THERE is a simple way to understand the multiplicity of positions from the right to the left of the spectrum currently occupying the national political landscape. Essentially, there are two kinds of distinctions that define and account for the differences. These are whether things are acceptable as they are or should be radically altered; and if change must come how soon and how urgent should this transformation be.
Where political actors stand between the issues of change or conservatism, on the one hand, which is also related to the issue of urgency or complacency, on the other, define the contours of the political landscape.
These points are crucial in identifying the kind of political positions that are available at present especially since in this age of extended political and economic crisis, it is possible for erstwhile political enemies to be strange bedfellows up against a common enemy.
Such is the case at present when the mainstream Left are seemingly in good terms with bitter political rivals from the previous administration’s Liberal Party as they face varying degrees of political persecution from the current administration under Duterte. The points of convergence are clearly issue-based such as the support for fast-eroding democratic institutions in the crosshairs of the president’s authoritarian turn. The support for Chief Justice Sereno by the left amidst the concerted effort to get her to resign is one such unusual partnership.
But this development does not necessarily mean that political lines have been crossed and that the left and the Liberal Party have now taken on the same advocacies. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. The Liberal Party remains a representation of a section of the Philippine elite while the Left maintains its ideological character as a staunch defender and champion of the exploited Filipino classes under elite rule.
The thing is both the Liberal Party and Duterte have much more in common with each other in terms of the class interest they represent. The perennial and ever-worsening intra-elite struggle have brought us to this revealing moment.
Seen through the rubric explained above, such that if we are to assess the two in terms of their constricted notions of change and shared sense of complacency over the current state of affairs, they are virtually indistinguishable from each other. It can be said that they are two sides of the same coin, just different figureheads manifesting the warring interests of the elite faction they represent. Their bitter and poisonous rivalry can be explained by just that - a war over the spoils of pork, government contracts, and the plunder of the national patrimony in favor of the preferred foreign and local business group.
Of course, there are distinctions between the Liberal Party and the Duterte administration. In many aspects, the present administration has pushed the envelope further in terms of using the monopoly of violence of the State to attain its avowed goals. It has done so without restraint in the brutal drug war which has earned for Duterte international notoriety, on the one hand, but also the adoration of the elite and middle class, on the other, for his tough stance on drugs at the street level.
The verbal instructions of Duterte himself to open up resisting indigenous communities in Mindanao to mining exploration by conscripting Lumad elements into the Philippine military as part of government’s counterinsurgency strategy reveal this unbridled zeal. The moves to oust the incumbent Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the attempts to mangle the 1987 Philippine Constitution all betray the authoritarian direction of this administration.
The opposition of the Left to both Duterte and the previous administration emanate from a different ideological plane altogether. Whereas the intra-elite conflict between the present and previous administration show that politics for them is a war over spoils, the Left, on the other hand, display a deep commitment to democratic principles and the rights of the Filipino poor and the oppressed.
If the Left were to address the distinctions raised above, it would have consistent and principled responses to the issues of change and complacency. The response of the Left to the unchanging political and economic conditions has been the same throughout the decades. The clamor for comprehensive social change that would address the root causes of structural inequality had always been a consistent demand from the Left throughout the decades. And this clamor is not mere lip-service to radical change as is the habit of progressive academics, but is actually matched by organized actions to bring this change about at the grassroots level.
What ultimately distinguishes the Left from other political formations in the country apart from the trademark comprehensive analysis is the sense of urgency by which it seeks to bring about this change. It views these acts as necessary and urgent to alleviate the plight of the suffering Filipino masses from elite leadership whether this be neoliberal regimes of the past or a brutal populist authoritarian rule such as the present.