Friday, March 12, 2010

CPP-NPA Permit to Campaign Fees: Fundraising or Opportunism?

The Philippine Left and the 2010 Elections
(A series of commentaries on left electoral tactics in the lead-up to the May 10, 2010 Philippine elections.)

The issue of the New Peoples Army collecting ‘permit to campaign fees’ (euphemistically named ‘revolutionary taxes’ by the CPP) from capitalist trapo politicians wanting to campaign in NPA strongholds has once again resurfaced in the lead-up to the May 2010 elections. The fees buy these trapo politicians a ‘permit to campaign’ in NPA areas. According to a February 5 Dateline news report, documents obtained from an NPA leader arrested in January this year, pegs the taxes from P30 million for a presidential candidate to P5000 for a candidate for local council. It’s a well-known ‘secret’ in the left that this practice of tax collection during elections is a lucrative source of fundraising for the CPP-NPA.

A March 12 statement issued by the CPP (;refer=ndfev;lang=eng) while denying that the CPP ‘simply accepts bribes to let reactionary politicians win in the election’, at the same time indirectly justifies the practice by claiming that “there are already two governments in the country, two different laws, two different systems of life. If the reactionaries want to campaign in the areas controlled by the revolutionary movement, they must recognize the revolutionary government.” Following the logic of this argument, one can justifiably also ask why a revolutionary government should allow a politician belonging to a reactionary government to campaign in its ‘sovereign territory’? Contrast the NPA practice to that of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an armed liberation movement, struggling for self-determination of the Bangsa Moro people in Mindanao. The MILF doesn’t open up its base for money to reactionary politicians during election campaigns, so why should the NPA?

The left rhetoric of the CPP-NPA notwithstanding, this is yet another example of the opportunist electoral politics that permeates the left’s electoral tactics in this country. According to some sources several NPA fighters themselves are extremely critical of this practice. Opening up their areas compromises the security of these NPA bases, increases the vulnerability of their cadre who have to collect the money and opens up the organization to military exposure and attacks.

The electoral debacle of the Philippine left

(A comment piece: the first in a series of commentaries in the lead-up to the May 10, 2010 elections, in the Philippines.)

While Latin America has opened up a new socialist front for the 21st century and we have the most recent victory of the united left coalition in Uruguay, the Frente Amplio (FA – Broad Front), led by a former leader of the Tupamaros Jose ‘Pepe’ Mujica, winning the Presidency in November 2009, the Philippines left, by contrast, is a tragic and even horrible spectacle going into the May 2010 elections.

While the left is undeniably present in the electoral arena, the main tactic pursued is to vie for positions in the senate tickets of pro-capitalist trapo (traditional politicians) presidential candidates who are the frontrunners in the polls, i.e. the tickets of Noynoy Aquino the presidential candidate of the Liberal Party (which is carrying an Akbayan senate candidate), Manny Villar, the presidential candidate of the Nacionalista Party (which is carrying two senators for the Bayan bloc) and the previously ousted former president Joseph Estrada of the Partido ng Masang Pilipino (which is running a Sanlakas senate candidate). The left candidates on these tickets have unequivocally thrown their support behind these presidential candidates. And the platforms of these presidential candidates have little or no resemblance to the progressive agenda that the mass movements in the Philippines have campaigned for in the last few decades – whether it be the demands of the labor movement, the urban poor, the peasant movement, the women’s movement or any of the anti-neoliberal demands raised by the mass movements throughout the decades of 1990s and 2000. At the local level the situation is even more disgusting with all the left parties without exception involved in unprincipled dealings with capitalist politicians bartering for votes and money – sometimes also known as ‘take the money and run’ tactics.

The left is badly divided and unable to form an electoral front, to put forward an independent left position in the coming elections, during a period of deep crisis in the elite political establishment and social system. The main reason is the deep sectarianism and mistrust that divides the left. The left would rather deal with capitalist politicians – many of whom are thugs and gangsters – than deal with one another. This deep and long-running sectarian politics prevents the left from forming even a minimal alliance in the electoral arena. The left today is unable to unite effectively to support even one-single progressive candidate – from senator to local councillor. The conduct of the Philippine left in these elections is a testimony to the poisonously divisive impact of left sectarianism. It’s a tragic example of how this sectarianism completely disarms the working class and progressive movement in a period when elite rule in this country is facing the most severe crisis since the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship in the 1980s.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Women Dying from the Asian 'Miracle'

System Change a Must to Save Women’s Lives

Despite the fanfare about Asia’s ‘miracle economies’ the problem of ‘missing women and girls’ is actually growing, according to the UNDP-sponsored 2010 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report. These ‘missing’ girls and women are a result of the abortion of girl fetuses and women dying through sheer neglect – underfed and starved and not receiving adequate health care. The birth gender disparity is the highest in East Asia, home of the Asian ‘miracle’ economies, where 119 boys are born for every 100 girls. China and India, much touted for their economic success, account for 85 million of these 100 million ‘missing’ women.

