The effect of this order will be to suppress workers’ rights to peaceful assembly, demonstration and also their right to strike. It will also place the entire country under a state of national emergency. Even some of the opposition bourgeois papers have been temporarily closed. The same applies to the schools.
Troops are reported to be everywhere throughout the region around the capital, and especially in the centre of Manila itself. The latest news is that the situation hasn’t calmed down yet, and things are not back to “normal”. What we have to ask ourselves is what led the political situation to reach this critical point?
Amidst rumours of an imminent coup, many thousands of workers belonging to progressive union federations took the streets of Manila last Friday, February 24. Two days earlier thousands of workers had already taken the EDSA roadway (the main avenue of the metropolis). They wanted GMA to resign and give way to a transitional and more democratic government. But the police blocked their march to the EDSA Revolution monument, arresting dozens and beating hundreds.
Many have said that these kinds of demonstrations have the – until now passive – sympathy of a sector of young officers and rank-and-file soldiers inside the Army. This was confirmed by the fact that the government had to order a “security clampdown”, with military camps of the capital city barricaded to block troops from leaving the barracks and joining any demonstrations. What needs to be underlined is that this is the fourth time in the last few months that thousands of workers have demonstrated against the government’s anti-labour and authoritarian policies.
At the same time, a marine officers’ protest was taking place in Fort Bonifacio, with which the former bourgeois president Cory Aquino was trying to link up by heading a few thousand in a march. A third march was called by the Maoist CPP, sharing slogans with Cory Aquino’s bourgeois lobby, also with the aim of trying to force president GMA to resign. The chief of the Scout Rangers general Danilo Lim, allegedly linked to Cory’s bourgeois clan, has in fact been arrested together with other high-ranking officers.
The whole situation reached a critical point precisely on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the popular uprising that overthrew dictator Ferdinand Marcos (February 25, 1986). It is worth noting that on that same day twenty years ago it was the former dictator Marcos that issued the same General Order No. 5 – today being used by Arroyo – in his attempt to suppress the mass movement. But Marcos could not stop the unstoppable and his regime was finally swept aside by millions of people on the streets. That’s why this recent attempt on the part of GMA to use the same Order came across as even more sinister to the working class of Manila.
There are however some important differences between what has happened in the recent days and what happened twenty years ago. The difference in terms of the size of today’s movement is self-evident. Cory Aquino (who became president immediately after the departure of the hated dictator Marcos) today is quite incapable of catalysing the discontent of the masses. She does not come across to the masses as the Cory Aquino of 1986. This is because in the meantime she has governed the country and with her policies she has already amply already demonstrated that she was not and cannot be “the president of the oppressed people”. She merely revealed her true colours to the masses while she was in office. She served the interests of that same rotten ruling class that was served by Marcos in the past. She also revealed quite clearly that she is a firm ally of the USA and of capitalism, just like GMA is today.
The general situation of the bourgeoisie in the Philippines as a whole is slowly getting worse, year after year. In fact, many Filipino workers do not believe in this bourgeois democracy anymore: not only because of the widespread corruption, but also because they know that the majority of congressmen come from dynastic families and the rottenness of the present state institutions isn’t going to change with a new president.
In addition to this, the majority of the workers and the poor people on the one hand, and also a section of the bourgeoisie on the other, accuse the president of having committed a massive electoral fraud in 2004. It was only by widespread rigging that she was able to “win” the 2004 presidential polls. All this contributes to worsening the general image the masses have of the rich dynasties that rule the country.
The “Oakwood mutiny” involving 300 troops (See Philippines: 300 troops mutiny unmasks "war on terror") in July 2003 also revealed that a considerable level of social discontent is spreading inside the army and this mood could link up with the workers’ protests in the future. This also explains why ever since 1986 no government has been able to rely on the Army to keep itself in power in case of any serious mass movement.
If one looks at the glaring social contradictions in the country one can see why this is. How can the Filipino bourgeoisie keep the people calm and contented when the richest 10% of the population have incomes at least 30 times bigger than those of the poorest 10%? Official statistics state that 40% of the population is living below the poverty line. In the rural areas this figure is more than 50%.
The bourgeoisie is divided, as the attempts by Cory Aquino to muster support shows. But no wing of the bourgeoisie has enough popular support to be able to guarantee stable bourgeois government, neither the one that is in government, nor the “opposition”. The reason is very obvious: the social and economic conditions of the workers and the poor are not improving, but are steadily getting worse.
All the recent workers’ demonstrations indicate that sooner or later it will become possible for the oppressed majority to take advantage of the sharp divisions that exist within the ruling class. And sooner or later an instrument, a catalyst will appear, probably as a consequence of some big and dramatic events that will shake the consciousness of the masses. In this epoch of instability of the whole world economic and political system, the Philippines will not be an exception. The terrible conditions, the accumulated contradictions, all mean that it will explode like so many countries have already done.
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the president, is terrified by the perspective of being removed from office, as this would mean that she would pay very dearly for the manner in which she “won” the last elections. In order to stay in office and hold back the growing opposition of the workers, and also part of the bourgeoisie, she needs to concentrate more power into her hands in a bonapartist manner and that is exactly what she is trying to do now.
However, even some kind of “parliamentary bonapartist” regime would be unsustainable in the long run, because the Filipino masses know very well how to oust presidents and dictators. They did it twenty years ago when they threw out the hated Marcos. They did it again five years ago with former president Joseph Estrada. Arroyo faces a similar fate, and the support of the US embassy (for GMA has allowed US troops back into the country) won’t be enough to keep her in power.
Should GMA lose the presidency, either by means of elections or through mass action, the next bourgeois president will face the same social problems or even worse. In fact as time passes the economic situation worsens and whichever bourgeois candidate may take over from Arroyo at some point, will face and even more unstable position. It is the global crisis of capitalism and the particular crisis of Filipino capitalism that determines this.
At present the Filipino economy is growing by an average annual rate of 4%. All the indicators show that this will slow down over the next period. In any case, in spite of the nominal growth, there is no real improvement for the working and poor masses. There are constant fiscal crises and corruption scandals that reveal the real nature of this ruling class.
While all this is going on the patience of the masses and the rank and file soldiers is wearing very thin. Arroyo may call on special laws to try and curb the movement, but all she will succeed in doing is building up the pressure from below which will sooner or later erupt once more on an even bigger scale.
What the labour movement, with all its various organisations, needs to do in the Philippines is break with the idea that there can be any kind of “liberal” or “progressive” bourgeoisie with which the workers can form an alliance and achieve genuine improvements in living and working conditions for the masses. It is the general crisis of capitalism that dictates how any bourgeois president will behave. They can promise much in opposition, but once in power they must bend under the pressure of the demands of capitalism.
The labour movement must count only on its own forces, its own policies and build an alliance with the peasants, the urban poor and lower layers of the middle classes. This can only be done by directing their forces against all the bourgeois parties, all the bourgeois candidates.
If this is not done then the labour movement will be dragged into supporting yet another candidate from the bourgeois camp, disappointing the masses once again. Now is the time to start building the workers’ alternative.
- Letter from the Philippines – three press statements (October 19, 2005)
- Philippines peace talks: A comparison between the Bolsheviks at Brest Litovsk and talks today in the Philippines by Felix Zorba (November 17, 2003)
- Philippines: 300 troops mutiny unmasks "war on terror" by Felix Zorba (August 4, 2003)
- The tasks of Filipino socialists after the Edsa II and III uprisings - Part One Part Two by Felix Zorba (December 30, 2002)
- Philippines - Mass Revolt Forces President Estrada to resign by Jean Duval (January 23, 2001)