.

Duterte’s infamous ‘war on drugs’, basically a war on the poor, on democratic rights and human rights, has resulted in the extrajudicial killing of some 27,000 people. He has weaponised the law in order to silence the opposition. The Anti-Terror Act of July 2020 allows for warrantless arrest for 24 days. The definition of terrorism is vague and covers legitimate dissent or protest, with mere intent being criminalised.

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ElCAC) was formed, with a large budget, to carry out combined military attacks in communities with suspected CPP-NDF-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines – New Peoples’ Army – National Democratic Fronts’) activities.

Moreover, the ‘cyber crime’ law effectively renders opposition in the social media platforms a crime.

The masses were disillusioned and weakened by decades of neoliberal rule that has destroyed the socio-economic foundations of society and their very lives, exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic. It was in this context that Duterte was elected, drawing mass support for his populist programme and rhetoric. This included the promise to end contractualisation (precarious labour or the subcontracting of labour), which brought him support from sections of the labour movement; Moreover, he was supported to end the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows for US military presence in the Philippines, and backing China against the US in the dispute over the South China Sea and Spratley Islands.

Duterte is a former ally of the CPP-NPA. He appointed several leaders of the mass organisations aligned with the CPP-NPA to cabinet and senior positions in various departments. This was, as anticipated by many on the left, short-lived. Duterte broke with the CPP-NPA and began to hound their leadership, which included brutal killings. Moreover, he launched military operations against the Communist Party’s base areas, especially against the indigenous communities in Mindanao.

Leni Robredo — another candidate of the dynasties

The opposition aligned with the Liberal Party was significantly weakened to the point of being unable and unwilling to mount a clear and consistent opposition. A majority of them in Congress simply switched sides and supported Duterte.

The Vice President in the Duterte administration was Leni Robredo, the current chair of the Liberal Party, who is contesting the presidency in the elections as an independent. Robredo did not mount any serious political opposition to the Duterte regime, preferring to playing the role of a ‘responsible’ elected official.

Robredo also has some support from different dynasties. Nevertheless, the Labour Party is supporting her as well. The labour movement is divided with parts of the unions aligned with the party of the liberal bourgeois opposition. The right-wing Trade Union Congress of the Philippines supports Marcos Jr.

A left alternative

‘Business as usual’, even with limited reforms, offer no solutions at all. A radical and socialist alternative is needed. It was the mass movement, led by the left, that has been in the forefront of the resistance against Duterte.

In this context, with a gaping political vacuum in the electoral arena, left-wing PLM (Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila) took on the challenge and presents a radical alternative to the electorate.

Leody De Guzman, long-term labour leader and a founding member of PLM is running for president. Walden Bello, renowned international scholar and political activist, is running as his vice president. The PLM’s senate team is being led by Luke Espiritu, a labour lawyer and former national council member.

The programme of the left

It is a truly historic campaign. It is the first time that the left has contested the presidency. It is the first time a worker and a labour run for president. It is the first time that an anti-capitalist and transitional socialist platform has been put forward by a presidential candidate. The PLM election campaign has broken the mold of traditional politics. 

The PLM’s radical platform of demands aims at starting the urgent process of transforming Philippine society in a socialist direction. It includes:

  • The introduction of a wealth tax of the richest families;
  • Cancellation of debt repayments for five years;
  • The recovery and return of the remaining stolen wealth of the Marcos’s; prosecute Marcos family members who have kept and utilized their stolen wealth;
  • Together with the proceeds from the wealth tax and the debt cancellation, use the stolen wealth to respond to the COVID pandemic;
  • Immediate increase in the daily minimum wage;
  • Uphold the principle of workers’ control; ensure that workers are consulted in all industries and economic sectors through the establishment of unions and workers’ committees parallel to corporate boards for policy and daily operations;
  • Ban contractualisation in all its forms; impose price controls on oil, electricity, internet, water, farm inputs, and other basic commodities;
  • Institute small farmers’ control of agriculture and ensure food sovereignty; distribute for free all remaining lands under the agrarian reform; prevent land conversions especially by large property firms; freeze compliance with all World Trade Organization directives;
  • Implement an anti-dynasty law; start the immediate dismantling of political dynasties by approving an enabling law to implement the anti-dynasty provisions in the Constitution – ‘the state will prohibit political dynasties as defined by law’;
  • Uphold climate justice; demand reparations from rich countries for their historical responsibility for the climate crisis; pursue just transition to a low carbon economy and democratically-owned, renewable and clean energy systems; repeal the pro-mining Philippine Mining Act;
  • Institute measures to fully achieve gender equality and strengthen gender rights; end violence against women; pass a divorce law; decriminalise abortion; pass new legislation to address the gender wage gap; recognise and compensate reproductive and care work; legalise the LGBTQIA+ gender category; uphold marriage equality and support alternative forms of family arrangements;
  • Unconditionally resume peace talks with the CPP-NDF-NPA; Repeal the 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act; significantly reduce the budget of all security-related and defense agencies relative to the budget for social services;
  • Uphold the right to self-determination; support the Bangsamoro people’s struggle for full and meaningful autonomy; strengthen and enforce indigenous principles of common ownership and stewardship of natural resources;
  • For a non-aligned foreign policy based national sovereignty and internationalism; end military agreements with the US and immediately close down all US de facto military bases in the country. Reject the expansionist and sphere-of-influence claims of China and the U.S. in the South China Sea, promote a commons-based development and utilization of natural resources in disputed areas;

The post-election scenario

Currently the Marcos-Duterte tandem is leading the polls, with Leni Robredo trailing in second place, but with growing support. But the polls are commissioned and paid for by the candidates. Apparently the polls pointing to a Marcos Jr. victory have been angled towards the areas where his support is strong.

The lead for Marcos is based on almost solid support from the dynasties – 71 out of 81 Governors are supporting Marcos-Duterte. This could lead to massive electoral fraud. The Commission on Elections has signed a contract with the company F2 Logistics, owned by Duterte’s crony Dennis Uy, on the distribution of vote-counting machines, for example. 

There is a real possibility of a Marcos-Duterte victory. The same strategy and machinery that was operationalised in the 2019 elections are still in place, coupled with the bandwagon effect of expensively-paid survey polls. PLM needs to be prepared to mobilise against electoral fraud. ‘Unity on the streets’ will be key in this scenario. 

Originally published at the website of Die Linke International (German).