from East Wind Vol.1 No. 1 1982
by Masao Suzuki
This June will mark the first anniversary of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos' New Republic. Marcos had hoped that his "lifting" of martial law and "election" to a six-year term would help to solve the problems of his regime. But events have shown that the New Republic is just another name for the same old society, and the crisis, if anything, has gotten worse.
At his inauguration last June, Marcos declared the following priorities for the New Republic: to revamp the cabinet, to attack the country's economic problems, and to root out the New People's Army (NPA).
The installation of Cesar Virata as Prime Minister along with other "technocrats" in the Cabinet was supposed to shore up business confidence in the sagging Philippine economy and help calm worries over the question of succession to Marcos. But infighting among different factions within the Marcos clique has intensified as they struggle for greater spoils and maneuver to become Marcos' successor. Nowhere was this more evident than in the coconut levy struggle. A big coconut grower connected to Imelda Marcos (Marcos' wife and governor of Metro Manila) prevailed upon Marcos to suspend the coconut levy. However, the state coconut milling monopoly (headed by Defense Minister Ponce Enrile) reaps huge profits from the levy and stopped buying coconuts, causing prices to drop up to 80%. Marcos then reinstated the levy.
With the country's financial system on the brink of collapse following the Dewey Dee affair (where a major Philippine businessman skipped out of the country with over $60 million in unsecured debts), Marcos had to establish a five billion peso ($600 million) bailout fund for major corporations owned by his friends and cronies. This crisis was averted, but the fundamental problems of the economy continue.
According to official sources, prices increased at a 13.2% rate in 1981. (Unofficial estimates are much higher). By September of 1981, the total Philippine foreign debt had ballooned to over $15 billion, up more than 21% in the nine months of 1981 alone.
Marcos' latest scheme to boost the economy is the Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or KKK (Movement for Livelihood and Progress). A billion pesos will be loaned out by the KKK for small businesses in 40,000 barrios (towns). By using the same initials as the Philippine revolutionary organization that started the 1896 revolt against Spanish rule, Marcos is trying to portray this effort as patriotic. But the new KKK would allow transnational corporations to subcontract work, making the Philippine economy more dependent than ever. With Marcos and lmelda as its Chairman and Secretary General respectively, the new KKK could be the biggest porkbarrel of all time.
Both the U.S. and Marcos have been worried by the NPA's military activity and growing political influence. Marcos' campaign to curb the guerrillas has only resulted in an unprecedented militarization of Philippine society. The increase in government repression has been so great that one of the highest officials in the Catholic Church, Cardinal Jaime Sin, said, "Daily we experience the increasing militarization of our lives the pervasive surveillance of citizens who express dissent democratically by military intelligence; the lack of mercy and prudence shown by special military units against suspected criminals, the use of torture to exact information, the unexplained wealth of many military officers . . . "(from a letter to U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops dated September 4,1981)¬
Even more ominously, in Davao del Norte, Mindanao, the Philippine army has forcibly removed more than 25,000 civilians from these barrios in an attempt to curb the influence of the NPA in the area. Farmers are forced to walk up to six miles each day to reach their fields from military guarded centers where they now live. This version of the "strategic hamlet" program employed by the U.S. in the Viet Nam War, has caused untold suffering. Many of the children have sickened and died due to lack of sanitation, while the people fear hunger due to decreased production. This experiment has been expanded to a number neighboring areas already, involving thousands of more people.
It is doubtful that this program will anything but further alienate the people from the Marcos regime. What is not in doubt is the growing influence of the NPA. The NPA now claims amass base of six million (one eighth of the population) in 30 guerilla fronts throughout the archipelago. While they see themselves as stilI in the stage of a strategic defensive where they are overall weaker than the government, the NPA considers itself in a more advanced sub stage where it can delegate much of its political organizing to mass activists, allowing an intensification of military activity. In one two month period in 1981, Manila newspapers reported 56 NPA ambushes and raids.
The brunt of this crisis in Marcos' New Republic has fallen squarely on the Pilipino people. The infighting over the coconut levy and the resulting drop in prices hurt millions of Pilipino farmers. The decline in exports and the lowering of tariffs has forced many businesses to close down, laying off thousands of workers. On top of rising unemployment, prices are rising much faster than wages, further impoverishing an already poor people.
More and more people have seen no other way than to openly resist the Marcos regime. During the first two months of the 1981 82 school year, over 200,000 students participated in demonstrations protesting tuition hikes, lack of campus freedoms and imperialist influence over the educational system. After the lifting of martial law, workers' strikes increased to almost one per day, many of them illegal wildcats in defiance of government requirements for 30 day advance notice and a ban on strikes in all vital industries.
Rural, as well as urban protests have mounted. Numerous rallies with up to 10,000 participants have been organized because of the increasing militarization.
Militancy of many Philippine minority groups is rising, with one recent march by 3,000 Igorot students in Baguio calling the Ministry of Tourism's Grand Canao festival a prostitution of their traditions. In the south, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) continues its ten year revolt against the central government with the goal of self determination for the Muslim minority. Marcos' army said the MNLF was "finished" in January, 1981, only to have over one hundred government troops wiped out in an ambush in February. The MNLF is fielding over 15,000 full time guerrillas, tying down half of the Philippine military. Over the last year, the MNLF has become more united and ties with other Philippine opposition groups have increased.
For the guerrillas of the NPA and their allied underground activists in the National Democratic Front (NDF), the fruits of their long struggle are starting to ripen. Since its formation in 1969 as the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the NPA has grown from a small band of 60 men with only 35 rifles to the national force it is today. By applying Mao Zedong's theories of protracted people's war to Philippine conditions, emphasizing political organizing and capture of arms from government troops, the NPA has maintained its independence and self reliance.
The NDF's program of armed overthrow of the Marcos regime, an end to U.S. and other foreign domination of the economy and culture, and real land reform has been winning more and more adherents. Many of the mass protests have been raising these and other anti imperialist demands, while many activists have joined the underground in the face of Marcos' growing repression of open dissent.
Many of the pre martial law politicians, fed up with Marcos' phony elections and U.S. support for an obviously undemocratic regime, have begun to take stands against U.S. domination. With many of their followers deserting to the NDF, the recent formation of the Pilipino Democratic Party (PDP) with a non violent (electoral) pursuit of nationalism is perhaps a last ditch effort to prevent the total collapse of a moderate alternative.
For Pilipinos in the U.S., the crisis that many have sought to escape is also encroaching. Under the Marcos administration, over 400,000 Pilipinos have left the Philippines for the promised opportunities of America.
But promises have faded before the reality of discrimination and lack of jobs for Pilipino immigrants. While the Reagan administration is proposing a 32% increase in military aid to Marcos (from $105 to $140 million), job training, education and other needed community services are being cut. On top of this, the proposed U.S. Philippine extradition treaty would extend the long arm of Marcos into the Pilipino community here in an attempt to suppress opposition to his regime.
Meanwhile the calls for support from the Philippines grow stronger. Such was the message of a Philippine Roman Catholic priest: "The people there are very desperate. Many of their union organizers have been arrested by the military and tortured. It is no wonder that some have gone to join the NPA. Why, even four priests in my diocese have gone, for they felt it was the only way to express their Christian preference for the poor. For those of you in the U.S., you do not feel the urgency of the situation. We need all the help that you can (give)." At the end of his talk he added: "You know, you are very lucky. You are living at a time when you can be proud to be Filipino, for you have the chance to give your lives for your country."
Masao Suzuki is a Contributing Editor to EAST WIND. He is a student at U.C. Berkeley and a member of the Philippines Education Support Committee.