South Asia – which includes India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh – is one of the worst regions in the world (just above impoverished sub-Saharan Africa) in gender equality relating to health, education and employment for women. It has the highest women’s illiteracy levels in the world with almost half of all adult women illiterate. South Asian women are also expected to die five years earlier than men. The region has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with 500 women dying for every 100,000 live births – these rates are higher only in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nearly half of the countries in South Asia and some 60% of the countries in the Pacific have no laws against domestic violence. In India and Pakistan fewer than 35% of women do paid work. Pay gaps between female and male wages are as high as 54%.

The Asian miracle economies were built on the sweat and blood of women’s labour – the ‘nimble fingers’ in the garment and textile, electronics and other light manufacturing industries. This super-exploitation of women continues to mark the ‘economic progress’ of the emerging Asian economic ‘super-powers’, such as India and China. The message is clear: the system must be changed to ensure the basic survival of women and girls.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Renewing Socialist Feminism Today

Renewing Socialist Feminism Today

Women and Revolution: Renewing Socialist Feminism Today

(These are notes from a talk delivered at a Socialist Dialogue forum in the Philippines to mark International Women's Day.)

The women’s movement, the leadership, needs to start to talk about revolution and socialism again. The movement is subsumed by ‘advocacies, i.e. negotiating, through a series of compromises, for minor reforms within the existing status quo. Major issues of system-change and anti-capitalist alternatives are hardly addressed today.

Has the system delivered? For a minority, yes. For a majority of women, No! We have formal equality (anti-discrimination legislation, etc) but not real social and economic equality. The gap between women in the North and South widening. The class gap amongst women increased and continues increasing.

Why does the women’s movement need to start talking about revolution/system change? Because of the conjuncture we face today.

a. The system is in deep crisis. Economic: Greece, Portugal show the deep cracks, poverty is increasing. Socially: health, education, environment and human survival under threat. It’s not the time to play around the edges of the system. Now’s the time to challenge it.

b. Because we are witnessing the renewal of socialism in Latin America -- in Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba continues.

In the Philippines poor children die at three times the rate of the children of the rich, according to latest UN data. Under-five mortality rates are 66 child deaths to every 1000 live births amongst the poor, compared to 21 child deaths to every 1000 births amongst the rich. The largest wealth disparity for under-five mortality rates is in the Philippines, compared to any other country in the Asia-Pacific region. Child mortality is linked to the health and welfare of the mothers. Maternal mortality rates in the Philippines show little or no improvement and are unlikely to meet even the ‘less than minimum’ Millennium Development Goals. If there is one single reason that we need a comprehensive, modern reproductive health bill and RH program meeting international best standards and practice, this is it. A reproductive health program, which is free and accessible to poor women, which gives mothers a range of choices and educates them about these choices, saves poor children’s lives.

Also in the Philippines, we have supposedly progressed on gender and governance issues: we elect women presidents and have one of the highest proportions of women in Congress, compared to other countries in the region. And yet this has not translated into concrete gains for a majority of working and poor women. The system of elite rule that exploits and oppresses working and poor women is still in place. Women have entered the ‘masters house’ – Congress and government – but instead of throwing out the master, bringing down his house and building a new home for all, these women represent the master’s interests, i.e. the patriarchal system of elite rule. So the issue is not merely one of women’s participation, but one of genuine representation – in whose political social and economic interests, do these women govern?

There is (and never has been) an artificial divide between women’s issues and other issues. Every issue today, big and small, is a women’s issue. Poverty and the economic crisis, job losses and contractualization, health care and reproductive health, education, oil prices, corruption, governance, the illegitimate debt, war, militarism, violence, climate change and the environmental crisis – these are all women’s issues. After all, women are the ones who tend to be the hardest hit by these issues -- from the economic crisis, during which a majority of workers laid off in industries such as electronics are women, to climate-change induced disasters such as flooding, where the casualty rates tend to be higher for women and children.

So how society is organized and in whose interests? Who controls the political system? Who runs the economy? These are all issues that are extremely important to women. These are, in fact, life and death issues for women.

Socialist feminism in its broadest sense is an inclusive project.

· All socialist feminists would see class as central to women’s lives and women’s oppression. Some of us would see class as fundamental from the point of view of explaining the historical origins of women’s oppression, for example. Others refuse to give primacy to any one factor over the other.

· Women’s oppression, however, is not simply reduced to economic exploitation, i.e. the extraction of surplus value. This also applies to national/ethnic or racial oppression.

· All these aspects of society are inextricably linked, i.e. class is always gendered and ‘raced’.

We also need to focus on the inter-relationship between reproductive unpaid labor, paid labor and capital, and not so much on the separation of these categories, as we have done in the past. Capital, wants the lowest possible necessary labor. But, capital would like to expand -- unpaid necessary labor. While capital does not pay for this reproductive labor, it benefits by it. The more work that is done free in the household, the less the wage has to be. As the purchaser of labor power, capital gains from the unpaid labor of women within the household. And the more capital drives down wages and intensifies the workday for wage-laborers, the greater the burden placed on the household to maintain workers.

Women need to make a breach in the system of elite/capitalist rule. We need to link our immediate demands to system change and an end to elite rule. We need to have the perspective of mobilizing masses of women, not just our own base, but hundreds of thousands, to make a breach in the system. Latin America shows us that this can be done.